METANOMICS: ENHANCING YOUR VIEW
AUGUST 12, 2008
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon, and welcome to a special episode of
Metanomics, called Enhancing Your View. We start out with Dusan Writer announcing the
winner of a contest to improve the experience of new Second Life residents, by proposing
an improved interface design for the Second Life viewer that we all install on our machines.
Then we hear from viewer developer and aficionado, Adam Frisby, who will discuss with me
and Dusan state and future of the Second Life viewer, what it means for residents, Linden
Lab and the Virtual World industry. But, first, a few administrative details. Metanomics is
brought to you by Simuality, our primary sponsor, maker of SlippCat. We also have four
supporting sponsors: the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University,
Kelly Services, Language Lab and InterSection Unlimited. As usual, our live venue in
Second Life is the Muse Isle Arena, and we welcome everyone who’s at our event partners
across the grid: Colonia Nova Amphitheatre, Meta Partners Conference Area, Rockliffe
University and the Outreach Amphitheatre of the New Media Consortium Educational
We encourage you to keep up a lively chat during today’s show. In my view, the signature
advantage of live events is the ability to have so many different voices in text chat, along
with a more focused conversation in voice chat. We use InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge
system to transmit local chat to our website and website chat into our event partners. So
backchat brings you in touch with people all around Second Life and on the web. So speak
up and be part of the event.
Before we move on to the show, I would like to announce briefly that I have the honor of
being one of the judges on the Virtual Worlds Innovation Awards Panel for the upcoming
Virtual Worlds Expo Conference in Los Angeles in the first week of September. I need help
so we’re looking for innovative--right--we want to give awards to the most innovative
developments in Virtual Worlds. Len Bullard has a great comment on the blog post, saying,
“The challenge here is to identify essential problems. By example,” he says, “The Wright
Brothers are not really historically the first to achieve manned flight of a heavier-than-air
vehicle. That prize goes possibly to Gustav Whitehead. That dispute aside, the question is
then: What should the Wrights be remembered for?” Len continues, “During this time, most
of the innovators were attempting to solve the problems of light engines, thinking the critical
problem was power and the essential problems of aerodynamic lift were solved. They were
wrong. The essential problem was three-access flight control. That is the innovation of the
Wright Brothers, for which they received patents.” Len concludes, “Nine times out of ten
innovation is asking the right question, and engineering is answering it.” “So,” he repeats,
“What are the essential problems of Virtual Worlds? Until you identify those, you won’t
recognize innovation. You may only recognize incrementalism.”
So, Metanomics viewers, what is today’s equivalent to three-access flight control? Let me
know. Send me an email: email@example.com. You can IM me right here in Second Life, and I
will also be posting a blog piece on metanomics.net, and you can comment on that.
Let’s move now to On The Spot, and it’s time for Dusan Writer to be put on the spot, to
announce the winners of his contest to design an interface that would improve the
experience of a new or inexperienced Second Life resident.
The challenge to the contestants was to present the current features of the viewer in a new
way. As Dusan said in the original announcement, this doesn’t mean you can’t remove
features. It just means the design should be based on existing and supported features.
Dusan also emphasized designs are just that: designs, not prototypes. You don’t need code
to participate. Now it isn’t often you get to see L800,000 given away during a live program in
Second Life. So let’s jump right in. Dusan, welcome to Metanomics.
DUSAN WRITER: Thank you, Beyers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I understand the idea for this contest came from a blog post
you wrote about the current Second Life interface. When you gave your views and half the
commenters thought you were totally wrong, can you give us a little elaboration on that?
DUSAN WRITER: That happens to me more often than I care to think. The blog is a place
where I put down ideas. And one of my ideas about Second Life was that it’s the tools in
Second Life that drive the ability to create and the ability to attract new content developers. I
was proposing at the time that, if we made the tools more robust in the viewer, we’d be able
to attract more content developers. And I had about probably 20 people jump on me and
say, “No, we disagree with you. What we’d like to see is a simpler viewer so that the new
user to Second Life is more likely to stay after that critical first hour.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so you pulled together a contest to see what the interface to
that type of viewer might look like.
