Who Am I?

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tears in the Rain

A bit of analysis helps.

1. VWs are applications for specific markets. One size fits all general applications don't sell and really, don't keep eyeballs.

2. Formats are applications. A format used in design time and for long lifecycle archival is best if it is a text format. Everything we learned in the last 30 years of comp-sci supports this. Exceptions such as PDF are exceptions because they are legal documents and the term there is "final fixed format", meaning, a record of authority of a transaction at a specific timestamp among authoritative parties (named entities empowered to represent a legal entity). Does that sound like a virtual world?

A runtime format is an application. You optimize that for the specific application (see Forterra's PTF). It is optimized for speed when using very large terrain aggregations (eg virtual earth). It is not optimized for small applications (the typical 5 acres and a mule world). For these, the text formats work just fine as runtime formats.

3. The standards have problems and advantages depending on generality. VRML/X3D is a very general scene-graph. It is a good design time format because it is text and it is human-readable. Collada is good for exchanging assets but so is VRML97. In fact, the most supported export format on the web for 3D by actual count is VRML.

Contrary to what some believe, authors do edit these by hand and in fact, the uptake of a format by groups of authors doing different applications depends on that. On the other hand, building a world in an ASCII editor is very painful, in fact, building ANY useful object in an ASCII editor is painful.

The early VRML editors and some of the current ones are generalized editors. They support the entire language and the scripting language. This is like using Visual Studio. But if worlds are applications, some of them need generality and some don't. Where you have a good application schema, a rapid-application designer is a better choice. This is like using Iron Speed Designer, a layer over VS. If you get the schema right, ISD will do 80% of the work. That is where Areae seems to be going but I've no sense that Rafe gives a good-golly about the portability of the assets. If he did, he'd be pulling for Collada or X3D. Instead he publicly disses them. That means someone else like Media Machines will win in the Google Worlds contests.

Ask yourself is a Virtual Conference World needs the same features as a Virtual Sex Shop. They really don't. Sometimes these are referred to as scene editors, but the point is, one can use the editor to bridge the gap of design time general languages and runtimes. But you can't go the other way.

The business models are the seriously variant piece. Each of these new keirestu setting out to be standards mavens has almost the same goals, but most of them have very little experience. They are attempting to pull together vendors of different applications with different business models and create standards. Unless they limit that mission, they will fail or they will simply be the same as the current standards groups (eg, W3C, W3DC, ISO). In fact, at this time, it is hard to see if they have a mission at all except to cull standards and organizations and that is very dangerous given those variant business models.

Who needs portable branded avatars? Business applications. That is where identity and recognizability are fundamental. They want to attach those to Facebook, etc., and make it the repository of all information, but the truth is, that can only be the 'business personna'. Most of us turn into different people at home, at church and on the highway.

Identity is situated.

So don't get your knickers too tightly wound yet. These people are mostly wonks who have built very little VR in their careers. They are of the ilk that believe a professional manager manages anything professionally. They spin, collect stock options, and move on to the next crop as locusts always do. The ones who have a real affinity stick around and become valued members of a community.

The forums and organizations that will be the most important to the future of virtual worlds will be the professional associations not the anyone-can-sign-up-for-this-wiki groups. The groups that last have lasting win-win contracts. The W3DC lasted this long because the vendors and the artists made a bond that lasted. That is why VRML97 worlds from 1997 still work on X3D browsers in 2007. Until the content owners and the content builders are able to stand up to the VCs, the equity investors, and what not and tell them to shut up and quit trying to choke the chicken for short terms, this market will not coalesce in any meaningful way. What we heard about in San Jose was a circus meant to drive bloggers like you and me to talk, and investors to buy iron on a promise.

The kids are suspicious of the circuses. They know that cheap and IP-free is the only way they can get a business off the ground. 3D is their music and they'll not stand for Fabian and Dion with The Beatles playing the Cavern. (look it up...).

Someone has to build these worlds and only a few people actually know how. They are the content artists. If you actually care, join a professional dues paying organization and support the vendors that support that organization. It is the single best hope you have of creating lasting content. Otherwise, as the bot says in Blade Runner says, your content will be like 'tears in the rain'.

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