HTML on a prim is getting ready for prime time

2 10 2007

Firefox wallpaper

Now Linden Lab seems to be eager to ship feature after feature. First Havok 4 was announced (of course this is not really about a new feature but about reducing the crash rate) and is now even available in beta, then Windlight seems to make some progress (and we even had a First Look some time ago) and now we hear back from another long awaited project, called HTML on a prim which Linden Lab prefers to call “Web Media” (on a prim) because it’s supposed to be much more than just HTML.

Earlier today there was a little meetup with Callum Linden, the project leader for the Web Media project. He presented us the state of the project as well as future directions. There is even a wiki page available now which gives quite a lot of detail actually and it’s nice to see some more formal use case descriptions on there. That’s how I like it πŸ™‚

So what is Web Media actually all about? As mentioned already it is not just about putting HTML on a prim in the form of a media texture and thus like we do it with videos today. It is all about an extensible system which also allows 3rd parties to provide handlers for completely different formats. One idea which came up during the meeting was a simple text rendering engine to get rid of the limitations of xytext (while being a great tool done by smart people it’s still sort of a hack). So one part of the work is apparently decoupling the actual rendering module from the logic. What comes then will come in 4 stages. As only the first stage is sort of fixed so far only for this a rough date is given.

Stage 1: Getting static HTML on a parcel

This work is supposed to take 2 months and Callum is doing everything to ship this before the end of this year. Of course it’s very brave to give a date but I think the main point here is that it’s being worked on. In stage 1 also the refactoring of the current implementation to allow for the pluggable architecture described above. Static HTML here means that it won’t support forms or anything like that.

Stage 2: Extending the system

In stage 2 Linden Lab will work on enabling more than one stream per parcel (he says a handful). This is of course great news as having only one stream is quite limiting and parceling up ones land is annoying, too. Especially as you can have different sorts of media on one parcel then (like HTML and a video), this makes sense. Callum said also, that support for media on a HUD will be implemented then. The question here maybe remains how the details are. It would be great to put your music or video stream on a HUD and just carry it around with you. Having dynamic HTML on a HUD would also allow for a better way of implementing search or information interfaces (so the Reuters HUD could simply be a web page which makes things quite easy). As these requirements came up more during the conversation there’s nothing about this in the wiki yet.

Stage 3: Making things dynamic and interactive

So here the fun begins, both for security experts (sort of) and users. This stage will actually contain separate phases in itself. First of all single user interactivity is going to get implemented. This means every website you see on a prim or HUD can only be seen by you (of course people can see the same URL but if you do any input only you can see this. It’s basically like everybody having their own browser). I’d think that even this step will enable quite a lot of possibilities, beginning with the search/info interfaces mentioned before (actually an info interface could already be implemented with stage 1 if there is no clicking involved).

The second phase will then what he calls “poor man’s shared browsing”. In this scenario URLs, clicks and keyboard input will be passed around between users on a parcel. I am not sure how good this will work. We might try out beforehand by getting a bunch of USB mice, connecting them to one single computer and everbody trying to browse the web simulatanously ;-). But if done right and maybe only one person being allowed to click at one time this might be nice for tutorials etc.

The final stage is true shared browsing. In this situation the actual browser sits on the server and delivers it’s graphical output to the prim. Again I am not sure how good this will work and Callum also said that having the browser implemented on the server side can be quite tricky. Additionally it’s not very useful for highly dynamic sites using Flash or AJAX like components. The implemenation in the end will probably be a mix between these 3 alternatives and parcel owners can then choose which one to use.

Callum was making clear that he definitely is looking for more input especially for stage 3. This is where all of you can participare by adding your use cases to the wiki page. What would you need and do with HTML on a prim?

Stage 4: Implement the holy grail

The holy grail is actually to implement full support for web on a prim. This means that you don’t put media textures on a parcel but instead you can define them on a per-prim-basis. According to Callum this is a completely separate project though and we might come back to that with another meeting.

Problems to solve

So the main problem to solve is actually security esp. when it gets interactive. If many people can see the same browser page instance then it needs to be defined who is allowed to input data into forms, click on which links and so on. If everybody can click and type everywhere and they are logged into your account you might soon have a different password or worse things. And with a shared browser you’d also have shared cookies for authentication. This sort of sounds scary to me and thus this definitely needs to get tackled.

What else might be nice to have?