DUSAN WRITER: Yeah. My theory is that Second Life is probably one of the best tool
pools for talent in the world, and, for me, I like to see stuff. I’m visual. I don’t understand
sometimes just concepts. So I said, “Well, let’s see what people come up with. I think there’s
so many ideas. There were so many ideas floating around, and, rather than wait for the
ideas to just sort of germinate, maybe we could push it along a little bit. Get a neat
discussion happening and contribute some thoughts and philosophies and contribute to the
discussion about what we can do to make Second Life better.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you pushed this idea along and made your own contribution of
L800,000. That’s your own money, right?
DUSAN WRITER: Yes, that’s right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So is this purely philanthropy, or are you seeing this as an
DUSAN WRITER: I think it’s philanthropy. I think it’s also a chance to see whether the idea
of giving people incentives, within a Virtual World, the idea of sort of crowd-sourcing, which
is a concept in business. One of the things I don’t like about crowd-sourcing, which is where
you ask a large group of people to contribute ideas and then you don’t compensate them
very well. I thought, “If you’re going to test the concept of crowd-sourcing in a creative
community like Second Life, you should probably put your money where your mouth is and
make sure that it reflects your beliefs.” I’ve been so impressed with the quality of the entries
and the discussion that went on around it. For me, the contest is proof that Second Life is
truly, I think, one of the greatest creative communities in the world today.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, power to that! Before we take a look at the finalists, Wiz,
can you give us a quick pan of the judges sitting in the front row? We’ve got, let’s see,
Vint Falcon, Keystone Bouchard, Eristic Strangelove and Ordinal Malaprop. And I know at
least some of them could make their way in. Thank you, guys, for helping out. I know it
wasn’t an easy decision. Dusan, I’m going to hand it over to you to walk us through what
you see as being the key features of these viewers, and then go ahead and announce the
DUSAN WRITER: Great. Thank you, Beyers. Vincent Nacon is the first interface that we’re
going to throw up on the screen. There were six contestants, and I’m sort of showing these
in random order, six finalists. The judging process was really interesting because I think, at
the end of it, we all felt like it would be wonderful if we could create what somebody termed
a “Frankenviewer,” which was to take the best of each design and combine them into one
new master viewer. But it was interesting with the six entries. And the brief, which was pretty
broad, I mean the brief said, “Let’s improve the experience for the new or inexperienced
user.” “Improve” was a bit of a value judgment, and each of the contestants, I think, took an
intelligent approach to doing that. Vincent’s entry, for example, focused on clustering menu
items within activity areas, and he did some very intelligent things, I thought, with chat
functions and with things like audio controls, putting them all onto sort of one panel.
Buttons by Function was a theme of McCabe Maxsted. McCabe has well simplified the
interface. What was interesting about this entry was McCabe also put a lot of thought into
the prim editing functions and, in fact, redesigned the building build tools, and the supporting
documentation also put thought into how the menus would be organized and how that could
be made more intuitive, I guess, for the user.
Toggling between different levels of the viewer was a theme that came out with
Damien Fate’s entry. Now Damien had a couple of features that people really jumped on.
One of them was turning the map around, was more intuitive. He had a neat approach
which was that, depending on your user level, you could click a button--there’s one, two and
three--click a button so that more or less menu buttons appear and, as well, trying to
simplify by grouping together different functions within the user interface, making it intuitive,
making things easy to find, and then being able to expand out or simplify the viewer,
depending on what you’re trying to do in your experience in Second Life.
Now there are three other entries, and I will say, ahead of these three entries, that these are
the three finalists, and I’m going to throw them up in random order. The first is the entry of
Jacek Antonelli, and this was a well thought out design and actually included quite detailed
documentation, again talking about some of the menu functions, talking about, as you could
see in the interface, simplifying the number of buttons available to the user, but then
allowing you to drill down through the menus. If you’ve ever been frustrated by inventory
management, I think we all drooled over Jacek’s inventory designs because it allowed better
filtering. It allowed better sharing. It allowed better movement of inventory items around. I
know that my inventory is a mess, and I think, if we could have that implemented today,
we’d all be jumping up and down for joy. So, again, it speaks to the concept of each entry
had such wonderful things to it. Jacek’s as well was built on the philosophy that these are
changes to the user interface that could be easily implemented.
The next finalist rethought the interface from the ground up, and that’s Rheta Shan’s entry.
Now Rheta took the approach of starting basically with a blank slate and asking herself the
question, “What are the things that a user wants to accomplish in-world?” and to name and
group the menus around activities, around user scenarios, such as socializing as one
example or building as another example. Rheta presented the idea of work benches. The
idea with work benches were that you would take things like photography, taking
photographs or videos, cluster all of those functions into a popup menu very similar, I guess,
to let’s say the prim editor, except that it would be all of the tools that you would need, for
example, for photography. She also clustered in video into that and did similar things for
profiles of avatars and building and so on.
