GRIDNAUTS - AUGUST 4, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon, and welcome to an episode of Metanomics
we’re calling Gridnauts in honor of those brave, patient and very hardworking explorers who
are participating in Linden Lab’s recently announced Open Grid Beta program. Helping us
try to understand what the Open Grid Beta program means for the future of the Metaverse
are David Levine, from IBM, and Mark Lentczner, from Linden Lab. Metanomics is brought
to you by Simuality, our primary sponsor, maker of SlippCat. We also have four supporting
sponsors: 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 Amphitheater, Meta Partners Conference Area, Rockliffe University, and the
Outreach Amphitheater of the New Media Consortium Educational Community Sim.
Last week I encouraged you to join the Metanomics Group if you wanted some interesting
chat in between shows. Indeed, this was quite a week of chat, and you can see for yourself
on our website, metanomics.net. One day Ellen Kolsto from GSD&M Idea City, a marketing
consulting firm in Austin, Texas, fired up a long discussion about the difficulties of charging
for content in Second Life, which is something that the firm Rezzible has a right to do.
Linden Lab’s CFO, John Zdanowski, Zee Linden, joined in to ask more generally what our
opinions were on what Linden Lab could do to stimulate Second Life’s economy. And Zee
ended up inviting us for a voice chat on the subject. So you can read all about it on
metanomics.net. Join the group and get involved.
We encourage you also to keep up a lively chat during today’s show. In my own personal
view, one of the signature advantages of conducting live events in Virtual Worlds is the
ability to what would have to be called a cacophony of discussions in text chat simultaneous
with a more focused conversation in voice. We use InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge
system to transmit local chat to our website, website chat into our event partners and so on.
So backchat brings you in touch with people all around Second Life and on the web,
wherever you are.
You’ll also notice that Bjorlyn Loon and other Metanomics staff members will be pasting in
relevant links information and other important [AUDIO GLITCH]. Ultimately the backchat
becomes part of our archives, along with the video, audio and text transcript of the show
itself. So not only does your chat allow you to guide the conversation, it also gives you a
chance for immortality.
Okay. Let’s jump directly to our main event, talking about the Open Grid Beta program. This
program marks a crucial step toward a true Metaverse where avatars can teleport from one
Virtual World to another. We’re joined today by two of the most important figures in this
[endeavor?]. First we have IBM’s David Levine, Zha Ewry in Second Life, who works at
IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center. Zha will be familiar to many viewers, setting what I
guess is a Metanomics record for his third appearance on the show. David, welcome back
DAVID LEVINE: Thank you. Just to get it out of the way, I’ll give my quick disclaimer. I work
for IBM in this area. When I speak about various parts of this [AUDIO GLITCH] from a
technical perspective, not a policy-setting perspective, and when I talk about various policy
choices, I’m talking about the technical issue. I certainly don’t speak to Linden Lab’s when I
discuss them. But you have somebody here today who can.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, yes, we do, and that is Linden Lab’s director of engineering,
API and architecture, Mark Lentczner known widely by his Second Life name Zero Linden.
Zero heads up the architecture working group that has been a key part of the Open Grid
project. Zero, welcome to Metanomics.
MARK LENTCZNER: Why, thank you. I’m glad to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I guess I would like to ask you: Will you be representing
Linden Lab’s perspectives and policies, or will this be your personal take?
MARK LENTCZNER: Well, I think sitting here with the name Zero Linden it would be hard
not to. No, I think, in this capacity, I’m here, as I said, director of engineering, or one of the
directors of engineering at Linden Lab so I will be talking about these issues from Linden’s
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I really appreciate your coming on to join us. Now I would
like to start this off by giving my own highly oversimplified explanation of what ultimately the
Open Grid project is trying to achieve, and then Zha and Zero can tell me the many ways in
which I’m wrong and all the many features and complexities that I’m not capturing. We have
a simple graphic here that we came up with, and, as long we’re talking caveats, these are
my ideas, but I am not technically proficient. I am an accounting professor after all, so this is
after spending quite a bit of time with my staff and with Bjorlyn Loon, trying to figure out
exactly what the Open Grid project is about.
Now many people are aware that Linden Lab has published source code for the viewer,
which would allow people to create new viewers that connect to Second Life’s servers. And
so we have a graphic coming up that depicts this. So we depict Second Life’s server with a
square, and we depict the viewer with a sort of circular object. And they have these
connectors that you see fit together, and then there are lines that show the information that
is going back and forth between the server and the client, also called the viewer. So
information about your friend’s lists, your inventory, the avatars and other objects that are
around you. And you’ll notice that the little male and female pieces connect to the server
and client, and that is really the crucial part that allows the information to be communicated
in ways that both the server and the client can understand. Now because Linden Lab has
published the source code that allows people to create new viewers that can connect to
Second Life’s servers, using the right connections so that everything is consistent with what
the serve and the client are expecting.
