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Toney, Alabama, United States
Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, XML/X3D/VRML97 Designer, Consultant, Musician, Composer, Writer

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Is IBM Qualified?

Is IBM Qualified?

I think one should accept that IBM doesn't invent markets. They enter emerging markets and acquire presence and influence. Ok.

But standards work is a little different and that is the continual sub-topic of their well-placed articles and events such as the Virtual Worlds Summit with MIT. So far, they have experience building some worlds on existing platforms. So one might say they have content experience. Good.

But standards? I have to ask tough questions.

When a company with the size, reach and financial clout of IBM enters a market such as 3D on the web, how should it be regarded vis a vis standards activities? It invests in content but it doesn't build 3D browsers or servers. In fact, it offers no 3D services at all. It as a company, is dabbling. Is that enough to be a serious standards contributor much less a leader?

Initially, some are enchanted by the thought of that much money being put into the effort, but where does it go? It is good to have them as a member but what do they contribute beyond the membership fees?

Traditionally, the browser makers have had the most input to the standard itself. That made sense in terms of technical knowledge and experience. They understand the no-compromise qualification that is frame rate and the twin peaks of rendering and behavioral fidelity, how to achieve that while adding features, the trade off and so on.

Then a well-heeled company with money to spend decides it wants to invest in the 3D market. It gives that task to some of its staff. Well-placed articles are bought or given out to position them as experts representing their companies. The company purchases services from a non-standard but popular platform. Does this provide sufficient experience to be accepted as an equal in the technical contributions or as another content-provider similar to how the authors are accepted in the W3DC?

I understand the rules for participation in the W3DC because I helped write them. I don't know how well they will work in a situation where everyone desires the investors but haven't asked the hard questions about equity of contributions or the need for them to be appropriate to the goals of the existing standards.

IBM has money. It will be gratefully accepted everywhere. What else does it have to contribute in terms of real world experience where it counts in a standard? Editors we have. 3D graphics experts we have. Existing standards we have.

What are IBM's goals for itself as a contributor to the 3D standards and how does it qualify itself for meeting those goals?

One wants IBM in this market and other large companies as well. Yet we have to ask ourselves why we want them beyond sponsorships. It should not be because they are too big to ignore. That means we are afraid of them. It can't be simply because they are spending money. Then we are greedy. We have to ask what their qualifications are for the tasks they want to be involved in. They certainly have experienced standards people, they certainly have built worlds in Second Life, but who will represent them when it is time to talk frame rate and color?

BTW (disclaimer): I am not responding to IBM's intent to work with any organization. I don't see any public statements about any organization to that effect except Linden Labs. They discuss the places they have visited, topics they have been briefed on, and where they are building worlds today. Sutor's blog is fascinating reading.

So far they talk about Second Life. They are very public about that. Fine, except that is not standards-building. As Tony Parisi pointed out and we all have at one time or another, a real-time 3D standard is hard to write, and furthermore, virtual worlds are just one application domain of such a standard. It is great to discuss 'real AI' or 'collaboration' and so on but those are topics for ANY web site running some combination of application languages. Specifics about real-time 3D start with frame rate and all other budgets are figured in terms of that. When I read IBM talking about such as that, then I'll know they are serious about 3D standards and not simply business opportunities for IBM and members of their market class.

Virtual worlds can be business-friendly. That is a separate topic from what it means to have interoperable standards, but it is the topic being used to invite others into a discussion where as any serious participant knows, the topic has to turn to the standards because otherwise, there is nothing to be friendly with other than fellow members of the client/server farm of largest choice.

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