Helping to orient new users was the focus of Roy Cassini’s entry. Now Roy took the brief,
which was to improve the new user experience and really did focus on the first hour and
asked the question, “How could the user interface be a tool for orienting new users to the
Virtual World?” And I think we have two slides so if we show the second slide, you can get a
sense that, first he’s simplified the interface and that, second, as you first are introduced to
the interface there are embedded tutorials and help functions which explain what each of
the buttons does and how to use them. So he was really thinking through that first hour,
making it very simple, being able to do the key functions and being provided with tutorials
and help to guide you through that process.
So those are the six entries. There were three finalists: Jacek, Rheta and Roy. And I’m
really thrilled and indebted as well to the judges because it was almost as close to a tie as
you could get. But I am thrilled to announce that Rheta is the winner of the UI Contest. That
second place is Jacek. And congratulations to Roy for coming in third.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, yeah, let me second those congratulations to
Rheta Shan, Jacek Antonelli and Roy Cassini. Way to go! I’m glad your additional wealth is
now Dusan’s poverty, but Dusan gets the immortality that always comes with philanthropy.
Thank you, Dusan, from me for pulling this contest together and getting some people to
think very carefully about issues that are certainly near and dear to my heart. One of my
plans over the coming year is to bring lots of new people into Second Life, who actually
currently, today, have no interest in Virtual Worlds. They’re just going to want to come for
the content that we’ll be able to provide here in an innovative and interactive and very
immersive way. So, hopefully, they’ll have a great viewer that they can use, and you’ll have
been partly responsible. So that closes out this segment of On The Spot.
And what we’re going to do now is, we’re going to have a discussion with Dusan and also
with Adam Frisby about the issues of the Second Life viewer and how it might be improved.
Adam Frisby hails from Perth, Australia and is the director at Deep Think, a leading provider
of Virtual Worlds products and services, which is heavily involved in the development of the
Open Simulator platform and also maintains several large virtual continents in Second Life,
including the Azure Islands and Nova Islands. Adam, welcome to Metanomics.
ADAM FRISBY: I’m hoping that came through all right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Ah, yes. Now we have you. Welcome to Metanomics, Adam.
ADAM FRISBY: Thank you for the introduction, Rob. Yeah, I’ve been working mainly on the
develop of the OpenSim software for the last year, and I guess one of the big flaws with
what we’re doing is that we can’t focus on the viewer due to some various licensing issues
which I won’t go into, with being sort of held back on touching the client software. But
recently and the reason that Dusan invited me to speak here was that I started developing a
piece of software I’m calling Xenki, that is an embeddable Second Life OpenSim browser,
that is that you can take Xenki, you load it up in Firefox or Internet Explorer. You browse to
a specific site, and then suddenly you’re logged into a fully interactive 3D World. It’s still at
the very early stages, having only been brought into life in the last three weeks, but one of
the promises that I hope this will bring will be the ability to, say, put a Second Life space on
a website with the same ease of use and convenience that things like Google Lively have,
where people can come visit, browse, and they don’t need to get themselves too attached to
the World to get involved with it.
One of the big disadvantages of Second Life is that it loses 50 percent of its potential
interest just by forcing you to download and install a piece of software. I’m not sure the
exact statistic, but I believe it’s around 30 percent of users actually download Second Life
clients after signing up. And one of the things this can address is that that problem we can
say, “Well, hey, you don’t need to download anything. You don’t even need to hit ‘install.’ It’s
there. It’s ready to go. Bam! You’re in.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, that sounds like a very exciting project, and we’ll
definitely get there. Before we do, what I’d like to do is start by getting everyone up to speed
on some of the most basic technical issues surrounding the viewer, and then we can start
talking about some of these policy decisions, not what’s possible, but what’s desirable, what
do residents want, what’s going to be effective, useful and necessary just for the user
experience. And then finally, we’ll turn to the role of Linden Lab and talk about what it
means to have people like you making viewers that are actually interacting with software
made by someone else.