So let’s assume I take a week off, and I create my own client, my own viewer, which is
shown in red, and I can go ahead and do that because I know the protocols, the interfacing,
how they need to be similar.
Now Open Grid is a much more complex animal. If you look on the right side of the graphic,
what you see is that there are multiple servers, and so I can potentially take the green
Linden Lab client, and I can connect that, of course, to Linden Lab’s server. But if I take two
weeks off and create a Metanomics server--you see our logo in there--then the Open Grid
project ultimately would allow people to take that same client, that same viewer and link it up
to our server.
I have to mention already I see people saying, “Where is the agent domain?” And I’ll just
have to say be patient; that’s why we have professionals on the show. We’ll get there. I’m
just not able to explain that myself.
I would like to point out one other thing though that is what makes the Open Grid project so
complicated. If I’m going to be able to take my viewer, connect it to Second Life, get
information off the server and then point my viewer to the Metanomics server and take that
information that I just got from Second Life’s server and put it on Metanomics’ server, that’s
an information transfer that is full of a lot of concerns about security, intellectual property.
And so between that and keeping track of the agents themselves, we have something that
probably would take me more than just two weeks to build.
So that’s my, as I say, highly oversimplified take, and I’m delighted to have Zha and Zero on
the show so they can explain what I’ve left off.
Now to start this discussion, what I’d like to do is talk about Zha Ewry’s first teleport from
Second Life to a server not controlled directly by Linden Lab. There was a blog post that
described this and also introduced the OpenSim project and emphasized that Zha
teleported, without bringing any inventory textures or attachments. And so, Zero, I’m hoping
that you can respond to one of the first comments that showed up in response to this on a
Second Life blog. It’s from Ceera Murakami, and Ceera says this, “No inventory, textures or
attachments? So what does it accomplish again? Merely that you can use one client
application, account name and password to log on to multiple grids. If nothing but your
name transfers, that sounds pretty worthless to me. I can already go to any of the other
grids and create an account that uses the same name and same password to log on, and I
get the same result, a ruthed avatar that has absolutely nothing in common with my Second
Life avatar, other than the name.”
So, Zero, we talked about this a little bit last week, and you had a couple of slides that you
used to explain why this teleport was so much more than it sounds.
MARK LENTCZNER: That’s right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Could you walk us through that?
MARK LENTCZNER: Certainly. Certainly. Let’s explain why this journey of a thousand
miles really does start with a single step, and that step is such a big one. So I have the first
slide I drew there; I don’t know if you can get it up there. What most people think of when
they think of what happened is they tend to think of what happens when they visit websites
because this is a common experience, and all of us have experienced it. When you browse
the web and you go from one web property to another, say you’re looking at your Facebook
account and then you jump over to Flickr because someone has a link to some Flickr page,
and you arrive at the Flickr website, which somehow knows that you’re logged in there as
well. And then you jump maybe from there to, say, looking at your Google account or
something, what is happening there really is, you have an account at each individual
website, and, as you move between the pages, of course, your browser is very cleverly and,
thankfully, behind your back managing cookies so that it basically is keeping you logged in
to your three different accounts on, say, three different servers. And, in fact, as we well
know there’s absolutely no relationship between your Facebook account and Flickr account
and Google account. And, if you’re lucky, you may have managed the same account name
on all three servers, but I don’t know about you, I certainly have probably about 50 active
accounts on different web servers and probably about 25 different account names between
those, so it’s often hard to get the same account name. And, of course, there’s no way for
anyone to know that it’s really you whether they’re the same. So that what happens in the
What we did and what happened in that very first historic teleport and now is happening in
the Open Grid Beta constantly is quite a bit different. We can go to the second slide. In the
second slide, what’s happening here is there’s really only one account so it’s not really
logging in to a bunch of different grids. You’re really only logging in once to your one and
only one account. And then we hold that account in a thing that, unfortunately, still has
gotten a useful nice name. It’s currently called by its technical name: the Agent Domain. You
log into the Agent Domain which maintains all your personal information about your avatar.
That includes your name and other aspects, like your Linden dollar balance and your
inventory and what you’re wearing, the state of the groups you’re in. That’s all held there in
a single account. And what we managed to do is, we managed to take that account and ask
that Agent Domain, that’s sort of the proxy for your account, and ask it to place your avatar
in a given region, and that region, when we teleported between regions, was actually on two
different grids or really under two different controls in two different sets of servers. And so
that we can move the agent and visit regions that are elsewhere.
