One of the questions that appears to be on everyone’s mind at this gathering, though not always articulated, is the question of whether open standards will emerge to allow interaction and compatibility between immersive web spaces. It’s pretty central to most visions of an integrated, central metaverse… but I haven’t seen a lot of conversations about whether Second Life, for instance, will release an API…
Watching a demo last night (in the hotel bar) of Open Croquet, the obvious question sprang to my mind: why isn’t the Immersive Web world flocking towards this platform?
Open Croquet is a platform jointly developed by some luminaries of the computer science world, including Alan Kay, David Reed, David Smith and Julian Lombardi. It’s been under discussion since 1990 and under development for at least four years. I saw a demo given by Kay at least three years ago, and went home to download the platform – it was awkward and clunky to the point of unusability and I couldn’t convince even my alpha-geek friends to try it out with me.
The platform has clearly made major leaps between now and then. The demo David Smith and Julian Lombardi gave last night had jaws dropping throughout the bar. Rather than a space you visit on a server through a client, OC is a three-D operating system that allows you to create objects and spaces that can appear on your system, or be imported into other systems. Each client is a server – there are no centralized servers. Each set of interactions between clients involves a negotiation – “Okay, you want to send me three-D models, textures, some text and an audio stream. I’m on a cellphone and don’t have a 3d rendering engine, so I’ll take the audio stream and the text…”
The architecture, the rendering engine, the object model and the scripting language – which is a subset of SmallTalk, the language the system is written in – are beautifully well thought out and look great. But the system has basically no users, in part because it’s more designed as a workspace replacement than as a community space, in part because the OpenCroquet folks haven’t actually bothered recruiting any users. (As fond as I am of David Reed and David Smith, I can’t really see these guys doing the aggresively welcoming customer service the Linden Labs folks are justifiably famous for…)
It seems obvious to me that one or more of the startups in the room who are planning on building a platform for virtual worlds might want to consider becoming toolbuilders and community managers on top of the Open Croquet tool – rather than developing a rendering engine, object model and scripting language, they could use the OC tools and do the hard work of creating compelling worlds on top of this architecture.
It also strikes me that there’s a compelling business to be made importing objects from Second Life into Open Croquet. Even if OC doesn’t end up gaining a community like SL’s, OC could be used as an offline editor to build and maintain objects, and would allow those objects permanence outside of the SL world… should Linden radically change terms of service, or go out of business, the objects and the scripts on them could still exist on an open platform. (I suspect there are more than a few legal issues that arise in this scenario…)
It’s now 1pm on the last day of the conference, and the main hall is empty, as nearly every attendee is watching an impromptu demo by David and Julian – I’ll be very interested to see how this changes or shapes anyone’s thinking about open platforms for the immersive web.