So, Adam, my first questions are going to reveal the limits of my tech training, but I view my
amateur status as sort of a useful filter to make sure that our non-technical audience can
also follow the conversation. I understand that Virtual Worlds use a client server setup, with
the viewer being installed on our own machines and communicating with the server that is
somewhere else, you know, controlled by the World developer, in this case let’s just talk
about Linden Lab. And I also understand that Dusan’s contestants were addressing really
how the user interacts with the interface, how they just get hold of whatever functionality it
has. But I confess I’m not entirely clear on what it is that the viewer needs to do as opposed
to what tasks are going to be handled by the server. Can you just sketch out for us what the
key tasks are for the viewer?
ADAM FRISBY: Second Life has a pretty interesting and unique structure to the way that
the client and the server are separated. A lot of Virtual Worlds, certainly the ones that came
before Second Life, evolved downloading a lot of content to a local machine. And then it
was simply limited to customizing that content. So the server would send out positions of
objects that had been pre-designed or you downloaded the objects first and then they got
loaded. Second Life has a very innovative backend protocol that actually streams the
3D World to you in [full?] time. Basically what the client needs to be able to do, the client
needs to better interpret these messages that get streamed to you, and they need to be able
to display them effectively.
For instance, what gets it down is things like the raw primitive data. This is a spherical object
of this size in this position. That’s it. Gone. So what the client needs to be able to do is need
to take that data and then put it into a visual form that people can see. Now the client
doesn’t actually have to do the 3D work. There’s certainly clients for Second Life out there
today that do just instant messaging or they do just inventory or some mix between the two.
I know there’s been previous integrations with the browser before, such as Katherine Berry’s
AjaxLife client, which lets you log in, chat or teleport around, but you can’t actually see the
environment. So where this is unique is, it would actually go to 3D renderer with hardware
acceleration running inside the browser and let’s you actually view the World almost the
same but not quite as the main Second Life client. In theory, there’s nothing stopping us
from making it look exactly the same, but there’s certainly some considerations that need to
be made, in terms of things like user interface. There’s a lot less room on the browser to
have space for controls. If you’ve got a World embedded inside another web page, then you
maybe have 400 [pixels?] to work with or less. So there’s certainly a lot of considerations on
the UI there, making things invisible and go away when they’re not needed, to give
maximum area to the actual environment itself.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’m clear on this issue, if someone wanted to create--I’m not a
building, as everyone who has ever seen me try to rez a cube can attest. And so if I wanted
a viewer that simply didn’t allow me to build, that would just be a functionality we’d take out
of that. If there was information coming from the server that I wanted to ignore, I could just
use a viewer that didn’t react to that information. Is that right?
ADAM FRISBY: That’s correct. I think actually, to be honest, a lot of certainly the
embeddable and degradable clients will probably tend towards being fairly static in that
regard. It might be that you’ll actually have to download a full-blown client to go and upload
textures and build and do those things. I think that’s a reasonable goal to make. These
viewers are designed to be quick downloads that let you do just enough to actually get into
the World. And then you can download a more full-blown client that lets you actually
probably build and expand and use all the functionality that’s on offer. In do so as well, it’s a
lot easier to build this client. It means that I don’t need to implement every single bit of
functionality. I can say, “All right. What’s the very minimum that’s useful for these people?”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. Here’s another technical issue since we’ve been
talking about Xenki, which uses a browser. What’s the difference between
browser-embedded, browser-hosted and browser-based viewers?
ADAM FRISBY: This is a question that Tish Shute, from Ugo Trade, did an excellent article
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes. Thank you, Tish. I stole that question from you.
ADAM FRISBY: The big difference between the two is the technologies that he used. At the
very top you’ve got browser, well, I guess you could say they’re browser plug-ins of sort.
You’ve got ActiveX controls. You’ve got actual browser plug-ins that you install. And those
require a lot of effort on behalf of the user. They can’t just simply visit the site and go on.
They’ve got actually to download a plug-in like Flash that’s then is what you’ve got. That’s
the World viewer. The advantage to use the most technologies is that they run at lightning
speed. They’re pretty much native applications that just render inside of the browser. You’ve
got known limits on the technologies that you use.
The next level is sort of a step down, and that’s browser-hosted applications. Again, that’s
tending towards the Flash end of the spectrum, Flash and Java, where you’ve got a highly
sandboxed environment that’s got very limited access to the system. So these are good for
certainly 2D games. The problem is that all the API’s that exist at the moment, with the
exception of Java, there’s some ways around it there, but certainly with Flash Silverlight and
the majority of Java is that you don’t actually get 3D acceleration, which is an instant killer
for doing any kind of 3D Virtual World in a browser. If you don’t have hardware acceleration,
it’s going to run at such a slow speed that you’re not going to bother with it.