What’s different here is that when you arrive at a region running somewhere else, you’re not
really logging in there. That region doesn’t have to have an account for you, isn’t actually in
control of your account at all. And why this is so important, even though today you can take
absolutely nothing but your name, is that what we’re showing, the path we have just taken
off on, is that you can go places without giving up control, in any way, shape or form, of your
account, of your identify, of your agent, and take your identity under your control to other
places. This is a very big change and different way of doing things than the rest of the web
or systems on the internet today use. That’s because Virtual Worlds require this different
method of doing things. We require that we all have an identity that we control, and it’s very
important that I take not just an account that has a similar name or a close to similar name
or maybe I’m lucky and got the same name; it’s important that I take my account. Does that
kind of help clear things up there?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that does. Now you used a term when we were talking
about this last week, and it was “user centric control of your own identify.” What is that?
MARK LENTCZNER: Right now when you have different websites that have accounts on
them, we really think of those accounts. I mean I have an account at Flickr, and I think of it
as Flickr owning that account. It’s Flickr’s account that has my name on it. I have a
password, and I get to change the settings. But I think, mentally, we all think of the account
as sort of being over there. I certainly don’t think of my Flickr account as me. In Virtual
Worlds, we all think of our avatars as us. I mean anyone who has been in Virtual Worlds for
more than an hour has gotten that uncanny experience of thinking, “My god! I’m really
identifying with this funny little 3D thing here.” And, because of that, it’s really important that
the account really feel like that it’s yours because that’s how you imbue identity and thus
bring yourself into these collaborations that we’re all in. So when I say “user centric control,”
I mean it’s very important that you feel like you are in control of your account and of your
identity and that when you go visit another region, you don’t have any sense or worry that, in
any sense, you are giving up or visiting an account owned and run by somebody else. You
have to make sure that you are a hundred percent in control of your account, your identity.
This structure does that, and it’s a, I think, rather novel one.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And a follow-up question here. So Zha and a handful of others
have already made this teleport, becoming our intrepid Gridnauts flying from grid to grid.
What is new about this Beta project that has been announced, the Open Grid Beta?
MARK LENTCZNER: So we have been saying, certainly for a year, that this whole thing is
to be an open process. And when we showed last month that we actually could technically
do it, we showed it in an extremely controlled--it’s like showing that it can be done in the
laboratory. The amazing thing is that we have gone from the laboratory to an open
experiment in, what, under a month or just about a month and actually showing that we can
do this in the wild with lots of other people participating and proving that this is more than
just a one-time hand-held experiment.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This has probably been the hardest show, out of the 40-odd that
I’ve had to prepare for. Part of what is confusing is the technical end. And another part that
is confusing is figuring out sort of who is involved and who’s doing what to make it happen.
Now, Zha, you wrote a blog piece recently where you stated, “The architecture working
group isn’t designing software; it’s designing a suite of protocols.” Can you explain that?
DAVID LEVINE: Yeah, I can certainly take a crack at that, and it’s actually very important.
There’s a big distinction between just writing software and writing protocols. It has to do with
what you assume about the implementers of it. The intent here--and I’m sure Mark will jump
in, or Zero will jump in and correct me if I run astray--the intent here is to have this
implemented broadly, not just by one group or by OpenSim or by Linden, but by many of the
participants in the, hopefully, emerging ecosystem around Virtual Worlds as possible. As
soon as you do that, the emphasis stops being on how did we build this specific piece of
software which interoperates and starts being on how anybody can build a piece of software
which follows this protocol and interoperates. And that pushes us into about three important
dimensions of this, most important of which is the only thing you can actually depend is the
protocol. You can’t actually depend on the software augmentation. Whether the codice
admitted to OpenSim works right or wrong isn’t of the essence here. What’s of the essence
here is that we got the protocol right, and I was able to implement it.
The other things have to do with questions of creating an ecosystem where lots of people
can innovate, and, again, that separates out writing code and writing an implementation
from the design of the way they interoperate.
The other piece of it which is important is it immediately puts us on the hook to understand
the trust issues between the software writers because one of the base root facts of the
internet and distributed software is, you can’t believe that the other guy is doing what you
asked him to. You can say, “Oh, yeah, that guy says he’s an OpenSim. He says he’s going
to do exactly what he said he would,” and he can, in fact, lie to you. So we have to account
for that relatively early on.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So that’s the trust issue?
DAVID LEVINE: That leads to part of the trust issue. It’s important to think of this as a
series of layerings here. At the very bottom, there’s the protocol which says this is how
Sim A talks to Sim B and Sim B talks to the client, and the teleport happens. And it’s a
series of steps. In this message, you get back this message, take the results of that, parse it
apart, and you send this next message on, and the teleport happens.
Anybody who reads the spec can go and build that. There’s no need to go use our code.