Of course some more feature requests came up during discussion. Here are some parts of the discussion:

  • We have Quicktime support only now as this can be implemented easily cross-platform and along with GStreamer on Linux it gives a wide range of media support.
  • Flash is complicated to get it running. Callum was making some progress on windows but not an any of the other platforms. But it’s definitely something they wish to implement for obvious reasons. Flash playback works though but the interactive part is what’s the hard part. This means that Flash videos will probably work after stage 1.
  • With support for multiple streams different streams can also be played on in different heights (e.g. on each floor one TV at the same location)
  • Users should be able to turn these streams off or get a confirmation before starting it. This is important for people who are afraid of eventually giving out their IPs to foreign people (which you do all the time browsing the web anyway but we all know that some people are very sensitive to that so this should probably be an option).
  • Interaction between LSL and Web would be nice, e.g. in form of some JavaScript calls which do not control the browser but your SL client. This would allow in the simplest case to teleport you somewhere by clicking on a button.

Conclusion

All this sounds great to me and by looking at the use cases for stage 1 it should already adress quite some use cases (examples are listed here). And should it be possible later to add HTML to your HUD and at some point even to perform some text input there (not really sure actually in what stage form support for individual users get’s tackled) we should have a quite decent solution.

And again I would like to invite you to participate by providing use cases. Some are listed already, many are hopefully waiting in your brain to get added to the wiki page!

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Second Life Grid Architecture Meetup tomorrow

22 09 2007

If you want to know more about the new Second Life Grid Architecture which Zero Linden talked about in this blogpost you should join me tomorrow at 11 am SLT in our sim Stadt.

I will try to summarize what the Second Life Grid Architecture group is about, how you might be able to help and describe the proposed architecture a bit. I don’t plan to go too much into technical details as they are not set yet anyway.

So if you want to come, Sunday 11 am SLT ist your time! πŸ™‚

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Linden Lab reveals the future of Second Life

14 09 2007

Many people these days have certain ideas of how a virtual world of the future might look like. And most of them agree on the fact that it needs to be distributed and open source. Some people also say that they are waiting for a virtual world after Second Life as they only see today’s limitation of it ignoring that Second Life is of course not finished (and according to Robin Linden never will be. But that’s quite obvious, the web isn’t finished yet either).

Now Linden Lab was talking here and there about a) opening up their servers to make them open source, too and b) to make it possible to plug your own servers into the grid. As you might know many businesses demand such things as they want to host their own content themselves. They also made clear that these two things need to happen simultanously which means that there will be no open source server before the grid will be opened. This is due to business decisions I guess. Now opening up the grid is not that easy anyway as it involves many issues such as permission issues, topology maybe, object movement and so on.

How to go from there?

Now the big new here is that Linden Lab does not want to think about all this privately inside their offices but instead they want to discuss all this publically. For this to happen Linden Lab created the Architecture Standards Working Group which had it’s first initial meeting yesterday. It consist of a bunch of Lindens mainly hosted by Zero Linden and a bunch of residents who met mixed reality like in San Francisco and in-world connected by some audio gateway (which more or less worked πŸ˜‰ ).
This does not mean though that this group is fixed. It was more meant to present initial ideas and get the discussion rolling and actually everybody is invited to participate! No decision have been made yet and everything presented is not set in stone yet. In fact there are workitems which are about verifying the architecture and thinking about alternatives.

How to learn more about all this?

According to Zero and Rob Linden they are working on getting all the information presented at the meeting into the Wiki as fast as possible. The raw IRC chatlog in which Rob and other have been taking notes has been posted to the sl-dev mailing list (unfortunately the archive did not work because of PGP issues). The agenda of that meeting can be found here.

How can people participate?

The discussion of the architecture will be done completely in the open which means with the existing communication channels: Wiki, Jira and the Open Source Mailinglist. Categories for this will be setup shortly.

There have been workitems defined during the first meeting which need to be worked on. These workitems will not be owned by a person but many people can actually do work for a particular item. What needs to be done is very broad. One topic is collecting possible use cases and user scenarios which this new architecture needs to fulfil. Another one is finding missing pieces in it and again another one is actually writing code. But as you can see there might be some work to do for everybody who is interested in this project.

There will also be follow-up meetings. Who gets to participate in these will simply be decided by whether they have done some work for the project or not. How these meetings will look like is somewhat open though. I guess there will be many sort of meetings, some just in-world, some mixed location like the first one and some maybe just in San Francisco (although an in-world event should be addable easily then). Of course there are also the office hours of the Lindens involved, mainly probably the one of Zero Linden.

A little bit maybe about the coding part: The new architecture is supposed to be very modular and pluggable and thus one can imagine a future system with components from many parties. All these need to work together and all the underlying interfaces and protocols need to be stable. To get to that goal it is needed that people indeed do write code to implement some of these components. One of the components could in fact be OpenSim, another one maybe a new search engine. So we need a lot of people coding stuff to get as many components independantly implemented as possible and try to cross check if every component works with all the others. That’s the way to find flaws in the protocol.

Soon I will follow up a post in which I will go more into detail about how the proposed architecture will look like and the story in how all this came into being (as much as Zero shared this with us). The slide above shows the proposed login process of the new architecture btw.

But all in all good times ahead and a Hurray! to Linden Lab that they really made the decision to do all this in the open!

Update: I started the project on the Second Life wiki and please feel free to add use cases, ideas and questions.

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slconference 2007 is cancelled

31 07 2007

From September 16-18 there should have been a european conference called slconference07. According to their homepage it is cancelled now. In the end it seems that they did not manage to get enough financial funding for it probably due to lack of sponsoring interest as their statement on their homepage hints.

So here is the full text:

The aim of the slconference 2007 in Berlin was to create a neutral platform for decision-makers from all areas within the “business” world, to exchange, present and discuss ideas, experiences, expectations and knowledge about Second Life and other virtual worlds. It was meant to provide an opportunity for networking.

Generally, there was great interest from companies and participants that thought the idea of the conference an excellent one. We were able to acquire a lot of interesting and compelling speakers as well as topics that they would present in their conference sessions and workshops.

Unfortunately, the conference did not offer enough impelling opportunities to companies to support it financially, even though there was desire support the conference in other ways and to help to make it happen for which we are very thankful.
Nevertheless, the financial risk is still existent. Hence, the slconference 2007 team regrets to announce that the slconference 2007 is cancelled.

We wish to thank all those that believed in and supported the concept of the slconference 2007 and helped us further to realising this Second Life conference.

Actually IIRC this conference was first announced as some sort of Euro-SLCC, then renamed to SL World (the URL of their homepage still said euroslcc2007.wordpress.com though) which was supposed to happen in Amsterdan and then transformed into the slconference happening in Berlin.

But what might be the reasons for not getting enough support? Of course it was somewhat expensive with 800,- EUR for the complete program but then again other conferences like the Virtual Worlds conferences are about the same pricetag and being a business conference this is probably ok (not for me though ;-). But maybe it was too much competition in the end which drove sponsors to other conferences as I must honestly say maybe have the better speaker lineup and maybe more importantly are also broader setup in not only covering Second Life. Still also those are too expensive for me πŸ˜‰

So for me regarding Second Life it will be then the SLCC in Chicago and the SLCC in DΓΌsseldorf this year as well as some more local come togethers. The latter, although with unfortunately the same name as it’s US counterpart and thus a bit confusing when talking about these, seems to have taken off quite a bit as they finally started to embrace the german Second Life community. This is good news and is the way to go. So I will be there and I will be even giving two talks, one about Machinima and another one about fundraising and community efforts in Second Life and what maybe even companies can learn from events as Relay For Life or things like the SL birthday.

So I can actually only speak for myself but 800,- Euro for a conference is not really doing it for me. Thus it seems to be more targeted at bigger companies and surely not for any kind of SL community (they neve

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How to get better search results?

31 07 2007

So I am just sitting here at Robin’s office hours with some people but not Robin but Catherine instead and the topic search came up. The basic question is how to find cool places/stuff/etc. without a system that can be gamed like the traffic system we have right now.

So I came up with the following rough idea based on how sites like Amazon etc. do it which is in turn (maybe) based on some papers from the Media Lab which I once read and which have been mostly about social agent (one of the example applications was indeed a website which lets you find new cool websites depending on your previous choice and other people with similar choices. Something like StumbleUpon/last.fm/pandora if you want).

So if we project such a system onto Second Life it might work as follows. If we assume that people either spend time and places they like or buy something there we might associate these places with those avatars. If we now apply the same mechanisms as Amazon does it should be possible to find other cool places I haven’t seen yet depending on my “neighbourhood”. My “Neighbourhood” is computed by the similarity of places I like and others like.

Of course there need to be exceptions as I tend to spend quite a bit at workplaces or just my own place but these could eventually be flagged. The other question is if the flagging of places I like should be automatic or manual but this maybe needs to be experimented with. Automatic might be nicer and more easy, the question might only be whether such a thing works or not.

Thoughts, anyone? πŸ™‚

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Philip Rosedale talks about Open Source at OSCON 2007

31 07 2007

Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale was one of the keynote speakers at this year’s O’Reilly Open Source Convention and he talked about Second Life and it’s relationship with Open Source.

Just click the image and listen to Philip πŸ™‚

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The restricted community

2 07 2007

Some discussion recently came up when the SLCC organizer announced their media and community rules. Now the most discussion was actually about the community rules which are of course more or less common sense. The only thing I worry about is that if there’s a reason to print them out there might be something wrong with the audience. It’s the same problem I have with places where there are lots of CCTVs – instead of feeling secure I feel more insecure because there seems to be a reason why you need them.

IMHO a simple friendly reminder that people should be respectful in whom they make photos of might have been enough. It should be clear to everybody anyway that they should not damage any property and that the organizers have the right to remove people from the conference if they misbehave.

The rules for journalists
Now what worries me more are the rules about doing media coverage. Any recording of the panels and tracks is prohibited and only Phreak Radio has an exclusive contract to record and rebroadcast these.. Now I am very very very unhappy about that.

I couldn’t attend SLCC last year and thus was sitting at home in front of my computer in Second Life and watching it there with some friends at Timeless’ house. Of course not everything was streamed and the stream wasn’t always on but you had at least an idea of what was happening there, could see some people on the stage and so on. Still I though some more coverage might be nice.

So this year I am attending and thought about making all better, help with filming the panels, try to get as much footage out of it as possible to share with those not being able to attend. I also thought about doing a ustream.tv or blogtv.com coverage attempt if bandwidth and time allows (as there isn’t an official video stream this year).

But with the recent announcements I can forget that. That’s very sad indeed as I usually want to share the cool stuff I see with others and hopefulle discuss it with them. In this case I think it’s even more important for those not being able to attend. Additionally it spreads the word about Second Life and what it is all about. So IMHO the door for people who want to jump in should be as wide open as possible and not closed.

And there is another point. Jennifur Peregrine says in this comment that “some track leaders have expressly stated that they do not want their panels or tracks videotaped”.

Now I wonder what sense does that make? Do you have something to say? Do you want to reach the biggest possible number of people or not? I think you should! And I think people would want to listen. And they want to attend as much as possible even if they are not able to make it.

Summarizin I think if this is a community convention and the word “community” does not only mean those 400 attending but the whole SL community (not everybody has the money to come nor is there space for all of them), then media coverage should be as open as possible.

This stuff needs to be shared on every possible channel by every possible person in their respective communities. Make it findable on YouTube, on flickr, on blip.tv, on ustream.tv etc. Moreover this does not really fit into these YouTube/Creative Commons/Open Source times..

As Nicholaz Beresford notes here: “Well, being an cc/open-source/tekkie type I’m sure not thrilled by these kinds of rules. But trying to gain control over content is Zeitgeist, but I think it is an uphill battle and the problem will solve itself.”

Unfortunately we have to wait for that a bit more.

There are also some questions which I still would like to know more about:

  • Will the sessions be videotaped at all? (If so I hope they have a camera person who also zooms in sometimes. Would make it more useful)
  • Will the footage be released? (of course without the “forbidden” footage)
  • Why actually is there an exclusive contract with Phreak Media? Why not let everybody help spreading the word?
  • What are these union regulations all about? Are people not allowed to film what they want at their own conference? Why doo other conferences do not have these problems?

I also think that video is important btw. It gives a better feeling if what was going on there. MP3 is also ok but more as additional medium maybe.

All in all Second Life stands for me as extension of Web2.0 but it seems at least the convention is not really in that tradition. To me it sounds a bit too much regulated and more like “commercial” but not like “community”.

Now I don’t want to make the surely big amount of work of the organizer not bad or so just this regulations don’t feel that open to me as Second Life feels. Maybe I am also not used to such restrictions. I usually visit Barcamps and Open Source conferences such as EuroPython, Plone Conference, Sprints etc. and media coverage was never a problem. In the case of barcamps it’s even part of the whole thing. So maybe it’s just my expectation that the SLCC is sort of the same thing and this was wrong.. Certainly it’s not the future of media.

Update: Jennifur commented on Pownce that some negotiation with Phreak Radio might take place tonight. Will keep you posted.