Then at the very lowest level, you’ve got things that run inside the browser. These are the
in theory, build a client that does at least the basic operations. That’s chat, instant
messaging and inventory access, which is exactly what AjaxLife does.
The program that I built called Xenki is actually sort of a hybrid between the two. It runs
inside the browser at the same speed as the hosted model, but it actually still sits in the
sandbox. You don’t need to install it. The way it’s done is through a very obscure Microsoft
technology that got released recently, but it at least runs on everything from Windows 2000
up, and it gives you 3D acceleration plus network access, and it’s still accessed within a
sandbox that people don’t need to do anything installing to get going and running.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And that’s XBAP?
ADAM FRISBY: It’s the XBAP. It’s short for XML and Browser Application or something
similar to that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now one of the terms you’ve used a couple times is “hardware
acceleration.” Did I get that right?
ADAM FRISBY: That’s correct. Hardware acceleration is basically you’ve got a very
powerful graphics card in your machine. Most likely anything built in the last five years
certainly has a relatively strong rosterization engine. That’s sort of what displays the 3D
triangles on your screen. And even if it’s an Intel integrated graphics chip, it is a hundred to
a thousand times better than your general purpose processor at doing these operations. So
what hardware acceleration means is, you can actually display a lot of detail, on the screen,
without slowing down. If we’re forced to do this in software mode without the hardware
acceleration, in complex 3D scenes, just simply don’t work. We’ve been looking at, say, 30
seconds per frame to render.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I see that someone pasted into chat a tech article about
Philip Rosedale, the chairman of the board of Linden Lab, founder and former CEO. And the
headline is “Philip Rosedale doesn’t see browser-based Virtual Worlds as a threat to
Second Life.” And then after that they ask, “Is he in denial?” Presumably that’s a pretty clear
reference to Google’s Lively which runs in a browser. What’s your take on that?
ADAM FRISBY: I think this is not something that needs to be mutually exclusive. Certainly
the standalone clients that can be better in terms of performance. There’s no denying it. The
limits of what we can do with the browser-embeddable things are still there compared to the
unlimited access to the system that you have when you’re running application directly. I
think that there’s certainly room though for the instant gratification experience that Lively
has. Lively gets that perfect. You log in. You’re there. That’s it. There’s very little
customization and setup required to get in. So your start time from visiting a site with Lively
embedded on it to being in-world is less than two minutes.
Second Life, on the other hand, is a good 20, 30 minutes’ arduous task of logging in, getting
through orientation while customizing your avatar is zero instant gratification with Second
Life as it is today. So I think the option is that it would be great to create a hybrid model
where you’ve got both the instant access, web accessible clients. And you’ve also a full
standalone client for when you actually get addicted to the environment, and you decide,
“Hey, I actually want to do this more regularly. Let’s go download something’s a bit more
applicable to doing this regularly.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so you basically see a range of browsers out there or
viewers out there eventually that people will use as it suits their needs?
ADAM FRISBY: This is one of those examples where it’s actually better to have diversity in
the marketplace. There’s certainly another major alternate viewer project up and running
called the Open Viewer Project that its goal is to produce a very customizable modular
viewer that can be adapted for various purposes, be it both browser and the more
interesting standalone applications. I think, to be honest though, there certainly needs to be
a range. Not one solution is going to fit every single use case. There’s going to be needs for
browser-embeddable Worlds. There’s going to be need for standalone Worlds. There’s
going to be needs for viewers that can be customized for individual applications, for
instance, say, medical imaging for example. So by having diversity in the marketplace and
people competing between the feature sets, it’s going to develop much faster than if there
was just a single monolithic browser. We saw this in the early development of web
browsers, certainly while the Microsoft and Netscape were engaged in that browser war. We
saw new features added at a stunning pace. By comparison, there haven’t been that many
new features added to web browsers in the last eight years compared to the eight years
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome back to Metanomics. We had a slight technical
problem, but we got through it. And now we’re going to move on, continue with the show.
The next topic up for our guests: Linden Lab and the viewer. Now one of the interesting
things in watching Linden Lab operate is that all the people who use their software are, I
guess, technically users, arguably customers, but many of them feel like they are citizens
and feel like they have a lot of rights and are often providing Linden Lab with lots of input.