You can read the spec and build it yourself. And, in particular, over time, we would hope that
we’ll see lots of people do that on entirely separate technology basis. There’s a group doing
a test harness, which is done entirely in Python. All of the OpenSim work is done primarily in
C-Sharp, and the client is done in C-Plus-Plus, and all these pieces implement the protocol.
They’re each separate. And this is really important as we try to establish not merely a single
or a small collection of pieces of software, but a broad set of pieces.
The analogy to this is the web isn’t built on pieces of software. The web is built on a protocol
called HTTP and a markup which is called HTML. And you can implement that as many
ways as you want. In fact, we have Safari. We have Mozilla, who’s implemented Firefox, the
Internet Explorer and so on. We have a broad range of implementations which are
completely independent and don’t necessarily carry any source code at all.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess the other question I have is just looking at the
organization. As I understand it, we have Linden Lab, and Zero is being paid by Linden Lab.
Zha, you are being paid by IBM. And I know you guys are devoting a lot of time to this. We
also have people who I think are also devoting huge amounts of time to it. I think they call
themselves the AW Groupies, the Architectural Working Group members, who are often just
doing this on their own for whatever their own personal reasons are. Either of you, can you
give me an indication of who’s doing what, who’s taking responsibility for which element?
MARK LENTCZNER: Well, again, it is an open group effort and so things are not like a
well-run organization with clear defined boundaries by upper management or something. So
we’ve got a number of pieces here. We’ve got Linden Lab and IBM devoting significant
resources, engineering and technical resources to the design and forwarding of this process
and to the development. We are both working on--since a goal, of course, is to make this
work in this environment of Second Life and to extend it. Of course, at Linden Lab we have
engineers here working on our sides of our software, to make our software work with this,
which we are paying them to do that.
The AWG, of course, as a collection of people, is primarily people who are interested in
helping further the discussion and the motion along to get us to a protocol, and that is
primarily, well, not primarily--I mean it’s a volunteer organization like many protocol--I don’t
want to call it a standards body, but it’s a group working towards an eventual standards
protocol. We come to it from our different vantage points and motivated and funded by our
different directives. There are, of course, people working on OpenSim, which is an Open
Source project, and it would be hard to characterize them singularly. They come from all
different directions, people who are purely interested in it, people who are eventually
planning on making sure there’s an open technology for which they can then base other
products and businesses out of--of course, is a standard operation procedure of Open
Source projects. So there’s a variety of people.
And then we actually do have a number of other industry or well-known corporate members
who come to these meetings to discuss and to sort of keep an eye and connected to, even if
they are associated to a lesser degree. I would say it’s hard to actually pin down specific
responsibilities, except that I think, at any given moment, there are specific tasks that
groups have taken on. And certainly my role in this is to keep it moving forward since I
helped start it way back in last September.
DAVID LEVINE: Right. I think you pretty much covered it. One of the things that’s
happening here, and it’s, I think, somewhat unique is that this is essentially a group of
people with a clear overlapping interest. Everyone brings their piece of interest to it and
pushes it forward. I made the case to my management that this was important and
something that we should be participating in. And IBM is investing a certain amount of
resource directly in the actual interoperability work and OpenSim in general, as are other
corporations and other players. The end goal I think everyone sees is pretty clearly to grow
out the ecosystem around this technology. There isn’t, nor does there need to be, complete
agreement in that. We’re not saying, “This is an end goal. There are 18 things we will do,
and we will be done.” We are not going to end up doing a large range of activities, some of
which will no doubt prove to be dead end. At the end of it, I think we’re all confident that we’ll
have advanced things to the point where we can get a large number of interesting
extensions and interoperability to occur. It’s also deeply, I think, important to think about this
as entirely open.
Every one of Zero’s office hours, where a lot of this is discussed, gets posted to the Second
Life Wiki. All of the AWG group, these meetings, I think with exception of like two or three
where people actually failed due to disorganization, have their transcript posted to the Wiki.
The discussion is open. When we do something, we generally blog it. We generally talk
about it. We’re out here talking about it. This is very much a process of a group coming
together to figure out how the best way to tackle these problems is technically. And there’s a
lot of attention to what the sort of social and political and technical issues are.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. We have a question from Hooligan Dollinger that, I guess,
David, would be for you: Can you comment on the IBM private server was behind the IBM
firewall for Second Life that you announced? That you were working on with Linden Lab
earlier this year. I think that was in the spring, the Virtual Worlds Conference.
