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  ‘Second Life’ To Go Open Source… Eventually  
 
 
Posted 2006-01-17 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Linux radio show LugRadio chatted with Linden Lab's VP of Product Development Cory Ondrejka yesterday about the company's virtual world and its migration towards open source from the back end (the servers are currently run on open source software) to the software comprising the fabric of Second Life's virtual reality to the client software. "It's going to be open standard long before it's open source," he said.

First in line for opening up, according to Ondrejka, is the Second Life instant-messaging system, which will apparently be remade with Jabber compatibility "pretty soon," allowing end-users to create their own messaging software able to bridge the gap between Second Life and the rest of the internet. Ondrejka sees a time when end-users will create their own interfaces to Linden Lab's virtual world. "Why presume that we'll ever be a large enough company to satisfy [all users'] needs," said Ondrejka. "The more we use open standards, the more predictive people can be about where we're going...In the long run, I want you to be able to host a server."

Ondrejka also mentioned Linden Lab was "mid stream" integrating the open source Firefox browser with Second Life, which would allow web pages and other web content to be displayed inside the virtual world. The integration efforts were first announced in the middle of last year, which suggests Firefox integration won't be complete until mid-2006.
 
     
 
   
 
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  13 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
January 18, 2006 @ 7:10 am
     
 
My question when they get started talking about this open source stuff -- about which I am hugely skeptical because it seems a contradiction in terms -- is what they envision as the "public commons" or "federal government" or even just "basic staging area" that coordinates, or maintains some set of loose norms to disseminate against all these single-hosted, niched-out-the-wazoo set-ups. Of course, yada yada, the Internet is built that way...kinda. Except...it's kinda not, because the Internet has as an underlying substrate a belief in an open society and breaking down barriers to the free flow of goods, people, information, and services and has boomed precisely because of an avowed acceptance of the free and open market.

When anybody can have a world in the palm of their hand -- and a 3-D immersive world at that -- then everything from Gorean to Schwart-88 to the New York Law School can have a server and do their thing. This might be a kind of Maoist "let a 1,000 flowers bloom" but even 1,000 flowers need some substrate of topsoil to bloom in.

I imagine a guy like Cory just thinks that this sort of "values" stuff will either just take care of itself of will be deliberately -- or inchoately -- coded as law right into the servers. Like his voting system where you can't vote "no".

When you have a million principalities and fiefdoms on all these servers, how will they talk to each other? "United we stand, divided we run free at last," is their credo. What happens when their freedom inhibits the freedom of others, as it all too often does in virtual worlds (like the Bush guy in SL).

Tekkies like to laugh at people crying in exasperation "who's going to coordinate all this" but then when the very premise of endless innovation and genius being fostered to produce new software *itself* becomes at stake because of the proliferation of all these little closed, hot-house orchid societies, then maybe they'll think some more about it.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 18, 2006 @ 9:59 am
     
 
If you haven't listened to the podcast interview of Cory, I recommend you do -- it may address some of your concerns in terms of LL's intentions for governance and server interoperability. If I recall correctly, Cory said he expects that users will make their own rules. Linden Lab can't possibly monitor or supervise individual servers, just in the same way that no single body is overseeing all web sites.

I don't see much difference between the decentralization of Second Life servers and the structure of the World Wide Web.

My responses to your bolded comments below:

...the Internet has as an underlying substrate a belief in an open society and breaking down barriers to the free flow of goods, people, information, and services and has boomed precisely because of an avowed acceptance of the free and open market.

Some people would agree with this, and some wouldn't. Individuals are more inclined to want an open, barrier-free internet. Corporations are more inclined to want an internet that they can control--that's why they develop proprietary standards; that's why they take open standards and develop their own, less-open variations; telcos and ISPs do the bidding of the recording and film industries; telcos want to charge premium rates to companies like Google, which use a lot of bandwidth.

...everything from Gorean to Schwart-88 to the New York Law School can have a server and do their thing. This might be a kind of Maoist "let a 1,000 flowers bloom" but even 1,000 flowers need some substrate of topsoil to bloom in.