They open-sourced the viewer, which means that there are all these people, like Adam, who
are working to create viewers that can integrate with Second Life’s server. And so this is
raising a bunch of issues.
The other issue that’s coming up that I’d actually like to start with now is that Linden Lab has
made a number of, I guess, rather vague statements really about a major viewer project
that’s in the works. We tried to get a couple of Lindens to come on today’s show and talk
about this, but they were rather cagey and declined. And so I guess I’m wondering whether
there’s a major announcement coming up soon enough that they don’t want to be talking
publicly. We’re in a little bit of a dark period right now. Dusan, Adam, do either of you have
any insights on the viewer project at Linden Lab?
ADAM FRISBY: This is something that Linden Lab does occasionally do. They’ll take
pieces of Second Life and improve them, but I don’t think Linden Lab is an organization
that’s particularly good at keeping big projects secret. I think pretty much every major project
that Second Life has had has been announced well before it came through. And I guess
Linden Lab’s been criticized for that at the same time because a lot of their projects that
were initially promised, they never show up in the end. I think certainly that they’ve got to
keep Open Source developers working on the clients, roughly in the loop means that they’ve
got to actually be reasonably forthcoming about what they’re working on. They have had
criticism about that in the past, but, as I said, I don’t think Linden Lab is an organization
that’s particularly good at keeping secrets for very long.
DUSAN WRITER: I’m not sure. At the last Office Hours for the user experience group, they
talked about how to coordinate the efforts of people who wanted to work on the Open
Source viewer, and they talked about the process that they’re going through right now,
which was to create a broader vision for the user experience and for the viewer. So it felt, to
me, like they were saying that they were trying to set up a larger project that, as M has
hinted in a couple of announcements, sounds to me like they’re thinking of rebuilding the
viewer from the ground up. Whether that’s true or not, they’re not confirming. But I think, as I
say, at the last user experience group, they certainly said that this is something that they
were working on, which was a proper roadmap based on a strategy and use scenarios.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now to--
ADAM FRISBY: Well--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No, go ahead, Adam.
ADAM FRISBY: Well, one of the things that they have been working on recently is being
sort of freeing up the user interface from being hard coded [everywhere?]. By that it means
that originally the Second Life user interface was built so that all the buttons, all the icons,
everything inside the viewer was placed there by a programmer. And, of course,
programmers should never ever, ever be allowed anywhere near user interface design at
all. So I think one of the big projects recently has been that they’ve actually moved this to a
format where actually artists and designers can come in. The way they moved this allows
actually some of the major functionalities to be rewritten by people who aren’t programmers.
I think that’s lending towards Linden Lab wanting to rebuild the user interface from scratch,
but I don’t think they’ll rebuild the viewer from scratch. There’s too much work invested, and
all the projects that they’ve been working on would have to stop and then focus entirely on
building the new client. Otherwise they’ll have been wasting time and money.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I just, I guess, want to clarify as a non-techy, you’re making a
very clear distinction between the viewer and the user interface. Is that right?
ADAM FRISBY: Yeah. The viewer itself is the entire application, all 500,000 lines of code of
it. User interface is a very small portion of that, but it’s a very significant one. The Second
Life user interface has been criticized quite rightly for being archaic, confusing, doesn’t look
right on every single operating system it’s running on. There’s a lot of reasons to rebuild the
user interface from scratch, and, by separating it out, Linden now has the potential to do
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So that a user interface redesign project would, I guess, first of
all, be much less ambitious, but second, would leave us with the--one of the problems that I
hear especially dealing a lot with educators is that people worried that their educational
institutions that may not have a lot of money aren’t going to go out and buy the newest
computer hardware, and so the viewer places a lot of demands on them. And it sounds like,
right, unless they redesign the viewer itself, they won’t really be altering that fact.
ADAM FRISBY: Yeah. Linden has a huge problem on their hands with supporting every
single user. For every nine you add to the percentage of users you want to support, you
have to basically increase the amount of work by a power of ten. So supporting 90 percent
of the users is ten times harder than supporting ten percent of the users. Supporting
99 percent of the users is a hundred times harder, and it keeps on going up. Linden has got
to support 99.99 percent basically. They have support on three operating systems that have
very different architectures underneath, and they’ve got to make sure that it runs every
version of those operating systems with every hardware configuration. It’s a massive job.
