Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Open Source followup

There is an interesting technical discussion of the SL Open Source project over on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog: “Unpacking Linden’s ‘Open Source’ announcement”.  He makes some good points both pro and con — the main one being that Linden Lab is actually not going far enough.

This is from the comments section, in response to a daft and ill-informed Luddite poster:

My recent critique of Second Life has been not so much that the software isn’t open source but that it’s a platform monopoly. Should you, as a content creator, find yourself on the wrong side of the Lindens, your content can’t be easily moved to another world. Given the governance issues you allude to and the problems the Lindens are having with abuse, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine scenarios where someone might decide they no longer wanted to contribute to this specific universe.

I’m less worried about sharding than you are. It’s one of the things I’m most interested in with protocols like Croquet – what happens when you can run different spaces on different servers, each with their own rules regarding intellectual property, behavior, abuse, etc.? It’s a bit different from the goal you propose – how do you build the best possible World – and turns into “how do you build a great set of interconnected, interoperable worlds”. You’ve got a very valid point – this might not have the same social dynamics as the one world SL currently has.

I’m reluctant to post over there, not with a certain unreasonable, ignorant technophobe trying to sound important in the comments section.  But I’ll say this:  Ethan’s point is a good one.  And frankly, I think it’s a step that Linden Lab might actually take one day.  They’ve already made their direction clear in the way they’ve opened free registration to the world and done some other minor adjustments trying to link Second Life to the web.  What’s to prevent them from allowing someone to build their own server, install the Second Life software and link to the grid as an independent sim? 

On the one hand, it would open the door to virtually unlimited land ownership for tycoons like Anshe Chung, but it could also devalue virtual property in Second Life.  (I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not).  I would be much less afraid of griefers owning their own servers or engineering harm to the rest of us — as Thoreau noted in Civil Disobedience, the best method for quelling dissent and rebellion is to give the dissenters property within the system.  They then become a part of that system.  And ultimately I would think that Linden Lab would retain some form of authentication control over who linked to the main grid and what they were able to do, anyway.

The other offshoot of such a thing would be scores of independent Second Lifes cropping up around the internet.  They would use the SL software and become completely independent operations, much like the old persistent servers using the pirated Ultima Online software ten years ago.  One would hope the parallel would be closer to that we see with Neverwinter Nights persistent servers, where the server owner focuses exclusively on a particular style of play such as PvP or roleplaying.  It could be viable, and it could operate without the manacles of over-population and questionable change control we see now.  The biggest downside, of course, is that the central core of Second Life — that is, virtual businesses — would cease to attract new residents.  Without the critical mass of 20,000 concurrent users, small businesses would simply not be profitable.

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January 17, 2007 - Posted by | Second Life

2 Comments »

  1. The biggest problems with sharding should it happen is that the serversoftware itself could easilly be reverse engineered to create independant grids AAAAND a small tower and a colocation at a datacenter is much cheaper than say paying LL for your own SIM.

    At what point would LL’s profits start being hurt? I could go to newegg.com right now and throw together a server that could support a SIM on it for about 600 bucks, colocate it in a datacenter somewhere for oh say 50 bucks a month. Even if LL was to charge a fee for connecting to the grid it still turns out to be a cost saver to me to do things myself.

    This plan will lose them money in the long run imho. Servers are cheap right now even for them.

    The only upshot I can see is the opensourcing will finally allow some GOOD programers to hack away some of that legacy code they are using ;)

    Comment by Jorus Xi | January 22, 2007 | Reply

  2. Jorus…LL can only charge as much as they do for land because they have a monopoly on it. If/when they open up the server end they are going to have to adapt and offer better services at better prices or they are going to end up killing themselves…but at that point we won’t even need LL anymore. If they adapt and offer better service for the money then they’ll do well even in an open source setting and we’ll benefit. If they fail we’ll still benefit because those who can offer better services will be replacing them.

    Comment by Estella Jimenez | January 25, 2007 | Reply


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