That substrate is the internet. Or, more specifically, it's the open system that would run a future Second Life. It's the server software, and the code that makes the world, and the client software. It's also the experience of users who know how to build and administer their Second Life server as well as understanding aspects of Second Life culture.

I imagine a guy like Cory just thinks that this sort of "values" stuff will [...] just take care of itself...

When Second Life servers are decentralized, administrators will be able to make their own rules. The code will be open, and can be modified. If needed, rules could be hard-coded into individual server instances as each administrator saw fit. Are you concerned about inconsistency in rules or values among servers? I expect there will be inconsistency, in the same way not every web site is the same.

When you have a million principalities and fiefdoms on all these servers, how will they talk to each other?

Why should they talk to each other? I expect some will and some won't, in the same way that not all people, or groups, or systems communicate. But those server administrators that adhere to the open SL communications protocols will be able to facilitate inter-server communication. I expect that some server administrators will form "rings" where data can easily be passed around the circle--such a ring could represent a multi-sim country, for example.

What happens when their freedom inhibits the freedom of others, as it all too often does in virtual worlds (like the Bush guy in SL).

It's probably fairer to ask "what happens IF their freedom inhibits the freedom of others..." but even that's a bit of a weak question. Ask yourself how many web sites you know of that inhibit the freedom of others, and then compare this to the number of web sites that don't inhibit other people's freedom. Personally, no web site reaches out to me and inhibits my freedom--if I don't like a web site, I don't go there.

When SL is a host-your-own situation, each server is its own virtual world. There is no mandatory grouping, or larger network affiliation. Server admins will either choose to connect to other servers, or they won't. Rings will be formed, or they won't. Imagine a suburb, with rows upon rows of houses. Imagine that we have no way of knowing what goes on inside each house unless we are allowed to go inside. Nothing that happens inside the house can get out. How could anything that goes on in one house possibly affect the freedoms of the house next door?

If you're against host-your-own worlds, and you seem to be unhappy with how Linden Lab runs Second Life currently, what are you *for*?
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 18, 2006 @ 1:52 pm
     
 
I listened to the broadcast and more interesting than Cory's interview by far was the back-and-forth debate that followed much later where one of the hosts tries desperately to equate child abuse with Microsoft's control over their "Microsoft Office" product and the horrible (haha) oppression of people forced to use it! That's most definitely worth hearing.

In fact, after hearing his outburst I'm surprised that guy didn't jump all over Cory's case. After all, Second Life isn't open source and there's no reason other than collecting money to pay their salaries so they can live in beautiful and expensive San Francisco that the code isn't open to the world (Philip, Cory and the rest could relocate to Brazil!). In fact, the radio show hosts chimed in about how cool it was that corporate entity Linden Lab - on Lessig's legal advise - ceded ownership of intellectual property to the content creators. But what difference does it make to someone like that guy or the multitudes who think like him?
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
January 18, 2006 @ 2:10 pm
     
 
Tony, I've heard Cory's talk on this subject at SLCC, and I'm not sure he's saying anything new, and I'll go and listen to it at some point when I fix my sound card : ). But meanwhile, I want to point out that EVERYTHING you say hinges on your belief, no doubt ardently held, that virtual world=Internet or SL=Internet. Well, I disagree. It doesn't. The Internet is just a page you read. It's removed from you. It's 2-3. It's not a life. It's not a 3-d space. It's not particularly immersive -- although of course you can spend hours talking to your pals on Yahoo Messenger. It's very, very different than a world -- where you walk around, interact, have dramas, emotions, work, build, make money, even have avatar sex. And that means all kinds of cultures and sub-cultures come to rule, and it is no longer the same kind of static thing it was on the "plain" Internet. Making rings among the authoritarians who always end up as the rulers and server administrators of these worlds? Well...why reinforce their reign? We already live in a world where "web masters" (note what they call themselves!) rule many offices and groups without much accountability because of their arcane (for most people) knowledge and skills and their ability to control people's worlds.

Because the Internet is pretty much just something you look at and read, it takes place in a box in which certain cultural norms apply to it by default. When it is out of the box, they don't necessarily apply.