Certainly the ultimate viewer projects that have started up have limited themselves. So with
the Xenki I limited myself to Windows only, which cut a huge amount of work off the
development time. And likewise the Open Viewer Project that’s been focusing on doing the
cross-platform work, but it’s noticeably moving at a slower pace because of it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So what’s the time line that you’re willing to publicly commit to on
Xenki for being something that’s available to someone like me?
ADAM FRISBY: Right now you can download the source code, and, if you’re handy with a
compiler, you can get it running. But ultimately, the ultimate goal is to be able to have
something that’s reasonably well featured that you can download and get running. Based on
my previous experiences with Second Life Open Source Projects is that they tend to take
about a year to get to the point where they’re actually quite usable, and then it takes another
year or two to actually polish it up and get it ready for mass user adoption. I think this is a
little bit less ambitious than some of those other projects so it might be a little bit faster, but I
think probably about a year is a reasonable goal. I certainly would like to move faster, but
there’s a lot of work to be done.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now the other issue that we have beyond the redesign of the
interface itself is that, especially since the viewer has been Open Source, there’s a big
group of Second Life residents who have been very active in providing suggestions to
Linden Lab on how to improve features. And this is not a bottom-up redesign. This is one by
one, “Here’s an issue I’ve identified. Linden Lab should fix it.” Well, I guess I’m just curious,
really, from both of you: What’s your impression on the success of that interaction?
ADAM FRISBY: [AUDIO GLITCH] Dusan?
DUSAN WRITER: Do Adam first.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I must have touched a good one, huh.
ADAM FRISBY: Yeah. I mean judging the success of the viewer so far has bee--it’s not
bad. I mean certainly Second Life has hit prime time attention. It’s got a lot of users in it. I
think the difference here is basically adding zeros onto the edge of the Second Life
population. Linden Lab has got a goal of trying to get two billion users in a Second Life-style
environment through the Open Grid Project, and I guess part of that means bringing your
viewer up to scratch as well.
DUSAN WRITER: And I’m curious to see what they’ll do with this rumored SLim client that
Tatero talked about, just based on that trademark application that Linden Lab gave, which
sort of implies that there’s--and I do get confused between the interface and the viewer. But
it also sort of implies that whatever it is that we’re using to access Second Life may need
other enhanced functions, especially around things like group management and social
functions if it’s ever going to integrate with how we work or socialize or communicate. So
there’s the interface, and there’s the viewer, and then there’s all that other stuff. That’s
where I think the sort of low-hanging fruit might be for the Lab.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Adam, do you have any insights into this new SLim
announcement? And maybe some of our listeners.
ADAM FRISBY: I’m not entirely sure what they’re working on there. Although based on
projects that they have talked about in the past, my suspicion is that it’s probably something
that’s--I mean my guess would be it’s probably something that’s running on a web
application, to be honest, that can run on iPhone, that can run on your browser and probably
just something like the online clients you can access instant messaging services with. If it’s
not that, it’s probably something fairly similar. Very slim-line application that does just the
very basics to get your presence in-world without actually logging you in. Certainly the new
infrastructure that’s being built, the AWG protocols support the ability to got to connect to
users by instant messaging, without actually connecting into the World itself. So my guess
is, they’re probably leveraging that to some degree.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. I’d like to go back to a question that I asked just a
couple minutes ago and try to clarify that a little bit, which is, I had a chance to attend the
meeting with Benjamin Linden, his Office Hours on the resident experience. He went to
great lengths to encourage the people who are doing the work patching the existing viewer
and saying, “Great work,” but he recognized he needed to think about ways to advocate
more vocally for the users and advanced users who are working on that project, to get those
patches that are waiting to be integrated. Do you have any suggestions for what Linden
could do to basically to mobilize this community of Open Sourcers, who are there working
very hard to improve on the margins what we’ve got now?
ADAM FRISBY: I think there is certainly a good deal of [way to go?] Linden can improve
their Open Source Program. One of them is, they have improved a lot since they began the
program, but they still have a long way to go in terms of publishing what directions they’re
going in. Certainly one of the big problems of people writing patches is that, if Linden Lab
doesn’t accept them to go into the mainline viewer relatively quickly, people have to
maintain these patches. They have to keep separate versions of the Second Life viewer up
and running and continually going, and it’s a lot of work for these people. I certainly would
not want to maintain a Second Life viewer patch for a long period of time.
