The shape of things to come?

hifiThe launch of any new technological innovation can be an exciting time, particularly if you can get involved in some way during the early stages of the nitty-gritty of getting something brand new up and running. If nothing else, it can give you an amazing insight into the challenges faced in the creation of something new, as well as giving you a handle on the inside information that might otherwise pass you by.

When the technological innovation happens to be a groundbreaking virtual world, the excitement grows exponentially! There’s an awful lot of people waiting on tenterhooks to see what progress is being made on Philip Rosedale’s latest baby, ‘High Fidelity’: a project that many are – (probably erroneously) – christening ‘Second Life 2.0’.

There are snippets of tantalising information that slip out every now and again, which promise even more excitement to come… avatars that can properly interact, (think, holding hands without poseballs); point-cloud based graphics; and only 100ms latency are some of the gems hinted at so far – all of which promises something far beyond anything, in any virtual world, we’ve experienced before.

One of the things that Phil and the gang are currently looking at is how to use names effectively. Names – as anyone who’s been around sl for more than a couple of years will tell you – are important, and unique names, linked to a specific identity – whether a person, or a place are the Holy Grail of the interwebs. Domain names are big business, particularly those that are intrinsically linked to a product, place or other unique entity. It’s something along these lines that High Fidelity want to incorporate into their product: they term it, ‘Globally Unique Naming’ – the idea being that you’ll be able to jump instantly to a person or place, simply by invoking their unique name… but it’s the extended possibilities about this particular facet of the forthcoming product that caught my eye:

“Upon launch, High Fidelity will offer a basic service enabling the use of globally unique names to refer to persons, places, or things in any virtual world using the High Fidelity software and protocols.”

Did you spot it? Yep, that’s right, using Globally Unique Names, will give you seamless access to the corresponding person/location in any virtual world that uses the High Fidelity software and protocols. Now that’s really interesting – it tells me that HiFi is not just aiming to be a virtual world in its own right, but is also looking towards marketing itself as a kind of shell/environment that can host other virtual worlds. This is an incredibly alluring bait to dangle in the virtual ocean… rather than putting other virtual worlds in a position where they are competing with HiFi, it offers an opportunity to ‘share the wealth’ – and, in the process it raises the benchmark for virtual worlds across the board in terms of performance and capability.

mill3_001Let’s take sl as an example: for years it’s been effectively the ‘brand leader’ – other virtual worlds – if they are to compete – can’t afford to fall too far behind whatever innovations are incorporated into sl, be it SSB, mesh, materials or any other technological improvement. Whatever happens in sl will eventually filter through to other virtual worlds. The end result is a fairly consistent and uniform experience, (apart from user volumes), no matter which virtual world is your personal preference. This is pretty much the niche that i imagine HiFi will eventually occupy, with one crucial difference.  Imagine if Linden Lab introduced something like ‘Magic Mesh™ – so realistic you’ll want it in rl!’, kept the code to themselves and licensed its use, the only way any other virtual world could compete would be to buy it from the Lab. In this alternative scenario – which is the one i think HiFi will adopt – the Lab still remains top dog, but stays in that position by virtue of encouraging its competitors to offer an experience that is just as good as sl, but cannot be experienced without sl. It’s very clever!

Which raises the inevitable question, will sl buy into the brave new world of HiFi, or opt to hang out in the slow, laggy backwaters of the virtual universe? Don’t ask me to answer that one, because i really have no idea what might happen.

Then there’s the possibility of flitting between Grids using Globally Unique Names – a fantastic opportunity for traders who want to boost their customer base and a great way to increase concurrency without all that tiresome creating of new accounts, and trying to remember what password you used when you signed up to that Grid that you only occasionally visit. Imagine if you spend most of your time breeding horses in sl, but – on the odd occasion when you’ve had a bad day in work – you occasionally feel the need to slay the banshee hordes of the undead. What if you could just TP to ‘Banshee Hordes of the Undead Slaying Sim’, located on a completely different Grid, where breedable horses would never dare to plant a hoof? Wouldn’t that be handy?

Well… maybe not. Way back in 2008, the OpenGrid Project undertook something very similar – a venture that culminated in the successful trans-world teleporting of avatars between sl and OpenSim. The event was even recorded for posterity – just take a look below.

Yet despite this unmitigated success, it was only a short time later that the sl Vaak Grid was closed down and the whole project was quietly shelved – it seems the Lindens had no appetite for inter-Grid movement, or maybe it was us? i have a sneaky suspicion that even if sl did go down the HiFi route, there would be an awful lot of us who would happily stick to sl, no matter what else might be out there to tempt us. And before you pooh-pooh that, just ask yourself for a moment, how many people we know are interested in exploring the vast area that we have at our disposal in sl? There are huge numbers of avatars in sl who have little interest in what’s going on in the next Sim, let alone in another Grid!

Whatever happens, it’s sure to be interesting!

s. x

Say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
Men Without Hats – The Safety Dance

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