To endlessly claim that companies like SL are just going to let the administrators run things and have their own rules is to overlook how much someone like Cory individually, or many game devs collectively, actually incorporate into programs, systems, and tools when they go at them with their particular worldview. As I tirelessly point out, these are the people who made a voting system where you can't vote 'no'. Well, ok, with open source and your own server, you can vote no. But how much will you be able to change other built-in features hardwired into the software itself, even modifying it yourself?

Far from worrying about Microsoft being an abusive "father" who is "abusing his child" i.e. "opppressing his users," I worry much, much more about extremist yahoos like that fellow spouting the nonsense about "Microsoft as abusive parent" having the resources and attention of the masses to open-source to death this kind of rabid, sectarian point of view and spread it all over. THAT is what you have to worry about.

I'm happy for Cory and his friends to live in sunny San Francisco and keep making our game. If they didn't collect salaries and live in sunny California and keep their sunny dispositions, we wouldn't have a game. Yahoo sectarians screaming about "oppression of teh ppl" aren't the sorts of ever really produce games, much less of anything.

There aren't any multitudes who think like him, Csven. He's a sectarian nut, and just because this sub-sub-culture of extremist tekkies get the microphone in many meetings doesn't mean they represent the society at large, or what most reasonable people want. Indeed, we have to worry about THEM imposing their idiotic nonsense on the rest of us. We can all criticize Microsoft, make alternatives to it, etc. without screeching about Teh Man Oppressing Us blah blah.

Tony, your notion that what happens inside the suburban tract house doesn't matter is pretty strange. It's not the idea of Europe, that what happens to one, happens to all. Of course it matters if what is happening is wife-beating or child-abuse, if we're going to keep these analogies.

I'm personally not wild about the idea of the host-your-own-server. I'd rather that we lease our own servers, but that the Lindens minimize themselves more, focus more on just making the platform and servers *work right* and stop making up stuff to compete with residents. I'm happy with them serving as some kind of loose central authority that maintains a kind of commons or clearing house where people can get orientation, education, meet others, etc. The Internet equivalents, if you must have them, would be structures like the domain name clearinghouses or whatever.

I don't believe the pizza guy should get to steal LL, no.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 18, 2006 @ 2:51 pm
     
 
There aren't any multitudes who think like him, Csven.

I disagree. The view you worry about spreading has, imo, already spread. And most of them, I believe, probably point to people like Lessig for inspiration and justification for this behavior. To them the mere concept of corporation is evil. And the fact that Hamlet Linden himself - who is busy promoting Lessig's talk in SL - didn't know who Lessig's nemisis, Richard Epstein, was yesterday when I messaged him for a repeater, tells me that there's far too little intelligent discussion happening. Right now there's pretty much two extremist sides. And over the holidays I got a good look at a representative of the multitudes that think like that guy (I've worked inside corporate America, so I don't need to see more of that).

Here's a link to Epstein's essay over on the MIT Tech Review site: Link. It was good enough to force Lessig to attempt a rebutal and is the best one I've read.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 18, 2006 @ 4:23 pm
     
 
Replying to Prok's comments in bold:

...I want to point out that EVERYTHING you say hinges on your belief, no doubt ardently held, that virtual world=Internet or SL=Internet.

Prok, could you please lay off the assumptions and keep this based on what you actually know or what I actually said. Second Life is not the internet. What I said was: "I don't see much difference between the decentralization of Second Life servers and the structure of the World Wide Web." Judging by your comments, you don't know the difference between the World Wide Web and the Internet. You seem to believe the WWW *is* the Internet. It isn't. It's a layer of the Internet, like instant-messaging clients, email programs, and Second Life.

Making rings among the authoritarians who always end up as the rulers and server administrators of these worlds?

A server administrator has authority over a server, but that doesn't mean the administrator is authoritarian. A server administrator could also be described as a "custodian" or "steward."

To endlessly claim that companies like SL are just going to let the administrators run things and have their own rules...

I'm not sure who is making endless claims around here. Prok, you don't seem to understand the meaning of "open source." The main issue here is whether or not SL will, as Cory claims, be converted completely to open source software. If SL does go completely open source, Linden Lab will lose control over how server administrators (world operators) run their version of the open SL software. Anyone will be able to completely modify, use, develop derivative and new versions of the open SL software. Just like nobody else controls how I build or operate my web pages, nobody else would control how I build or operate my open SL world.

Tony, your notion that what happens inside the suburban tract house doesn't matter is pretty strange. It's not the idea of Europe, that what happens to one, happens to all. Of course it matters if what is happening is wife-beating or child-abuse, if we're going to keep these analogies.

Prok, my description of suburbia was an abstract analogy, not an attempt at describing real life. First you were talking about your freedom being intruded upon, and now you are talking about crime. I can't continue with my analogy because you don't understand it, and I don't have the energy or time to put it another way.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
January 18, 2006 @ 5:04 pm
     
 
Tony, no need to be so touchy. I'm reading what you say. You keep harping on this idea that Second Life=Internet in essence by saying stuff like "Individuals are more inclined to want an open, barrier-free internet. Corporations are more inclined to want an internet that they can control" or "It's the server software, and the code that makes the world" (I'd argue that it isn't just code that makes the world.) Etc. These are all statements that take as the core that "the Internet is this way" and "SL is this way" and "they are alike".

Indeed, when you say you "don't see many differences between the structure of SL and the WWW" you *are* indeed saying essentially that "SL=Internet" or "Virtual World=Internet" and I'm saying, no, the experience is different and it's not just about the technology, which is what you seem to wish to reduce it to.

"A server administrator could also be described as a "custodian" or "steward.'" Yet...they never describe themselves in that fashion, nor behave with the humility that one would associate with this function. Indeed, they could say "web crafter" instead of "web master" and yet...they say "web master" because it's a whole culture in the IT world, as you no doubt realize.

Oh, I understand the meaning of open source all too well, Tony, having sat in endless, endless, debates about it, in which I can see that not even tekkies agree about this. Duh, I perfectly understand that SL, which has licensed software, which it develops and updates and sells subscriptions to, and/or gives away but after first taking credit card info, is not going to go "open source" in just a heartbeat. It is not a copy of "Cute FTP" left out to download from a Russian server somewhere (back when Cute *was* open source). Of course, when/if they go open source, they will lose control over how their product is used, and more importantly, they'd lose control over the ability to offer a contiguous and more or less uniform streaming world as they do now. Still, since their own work was based on open-sourced software, it might be that they will start to supply parts of things that can be customized, like their concept of the user panel that will be configurable like My Own Web Browser.

I don't have to have a Ph.D. in computer science to grasp these basic things, Tony, it really isn't that "special". Of course, I fully grasp that the reason they call it "software" is that you can rewrite it, modify it, derive new products from it etc etc.

It's not really true that "nobody controls how I build or operate my web pages". In fact, Tony, if you would just step out of the tekkie literalism here for a moment, you'd realize that webpages have a rigid catechism to them and even a dogma that would make Rome blush. Most web pages more or less work the same. They have all kinds of predictability and uniformity in them. If you press on something highlighted, it is clickable and takes you somewhere -- always and inevitably, unless it gives you another cue which says "this link is broken". Usually there is some navigation bar or "table of contents" to the left, and even what are called "frames" (considered by some to be old-fashioned). There is a "what's new" and a "Most Discussed" and topics in dwindling typeface. Just like this very website we are on now, using these cultural cues to set up essays.

Just try to understand that rather than venturing forth an opinion in ignorance of some technical reality, I am trying to take a different look at it from the angle not of technology but of culture or philosophy.

So to extend the analogy further, in the virtual world, where is the navigation bar on the left? What context or frame will inform my interactions with others? You're content to say we'll never talk to each other just like I don't talk to every other person on the Internet. But I *can* talk to the other people on the Internet using the predictable frames of an email address or template or whatever.

Where is the "most discussed" topics? Where is the "box" to return my "comment"? Where is the archived links? And a hundred other things like that. All the structure and cues and accepted means of communication are not there even now, and can't be expected to continue after everyone has their own little server like the Little Prince on his Planet. The Internet doesn't tend to have places everywhere that require passwords to see a page (although there are such pages) and doesn't tend to shut out all users from emailing the administrator except My Friends. Yet in a virtual world, ban-all and access-only are becoming the norm.