So the first thing is to basically accept more of these patches in if they’re worthwhile. I’m not
sure how they’ll do that exactly, but certainly publishing what directions they’re working on
so people know not to spend too much time working on feature X because Linden’s working
on something similar already, and it’ll likely conflict with what they’re working on. That’s
certainly something that they need to do. I think being more vocal, basically opening up
more of the internal developers to the Open Source community would achieve wonders. I
know right now there’s a couple of really great dedicated Lindens who are involved with the
Second Life viewer or the OpenSim projects, and they do a fantastic job, but, unfortunately,
they don’t represent every single developer working at Linden Lab. And, of course, that
means the people who aren’t represented are working off of their own thing and often end in
conflicts with the viewer developers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Dusan, you have a take on that?
DUSAN WRITER: I’d almost like to ask some of the contestants to the contest because I
think this is something that comes up at Office Hours is the triaging of patches, how they’re
managed. I mean that’s sort of more their area than my area.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, let me ask you: I mean here you ran this contest. You
coughed up L800,000 to get people to really think long and hard about what they would like
to see in the user interface. Do you have a sense of Linden Lab’s response to that?
DUSAN WRITER: I do have to say they were encouraging. I’m sorry. I just have
Rheta Shan, the winner of the contest, on another window, and she’s coming in-world,
which is exciting.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, wonderful!
DUSAN WRITER: I do have to say that the Lindens were supportive. They did contact me
when the contest was announced. They were encouraging. They did invite us to Office
Hours, did invite me to Office Hours a number of times, first of all, to promote the contest,
and the secondly to present the people who entered. My feeling is that this is really kind of a
big brainstorming and that if something comes out of it or there’s some features, there’s
some philosophy, there’s some neat designs that come out of it, they need to really create a
roadmap and combine this, I think, with some user data. I think one of the ways that people
involved in the Open Source viewer are handcuffed a little bit is not having access to some
of the usability data that the Lab talks about having. So if they’re doing tests with new users
and they happen to know that there’s certain functions of the viewer that don’t work, they
could throw some of that data out to the Open Source community and let them tackle that
problem. But all in all, I think they were very encouraging, and it’s unclear what their
roadmap is for the interface or the viewer or whatever the client. Hopefully, they’ll take some
of these ideas as barnstorming and thought process.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Well, we are basically out of time so I think you for
staying over a little bit, Dusan Writer, Adam Frisby, talking about ways we can improve our
view. Best of luck to both of you in your endeavors, and I appreciate your taking the time to
come on to Metanomics.
ADAM FRISBY: Thanks, Rob, for having me.
DUSAN WRITER: Thank you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So because this a special show, we’re not going to close with our
usual Connecting The Dots segment, in which someone, usually me, takes a few minutes to
express an opinion. Instead, I’d just like to let everyone know that, with the help of
GSD&M Idea City and the folks at Metaversality, we are surveying Metanomics viewers to
understand who you are and what you’re hoping to get out of Metanomics so we can make
this a better show. The mechanics of the survey are straightforward. If you’re in Second Life
already, search for the profile of one of the two bots that are helping us: Roxy Ideator or
Vogel Ideator, and simply open the web tab on their profile. Load the web page, and it’ll ask
for your avatar name and an email address. And then you can just following the instructions
which are basically asking you to type the word “begin,” to start the survey; “repeat,” to see
the last question repeated; and “help,” if you have any other questions.
If you go to metanomics.net, you’ll see one of the top articles is giving you information and a
link that you can use if you want to just do this on the web. Either way, it won’t take you
more than ten minutes to do the whole thing, and we can’t tell you how helpful your
participation will be. So even if this is the first show that you’ve seen on Metanomics, we
would love to get your reactions.
So, thanks in advance to all of you. Thanks to our sponsors and special thanks to SLCN TV
for getting out of bed and coming to do a special show. They do great work for us every
week, and it really is a pleasure to work with them as we have at Metanomics since our first
show in September of 2007. So, thanks to our guests, our sponsors, our audience members
and SLCN. We will see you next week, Monday, at our regular time, noon SLT, noon Pacific
Time. We’ll be talking with Zane Naboulsi of Microsoft, and we will be looking at how
Microsoft is making use of Second Life for their Microsoft Developers Network, MSDN, what
Microsoft’s plans are in the Metaverse and what that means for the rest of us. So, thank you
all, and bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer