Who Am I?

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

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reconsidering Second Life

Even as Second Life is experiencing a backlash from the web community, X3D/VRML is being pushed forward by individual developers and institutions which means that all media and corporate hype aside, X3D/VRML maintains its place as the pioneering technology for 3D on the web. Despite the awards given to the metaverse pundits, the investments made by major corporations and the funding from the investment community, money and artificial hype stimulants cannot create anything more than a flash in the pan interest on the web. It takes genuine openness and access to the technology itself proving that a content community alone cannot do it either. Linden Labs made critical mistakes:

1. Allowing false history to develop in the SL blogs. This is fatal mistake. The essence of what the web is is a document repository for preserving memory. Anyone could check dates and facts. That robbed any SL-led 3D movement of credibility.

2. Taking the same wounding tactic that many other technologists did including VRML: overpromising results. Castronova has a long way to go to really understanding virtual systems as economies. Virtual means virtual: Chuck E Cheese tokens devalue fast when the stage puppets quit being a novelty and the pizza is still bad pizza.

3. Failing to use standard technologies. This wouldn't be fatal but it means there is no amplification through orthogonal applications. X3D works for virtual worlds but it also works for medical technologies. This is how standards justify the title. They work in niches large and small. In this case, VR is an application of 3D on the web.

4. Failing to understand that the costs of 3D content ownership are high given the talent and time required, then absorbing all of those costs of hosting while failing to pick up the profits from authoring. Thus, Electric Sheep makes money. LL loses money. That's a terrible business plan.

5. Bringing in too many newbies and allowing them to be credited as experts. In the open news articles that allow comments, these people get beaten up for their lack of depth and that also robs them of credibility.

The problem will be as stated before if the falling fortunes of the virtual world/server farm builders rolls back over the entire web 3D market, baby and bathwater. It depends on the numbers. Meanwhile, companies are discovering the Web3D people were right about the need for public companies to host private worlds and to resist doing private business in public phone booths. If enough skilled experts are hired into these companies to create, develop and maintain these worlds, and these companies select the unencumbered open technologies for 3D that reduce costs rather than creating client-server systems at the OpenGL layer (reinventing an expensive wheel), this may augur well for the web 3D market. Otherwise costs will create another cascading collapse of the market.

This is a good time for the authors and other 3D professionals to take a hard cold look at their skills and toolkits and expand them to include the open technologies that can be blended in to the professional database platform frameworks, and to have dreams of other than cyberspace, to think in terms of specific uses of visualization systems such as complexity assessment modeling. Virtual worlds are here to stay but like so many other hosted environments, the business plan has to be based on sustainable revenues because the investors are running out of patience.


Reed Hedges said...

Thanks Len, insightful. We're hoping that we can address all or most of these concerns as Interreality/3D moves forward (http://www.interreality.org), especially the problem of doing "private business in public phone booths", and connecting to existing standards like X3D.

Jordi R Cardona said...

As a general thought about SL, I find 3 things of SL specially annoying:
1) Pretending they are a NEW solution.
2) Pretending they are the ONLY solution.
3) Trying to MONOPOLIZE the market.

1) The 3d chat communities are not new. From Traveller to Blaxxun, Active Worlds, etc. all they were before it, and they all succeed to some degree. SL has not invented a new thing.
2) There are many 3d chat communities working at this moment and all of them generate money for their owners. Not millions of dollars, but enough for them.
3) I hate those visions about companies that jump over the Web3d concept and try to eat all the others behaving like big fishes. They should tolerate the existence of others.

And regarding point 3, I think SL is very centered on cybersex, which is the reason for many people and companies to leave it. So they may offer themselves as a 3d sex chat, which is their strong point. That way they won't harm the image of ALL the other 3d communities.