Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Second Life grid

Linden Lab has announced (see here) the launch of the Second Life Grid. This is an exciting development that moves the popular Second Life virtual world towards being

a resource for businesses, organizations and educators for creating a successful virtual presence on the Second Life Grid platform

Linden Lab also says

the Second Life Grid will enable these organizations to understand and create meaningful 3D immersive experiences ... The platform, tools and programs available on will provide the foundation needed to create a successful virtual world experience.

From the users' point of view the Second Life Grid offers all the advantages of virtual worlds in general, with none of the disadvantages of the somewhat anarchistic ongoings in Second Life itself. This is a very exciting development because finally we have the promise of a programmable computing environment which we actually inhabit, rather than being limited to using software that we interact with whilst remaining firmly outside of it (as it were).

Ultimately, environments such as this will be so realistic that it will be easy to forget where the real you is, and then the meaning of "real you" becomes rather ambiguous. Have a look at Counterfeit World (a.k.a. Simulacron-3) which is a book-length essay on this problem; I read this when I was a teenager and I was hooked from that point onwards.

One of my interests in programmable virtual worlds such as this is that I can use them to create simulations that mimic what goes on inside my head. I am a highly visual thinker so I understand a concept by expressing it visually as a 3-dimensional simulation in my mind's eye. If I can formulate a concept visually then I can make fluid use of it (think "bird's eye view"), and if I can't then I have to use it in a plodding one-step-at-a-time sort of way (think "worm's eye view").

Prior to the advent of virtual world technology my visualisations have spilt over into the real world in the form of diagrams that I draw to illustrate selected freeze frames of the visualisation, but to other people these diagrams can appear out of context so their full meaning is elusive. However, the promise of virtual world technology is that I can now recreate a more faithful representation of what goes on inside my head when I am visualising.

It is hard work to create a rich virtual world using the current primitive programming tools in Second Life, i.e. the Second Life scripting language. I find that currently the best approach is to do as much as possible of the programming work outside Second Life (using Mathematica, in my case), and to then upload the results to Second Life. Even when I use the best programming tools that are available to me, the overall process of generating virtual world simulations is hard work, but at least it is now feasible whereas before the existence of Second Life it was impossible.

It will be interesting to see how virtual world programming tools develop over the next few years. In the meantime, to be as productive as possible using virtual world technology, it is best to tailor your ambitions to the sorts of things that are relatively easy to do using current programming tools, which means that you have to experiment continuously with the tools to see what they can do for you. For me that means building up my "flying time" in Second Life, and concentrating on doing work there rather than mucking about ... yes, there are distractions!


dyerbrookME said...

I've already been inhabiting the world for 3 years. I don't know why you couldn't inhabit it. And even without being a programmer or designer, I've been able to manipulate the environment and even create things in a satisfying, amateur sort of way which is what in fact makes up the experience for a lot of people.

We were always able to realize the visualizations of our mind. The creation of "the grid" concept is merely a tool to drive a wedge between "professional" and "amateur" and enable the former to charge more and control the latter.

Prokofy Neva

Stephen Luttrell said...

I agree that Second Life itself is already a programmable virtual world, and I too have been manipulating my SL environment using the SL scripting language, but it is time consuming to get a significant amount of work done. The scripting language is not powerful enough to do anything really clever, and the user interface is so clunky.

My comment about finally having an inhabitable computing environment is because it is the SL technology platform itself that implements this, and only now is this platform going to be available for others to use for themselves as they wish. This is a new and exciting development.

One important reason why you might want to run an SL grid on your own servers is that in SL-as-it-is-now there is the problem of lack of security and theft of intellectual property. I was amazed when I realised how easy it is to be snooped on even if you hide things inside windowless rooms. I now keep all of my intellectual property outside SL, and I'm an amateur so what might the professionals think about this issue?

My understanding of the SL grid is that, by separating the SL technology platform so that anyone can host it on their own server, it effectively generalises the idea of a private island (or something like that), so that people/organisations/etc who want to make use of a virtual world without the distractions of SL-as-it-is-now (e.g. snoopers) can now do so.

As for your comment about professionals controlling amateurs, I haven't ever bothered reading the Terms and Conditions of my use of SL, but I would be really surprised if they gave me (i.e. an amateur user of SL) any significant rights to tell Linden Lab what to do. All I can do is vote with my feet and leave, but I won't do that because I am still using SL to learn lots about how to use virtual worlds in general. I am aware that some other people feel more strongly about this issue, but it doesn't bother me that much.