IBM, Virtual Worlds and Standards – a roundup

Although I’m missing the conference in San Jose this week, I am watching the breaking news from the event with rabid interest. First, we have the news itself. There was the official IBM release of course, and it hit the official Linden Lab blog too.

“Linden Lab and IBM will collaborate on integrating virtual worlds and the current Web, improving the stability of the platform, increasing interoperability, securing transactions, and bringing us closer to the creation of universal avatars.”

Next, there are the people reporting the news. The organisers of the current conference in San Jose covered the story on their blog, pointing out the highlights, which are:

  • Universal Avatars
  • Security-rich Transactions
  • Platform stability
  • Integration with existing Web and business processes
  • Open standards for interoperability with the current Web

The Reuters story (carried by a huge number of news sources) also had summary and quotes from Colin Parris (the VP in charge of this stuff at IBM)…

An open system would let people create one avatar that would keep the same basic appearance and customer data no matter where it was in cyberspace.

“It is going to happen anyway,” said Colin Parris, IBM vice president of digital convergence. “If you think you are walled and secure, somebody will create something that’s open and then people will drain themselves away as fast as possible.”

Now, we have the analysis, which gets really interesting. Read/Write Web asks “Is the move towards interoperability a meaningful announcement and what kind of future could it lead to?, inviting Wagner James Au, Barb Dybwad and Eric Rice to share their thoughts.

On the more tongue-in-cheek side, Nicholas Carr asks “Can I bring my flame thrower into Second Life?” predicting that “About five minutes after the gates come down, all the residents of Second Life will have been made the slaves of powerful Warcraft clans.” which is hilarious, but perhaps intentionally misses the point slightly.

Aleister Kronos says

“Don’t lose sleep over this in your excitement, boys and girls. It will take a little while to arrive. The point is that this is now out in the open, following months of speculation – and the parties involved go beyond just IBM and Linden Lab. I understand that at least 20 companies were represented at last night’s meeting”

Which is a really good point. This is far bigger than just an IBM + Linden Lab announcement; the discussions and announcements happening at the conference are rather larger and more exciting even than that. And just as well too, because Bobbie Johnson at the Guardian Unlimited rather hits the nail on the head:

“I don’t really want my avatar to move between a series of closed virtual environments: I want a single, linked virtual environment that I can move around freely.”

And that’s exactly where we need to take this goal of interoperability and standards in virtual worlds. A nod towards standards is not enough. To allow virtual worlds to inter-operate will require the whole industry (including initiatives like the Metaverse Roadmap and the Architecture Standards Working Group to name a couple) to help in building partnerships, agreements and standards.

8 thoughts on “IBM, Virtual Worlds and Standards – a roundup

  1. Thanks for the roundup. Still wish I was in San Jose but brilliant to see the announcement and some of the reactions. (Some really positive comments on the Linden blog which is great to see.)

    I particularly liked Bobbie Johnson’s thoughts on Guardian Unlimited and I do hope that we don’t end up with a “series of rooms”, although it would also be a shame to limit everything to exactly the same rules and physics! (The underlying platform and protocols of the web may be the same but we still have a rich variety of amazing web sites based on that.)

    He also brings up the hyperlink which is one of the areas I have been thinking about recently. The current LL model of landmarks and SLURLs has an interesting problem, which actually isn’t new but made worse by the speed of change in virtual worlds. If I go to ibm.com, I can be pretty confident I can get to the same content from one day to the next, but with a landmark, the place might be the same, but what I was trying to find may have moved on. This gets more interesting the more open the architecture is- not only might places move locations on a Second Life grid, they may move off the grid completely.

    Ok, I’m rambling! Keep the updates coming! :)

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  3. Hi Ro, I am not sure if this (single, linked virtual environment) is exactly where “we” (?) need to take virtual worlds. I am not sure if this will happen and – if it would happen – if this would be the outcome desired by most users of virtual worlds. At least it depends on the interpretation of “single, linked virtual environment”. What would be great, would be a way to move from world to world without the need to go through log in processes. These worlds will most certainly be “different environments”, though – very much different in some cases. And these differences will limit what initiatives like “Universal Avatar” can do.

    I kind of SSO (single sign on) technology would be great, of course. But the differences in style of depiction, on functionality, in “rules” etc. between different worlds will be so big (like with different websites today) that it might not be as easy to move your avatar around (or many of its virtual posessions) as we like. The challenges are not only technical but – more important – structural and semantic ones.

  4. Hi Markus. You make some great points.

    I’m not suggesting we (the industry) only need one type of world for everything. James hints at this above as well, and I doubt it’s what Bobbie really meant either. I could have been clearer when I was getting excited about Bobbie taking the dialogue beyond just portable avatars. Since Bobbie’s description of “a single, linked virtual environment that I can move around freely” might be interpreted in more than one way, allow me to clarify.

    My point is not that a virtual universe of interconnected virtual worlds needs to be homogenous. Far from it. As with the web, an interconnected system of heterogeneous technology can work thanks to common standards, but these can be enable a lot more than just a sort of super-teleport between worlds; as you point out, it doesn’t make much sense to only move avatars around between worlds since they often won’t make much sense in other contexts.

    I replied in more detail in response to your post, concluding with

    The blurring of the boundaries between virtual worlds and the web as we already know it – with all its richness and variety yet common underlying standards – and the ability to do more than *just* super-teleport an avatar between worlds, that’s where it gets really exciting.

    Of course, the announcement wasn’t just about avatars. The standards which already glue the web together and allow virtual worlds to consume and produce web data can also be used to create richer virtual worlds which overlap in more interesting ways.

  5. I think in the interoperability question we need to remind people that its not that bad an idea. Sure you may not want to move the WoW character to SL. However you may want to move from an intranet metaverse out to a customer meeting in a public space. It does not mean that you cannot have more than one avatar/sign on/identity, it does mean that data can flow. Thats what we need, what ever that set of standards and ideas are.
    How we choose to use it means that we have flexibility, thats the key. When we are flexible we are able to create new things. The web has opened up, so why should metaverses not?
    I agree with Raph Koster that in entertainment maybe it is less relevant to move around, however who knows where we need to take this?

  6. While we’re talking standards, how about someone raising the unified 3D standard issue. If the geometry is going to be portable, how about it being portable all the way to a rapid manufacturing device.

  7. Moving Avatars that can move from an Intraverse to a customer meeting in a public space has definitly advantages. An extraverse between busienss parners, in this same context of moving avatars, seems also vey interesting to me.
    The power and results that can come from communities across enterprise boundaries …. just think about it.
    B.t.w. A prime example and a proof point of this can be seen in the EOLUS One project.

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