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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Language IS The Platform

The Virtual Worlds Conference announcements were interesting. IBM, a company with no virtual world products and little experience beyond experiments made by individuals, proposes to lead a group of its most fierce competitors to create standards for intereoperability based on the ideas it has gleaned from mail lists and other sources. Will this result in a standard? Not likely.

  • First the market doesn't know where such a standard fits given most worlds are standalone entertainment venues with light sprinklings of business that are basically meet and greet chats.

  • Second the companies consulted are viewer-based platforms with server side services, not language based. The technical and political challenges of creating a standard for such as fragmented market ensure it will take some time and a lot of effort. See US DoD CALS.

  • Third, there is already a real-time 3D ISO client standard with applications already deployed for the military and security markets with US and European government approval and vendor support.

  • So what exactly is IBM after other than that their clients should sign up to Second Life or Kaneva where they are selling servers?

    Time. It is a play for time to divide the market until IBM has a product or a market strategy beyond "this all looks good for business". For the pioneers in X3D, IBM is about to do to them what the HTMLers did to the SGMLers until XML was created: FUD them to death.

    Here is the problem: anyone who had more than a few years of experience at this knows that there is exactly one way to get neutral interoperability and data portability: a language. To develop that as a standard among the fractured market and push it through ISO where there is an existing standard means a) IBM has to kill the credibility of the standard or b) waste ISO in the same way it accused Microsoft of doing with OOXML or c) skip the standards and try to make the claim that open source = open standards.

    The real prize is 3D IP. The companies IBM has been doing business with are VC-financed and they want that IP to pay off the very hefty bills for the financiers. IBM wants as much of that one billion invested as they can get. So it is in IBM's best interest to keep the market divided and distracted while it sells servers to the competitors.

    For the authors, the problem is that the language IS the platform in so far as having more than one closed market for their work. For the vendors, the problem is a language for creating content is not the same as a language for creating tools to create content. In X3D, any world you build is an 'application' of X3D. Any viewer in theory can view it and if you are stingy with the scripting, they can. But an interactive drag and drop editor plus a MU servers is another set of standards and languages.

    And that is where the virtual world community is watching to see announcements. This will go on for some time to come, but as authors, you should get your head around this:

    The Language IS the platform.

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