Imagine, it took *two friggin' years* in this damn world for somebody to look up from sandboxing and scripting kewl whirling vehicles and make a simple script that enables you to *place a notecard inside a prim*. That enabled something we like to call "making a suggestion and leaving it for someone" so that they can compile it all in one place (it can even be done anonymously). And so on. I'm talking about these realities of the virtual world where structural cues indeed are different than the flat plane of the word-and-picture dependent WWW.

In fact, your building of a webpage not only has the canon and catechism of how such web pages "must look" not only to be "cool" but be "comprehensible," they have other restrictions -- you have to use HTML or php or jpegs on certain blogs that won't take bitmaps, etc. etc.

Um, duh, I understand you were making an "abstract analogy" about the suburban house and I was *participating in that abstract analogy.* Honestly, Tony, not only am I educated, I am educated *right in a university in your own country* for crying out loud. Is it never good enough?

Your notion that freedom is some kind of separate discussion to have, about events inside a house, with an absolutely endless extension to it, and "crime" being some sort of aberration in some other category completely apart from the "freedoom discussion" is EXACTLY what I am challenging! In fact endless freedom extending out is in fact crime. In fact my freedom to swing my fist not only ends at your nose (or should), entailing within it the crime of assault of you -- you should care about that fist/nose violation even if it occurs to another, inside a private house, in a tract.

Anyway, I'm pretty much done trying to talk to you about these issues. You insist on not only becoming offended needlessly, you insist on taking many things literally, and also impugning ignorance to me when it is merely a way of thinking differently. I'll leave you and Csven to each other.

And yes, Csven, I know this extremist view has spread, and is prevalent in the younger tekkie classes especially, but so what? That's all the more reason not only to fight it, but not exaggerate it's importance in the society at large. It doesn't represent the majority or the mainstream or even the relatively minor in size (now) liberal intelligentsia. Most people either work in corporations or interact with them in some way, if nothing else, as consumers, and have nowhere near the hatred of capitalism that the minority of blowhards on the Internet claim they have.

I'm going to bite my tongue when it comes to discussing phrases like "Hamlet Linden" and "intelligent discussion".
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Eepē
January 25, 2006 @ 6:25 am
     
 
Active Worlds (AW), another online 3D virtual environment similar (but not as good, in many--but not all--respects as) Second Life (SL), has server ("world") software that can be run by anyone. AW uses a central ("universe") server ("uniserver") that communicates with all the world servers. AW worlds are MUCH cheaper to run than SL sims but AW worlds don't have as much going on in them (physics and many other server-side events) compared (AW stats) to SL (stats).
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 25, 2006 @ 9:37 am
     
 
Thanks for the comments, Eepē. There's also Open Croquet, which is an open source 3D environment. The Croquet project's server/client structure is described on their FAQ page, but I believe you can host your own space with Croquet.

The Multiverse Platform was announced late last year, and allows developers to operate their own MMOGs. Fees are paid to the makers of the platform only if revenue is generated by the implementation.

I think roll-your-own virtual worlds are going to become more popular as the technology matures and costs come down.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
January 25, 2006 @ 10:09 am
     
 
Stagecoach may have migrated over to Active Worlds precisely because of this feature where you can get the world server -- a feature we've all been aware of forever. The problem with AW is that it is very flat, limited, and by some accounts, dying. There is a fairly major migration of "cits" as the citizens of AW call themselves, into SL. In SL, some of the more enterprising ones have purchased land on the auction and have gone into business. They appear to have been able to make more money for spending less and have more content...except when they don't, as the more perceptive of them begin to ask real questions like, "How can I really run a whole mainland sim for $1200 when I can't own the view or prevent problems like the Lazarus signs?" etc. So the go to the private island configuration, which now costs more, and isn't free of customer service problems.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
January 25, 2006 @ 10:19 am
     
 
For those who haven't watched Julian Lombardi's presentation (on Croquet), I'd highly recommend finding the time: Link to his blog entry.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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