DAVID LEVINE: Right. I can mention it briefly. It’s one of several joint projects we’re
investigating with Linden Lab on ways to deliver value collaboratively with Linden as a
partner and potentially on their own in various spaces. In this space, it’s overlapping in some
of its interests, obviously. A large number of corporate customers have expressed interest in
being able to run the Second Life service as part of the grid but with the servers behind their
firewalls and in control of their own chat and content so they don’t have to worry about some
of the security issues. And we’re happy to have engaged in that discussion. We have a lot of
collaborative efforts we’re doing with Linden Lab and Second Life and with other Virtual
Worlds vendors, all of which are basically exploring this space. It’s not as if, at this point,
somebody has sat down and said, “This is the one true path forward.” We’re as involved in
trying to discover the path forward as anybody, and so that’s just a related project. We’re
doing an early example of that internally, to explore some of the implications of it. We’re
working very closely with Linden on that project, but it’s just another piece of work we’re
doing. It’s not directly either of these.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s move on to some issues of why this is worth doing
and what effect it’s going to have on Linden Lab, on IBM and other enterprises and for
residents of Virtual Worlds. So, Zero, I’d like to start with you and simply ask: Where does
the Open Grid project fit into Linden Lab’s business strategy long term?
MARK LENTCZNER: Well, you have to recognize that Virtual Worlds, as a whole, become
a pretty darn big and wide open thing. So it’s important for Linden Lab to, while at the same
time devoting some amount of resources and direct business energy to what is currently
happening inside Second Life, everything from stability to supporting the various new
features that people need to be able to get on with their business and life inside Second
Life, it’s also important for Linden Lab, as a whole, to take an active role in what’s going to
happen in the future. And so the Open Grid protocol and the open products work that’s
being done here is part of Linden Lab’s work towards looking towards the future, in trying to
ensure that we are part of that future and to make that happen.
So the business case here is, this is crucial to be able to see and to be part of and to lead
where Virtual Worlds, as a whole, is going. I think we’ve understood inside Linden Lab it’s
very successful. Virtual Worlds are very powerful, and it’s clear they’re going to be far bigger
and encompass far more things, ideas, actions and roles than we can cover individually.
And so we see a world in which Virtual Worlds must eventually open on an internet scale.
And, if that’s the case, then we have to be working to be part of that, to ensure that what’s
happening today feeds into what happens tomorrow.
DAVID LEVINE: Let me answer a little bit of that from perhaps another perspective, which I
think is closely related. There is a huge opportunity here. We’re at the very beginning of this
evolution. If you look at the internet, we're in the early ’90s when we just figured out that,
“Hey, this markup stuff and these web pages are really important tools,” only we’re doing
that for Virtual Worlds. And, at some very real level, we--and I use this in the broadest
sense--we, the community, the various corporate players, Linden I hope and lots of other
people--want to ignite an ecosystem in which lots of innovation occurs. Not small amounts
but lots of innovation in parallel and without knowing necessarily which piece of innovation is
going to win. And one of the ways we do that is by opening up the protocol and opening up
the source in various places, having a series of parallel projects in which people push on
lots of different things.
So a group gets interested in high resolution meshes for representation which Real Extend,
for instance, has done. Or a group is interested in how you want to deal with very closed,
very secure environments with a very real-life tie with entities, and they go ahead and
extend the environment in that way. We’ll see lots of innovation in the space, and no one
group, no community, [a piece of?] community is going to do it all at once. And this way we
get the benefit of interoperating and sharing. So when somebody comes up with a really
good idea, the entire community benefits. I think that’s relatively fundamental. It’s a
statement of the broader space is so important. We need to have it happen in parallel rather
than imagine it being done as one or two small centralized efforts, which has never a
success in the internet anyway.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. We have a question from Olando7 Decosta,
Roland Legrand, and it is for Zero: Would Linden Lab become a vendor of Virtual Worlds’
solutions and eventually spin off Second Life?
MARK LENTCZNER: Spin off? No, I don’t think so. I think we believe deeply that the
grander community--it’s amazing we still call it a community when it has, what, 15 million
registrants or whatever the number is today--the community is a deep part of who we are
and what we’re about and who we’re here for. I think there’s no doubt that Linden Lab’s
business will expand. We will be taking on other areas and doing other things. I can’t
speculate at the moment what being a vendor in Virtual World space will be because we’re
only charting what that space is right now. But I’m sure Linden Lab will be taking on other
business aspects of Virtual Worlds as time goes on; however, our heart and soul is the
community environment of Second Life. So I believe we will always be running Second Life.
I don’t think we will ever spin it off. You just have to recognize that Linden Lab is going to
grow and is going to be able to do more.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Zero, just to follow up on that, one of the short-term effects, it
would seem, is that right now selling land is a major, if not the major, revenue source for
Linden Lab. And so I’m just wondering if you can--we’ll talk in a minute about exploring
some more of these long-term benefits that are going to be great for the Metaverse and all
that. But, in the short term, I guess I’m wondering is the short term vast enough that you’re
going to see a lot of people putting up their own servers online and not buying land?
MARK LENTCZNER: No, I don’t.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You don’t see that happening?
MARK LENTCZNER: I don’t see that happening short term. First off, nothing will happen
here without a tremendous amount of planning and without involvement and without clear
communication. I think while it might be easier for other companies to go ahead and say
their practice would just be to do these things on the quiet, you can see that Linden Lab, as
a transparent entity, has been happily talking about the fact that this stuff is going on, even
in such an early stage. So, please, recognize the value of the fact that we’re willing to talk
about this stuff, at this stage, so that we can have the dialogue going on starting now about
how the Virtual Worlds will evolve. Even when, right now, as you can see, it’s not exactly an
immediate drop replacement for what you’re doing in Second Life at the moment. All you
can do is take your avatar as a ruth somewhere else. So I don’t see that.
And the other thing I think people have to recognize and think about is, it is still the case that
the land that Linden Lab offers, that is in Second Life, has a huge number of features and
value and its part of this community. There are other points in the world of virtual land space
that this land may not cover. So when other people open up land or build land elsewhere, I
don’t think that necessarily is a direct competitor for what’s going on here. In the future,
there might be. I’m sure there will be competition in the future. But, any time short- or
mid-term, recognize that there are other kinds and uses of Virtual Worlds which we may not
be filling, and therefore, people fulfilling that doesn’t mean we’re losing business. It’s that the
market as a whole is growing.
DAVID LEVINE: Right. And one of the things I think that is important to keep in mind is that
there are often, as the web evolves, opportunities where you look and then go, “Does a
player or collection of players want to hold tightly their share of the current closed World?
Do they want to be a potentially small share of a much larger World?” And I certainly think
that’s one of the perspectives to keep in mind, both from the point of view of the participants
on a company level, but also from the view of the participants of residences. If, in fact, we’re
at all successful at this, part of the explicit result ought to be a much larger World, much
more variety and many more participants. And when that happens, the overall pie gets quite
a bit larger. In particular, if that’s all connected, if it’s all leveraged--the phrase you’ll often
here is “network effect.” Some people talk about this with a business strategy point of
view--then you get huge benefits. So if, for example, it suddenly becomes possible for
people to do corporate solution training behind their firewalls, but it’s part of very deeply the
same large community so that the same avatars move up and back, then the benefits
become that there’s more use of the entire World.
One of the things that you don’t particularly want to get to, in my perspective, is lots of little
private walled gardens which never interoperate because then none of them share the
benefits. They don’t get the opportunity to say, “Oh, now that you’ve learned how to do this
training, you can also come and do public space meetings with your colleagues and
competitors in Second Life, and you can come and do social events. You can come and
engage in a large range of activities.” There’s a lot of intersections of interest where what we
want to achieve is not, “Oh, here are ten different ways you can do this, each of which is
independent.” But, “Here are ten different ways to do this, which have variations, all of which
are synergistic and combine to give you a greater world.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a question from Segun Ohtobide: Do you see the Open
Grid becoming the next internet? Is that a reasonable way of putting this?
MARK LENTCZNER: If you mean if it becomes the next thing people mean when they just
say the more generic term “the internet”? Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That would be my [CROSSTALK]
MARK LENTCZNER: I do. That makes it a little bit, I don’t know, pompous or pompous
sounding, but I think it’s absolutely true.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We need to give the bloggers a headline so that’s it, “Zero Linden
says yes.” A follow-up question from Cytec Blanco: Is Google playing along with it?
MARK LENTCZNER: You mean is Google in involved in the AWG or in the Open Grid?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Or any aspect of this project.
MARK LENTCZNER: Not to our knowledge. No one has identified themselves as an
employee of Google. So no, I don’t think so.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s an interesting way of putting it. I mean I suppose it’s
possible that one of those many hardworking folks in the AWG or working on Open Source
could be doing it, getting paid for their time by Google. You don’t have to comment on that.
MARK LENTCZNER: I just don’t know.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’ll just leave that hanging out there.
DAVID LEVINE: One of the mild entertainments of this is the periodic, “Do you actually
know who all the people you’re working with are?” And the answer is, “Not always.” Some of
us identify ourselves, “Here’s my Real Life connection. Here is who I’m working for.” Some
people who’ve provided lots of strong ideas and direct input have not. And, if the ideas are
high quality and the contributions are worthwhile, they get included. And I would find it
unlikely that major corporate players would play that game. On the other hand, I would be
very comfortable and not surprised if, when you’re looking at it, you just kept your mouth
shut and watched for a while. And it’s all open. There’s no reason why somebody from any
major corporation who’s interested in this can’t go read the Wiki, see what we’re doing and
learn a lot. And, in fact, explicitly, that’s one of the goals. Everything we’ve done is public.
So if they are interested, come read it if you want to contribute. Come talk to us. We’d be
glad to hear from you. It’s very much an open process.
And just to briefly touch on the comment of, “Is this the next internet?” In some sense,
absolutely no, in the sense that the internet’s the network. Is it our intent and hope that this
becomes a big part of how people do things across the web and, as I said, a layer on top of
that? Absolutely. Do we think that potentially significant chunks of what people currently do
using other technologies get subsumed by this? That’s certainly one of the aspirations.
Where it’s appropriate. Where collaboration and where doing it as a shared space, with a
visual presence becomes compelling, absolutely. That’s clearly one of the things we see as
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me try to get a little more specific on one of the other
advantages of having the Open Grid. As I understand it, it’s not just the fact that you can
take advantage of the network effect, but it’s also that someone could create a World that
fits the protocols so that it will communicate with the others, but could have very different
capabilities inside. And so I’m just trying to get some confirmation that I’m thinking about this
correctly. So for example, as I understand it, someone could create a World that has
incredible building tools so that you can do much more effective 3D modeling or something
like that so you could take your object from Second Life, put it in that World, work on it,
make it better, more beautiful, more complex and so on; bring it back. Is that the direction
you see this going, Worlds with very different capabilities, but following common protocols?
MARK LENTCZNER: Yes, although I think the capabilities are what you’ve described is
more like a version of the viewer rather than a version of a World. I would think--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, okay.
MARK LENTCZNER: --a better example of a World would be more like a World which was,
say as an example, maybe a World in which the simulator simulating those regions was
deeply connected to, say--I don’t know, the truck-monitoring of trucks through some
shipping company’s network so that the simulator actually was somehow a deep 3D
immersion experience of their data, of what was going on in their business. Or an example
of a region in which the experience had certain properties or maybe even the scripting
environment was different or specific to that region, to enable a different kind of
entertainment experience or a different kind of perhaps even, say, educational experience
or even science. I could imagine different kinds of regions with properties connected to
science labs or science experiments for scientific visualization.
DAVID LEVINE: Right. There was a group in Tokyo that took an OpenSim and hooked up a
real physics simulator to it so that you could do some Real World astronomy experiments.
You can look at the visualization results of that. That sort of thing where somebody says,
“Well, look. Here’s a new property that I can put into the simulation that’s specialized.” We
don’t need to have in every simulator in the grid, but adds value to the whole collection of
simulators, I think, would be a huge example of that, and I think we’re going to see this.
Somebody asked in backchat, and I just want to touch on this briefly, “Why behind the
firewall?” And it’s a related answer because there are cases where you want to keep
specialized content that you care about. So for example, if you want to train people in a Real
Life scenario to discuss a number of customers, human resources issues where you’re
going to do sensitivity training, where you want to do scenarios of hostile customers, you
might well not want to do that in public, but you want your employees to experience it. And
an immersive environment’s a great way to do it.
You can hire up a half dozen people to role-play hostile customers and force your client reps
to actually interact with them in this lovely low-cost and not actually harming real people.
You’re not flying them around the world to do this. But they get a very realistic experience of
it. And so there are lots of variations on what we do in the World today that you might
imagine wanting to do over time.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you give us a sense of the timeline for this? Where are we
going to be in 18 months?
DAVID LEVINE: [PAUSE] Look. We’re both quiet.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Silence! No, it’s hard to get these two to just be quiet.
DAVID LEVINE: No, it’s not. No. We want to give a coherent answer.
MARK LENTCZNER: Yeah. I don’t want to promise anything here, by any stretch, because
we are proceeding slowly. We are proceeding openly. And we think there will be no grand
surprises 18 months out. Everyone is going to know where things are coming as they
DAVID LEVINE: Let’s give a couple of hallmarks of sort of where we’re looking. One of the
deep questions that we have to untangle and we’ve been discussing is how to handle
content and, in particular, how to handle the right to content creators. There’s a series of
technical work which involves managing trust so that you have a legal and technical
relationship with other grids that supports the content creation. We didn’t skip inventory just
because it’s hard. We also skipped inventory, not just because it’s part of the technical
base. We skipped inventory because it’s hard to do fairly and correctly, and you want to do it
correctly. There’s a bunch of work having to do with details like what does it even mean to
share a map, how do you manage the map. Right now lots of parts of the current World
assume there is one map; there’s one search function; there’s one currency; there’s one
place to find events. And all of those things have to gradually be untangled and made more
At the same time, we will have tackle trust. We will have to tackle things which are important
to residents and important to content creators and important to land owners. We don’t want
and can’t, in fact, succeed by doing these in ways which hurt the existing community and
hurt the existing applications. We want to do this as a positive step.
So what are you going to look for? I think you’re going to look for a series of technical
activities where we say, “Here’s a new facet that’s been discussed in prototype and
discussed in meetings, and now here’s a Beta of it that gets added into the current Beta so
that trust this region, and now you can start asking questions like what policies can you
[INAUDIBLE/AUDIO PROBLEM], and, over time, do you get towards where it’s much harder
to be teleported to an OpenSim run on a separate grid and an OpenSim run on a traditional
region run by Second Life. I think that’s where we’re headed. As for a specific timeline, I
don’t think anyone’s going to commit to that at the moment.
MARK LENTCZNER: I will prognosticate a little bit more than that and say that I think,
within 18 months or in the 18-month timeframe, it will be possible for most of the people in
this audience to actually do this. I don’t know to what degree. It will still probably be
limitations or restrictions on what actually is possible in that interaction. But today, this is,
you know, download a magic viewer. Look up a bunch of magic URLs and you can do it and
you end up ruthed. But I think 18 months from now this will be actually something that most
people will actually be able to do and like, “I actually went and did it.” Yeah, yeah.
X, Y and Z didn’t work or wasn’t available yet. But you’ll actually be able to do it. So I think
this will become more of a commonplace idea 18 months from now, that will be generally
DAVID LEVINE: I think we can also say with a fair bit of confidence that, between now and
18 months from now, a number of the current thorny issues will become a lot clearer. So for
example, we will have a coherent story about how we’re going to manage proving that this
region is one we can trust or this region is one we shouldn’t give your content to. One of the
things that I’ve said repeatedly and I think is essential is, we have to do this in a way that
makes it successful for all the participants. It’s not a success if, in doing this, we ruin, as it
were, some of the important properties of what we’ve built.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you guys have mentioned policy. This isn’t just a technical
issue. There are also policies that need to be set. For those of the non-technical of us in the
Metaverse, there’s a place where the architecture working group gathers and a house
overlooking it that has a sign that says something like, “Open Source equals Closed
Society,” which is maybe less of a walled garden issue than a gated community one. But
how is it that the people who are not technical, but are going to be affected by what you do,
have a voice in what is happening on that interface policy technical issue?
MARK LENTCZNER: From Linden’s end, we intend, in the same way in which I have been
holding open office hours for the last year, on the technical side of it, to begin to hold a
series of forum and a series of conduits for information from people. I’ve been working with
some other people inside the community group, inside Linden Lab, to begin to set those up.
I know it might have felt like this was a technocracy where we started, but do recognize
there was a tremendous amount of technical framework that had to get laid down before we
could even get to the point of actually having a rational discussion about what the options
were, and we are now approximately at that point.
I expect this fall for those forums to begin to open up and to become available, at least ones
that Linden will hold, in the same way that Linden started the technical forum, the AWG in
my office hours. We highly encourage, just like the AWG existed, that other groups also
form forums in which these things can be discussed and looked at.
The one thing I will put forth is, remember for us to think about this as a discussion. This is
something that needs to be looked at. It isn’t a debate. There aren’t two sides. We need to
look at and discuss and explore how to go about doing this as Virtual Worlds grow, and
that’s what we want to have. On the one hand, is involving discussion, and I think that’s
what we’re going to have to help facilitate.
DAVID LEVINE: Right. I think a related piece of this, and I’ve expressed this on my blog a
number of times, and I try to express this in person where I can: One of my goals as a
creator of technology in this space is take the very clear position that we are not smart
enough to know where this is going to end up. In fact, if we did, we’d be relatively arrogant.
We have some pretty good guesses about parts of it. The goal of the technology of the
protocols and so forth is to give us a framework in which we can explore this and figure it
out. And people are going to put together, over the next several years, a huge range of grid.
Some of which will interoperate fully. Some of which will be very private. Some of which will
have very different rules of engagement. And we will find out, by that process, what works
and what doesn’t work. We’re not saying if you build this, you get this one cookie-cutter
World. In fact, we’re saying just the opposite. We’re saying technology is going to enable a
very broad range of ways of people assembling pieces of the Virtual World. And we will find
out. And we will listen. And we will have a very rich discussion.
And, as Zero said, I think it’s exactly the right point: There isn’t a side to this, isn’t a right or
wrong answer; it’s a process. And I say this routinely, there are lots of ways to get involved
which don’t involve writing code. Every resident at some level or another has a use case
they’re interested in. They may not even know it’s important to them, but they do in fact
have them. They use Second Life. They use this technology to get something done. And all
of those use cases are of value. They range from people who are interested in huge, large,
live music events. People are very interested in corporate training. People who are
interested in creating content. People who are interested for their own personal beliefs
having shared content which they don’t believe in charging for content. All of those models,
and there are a lot of them, and there are many more than I’ve just described, are important,
and they’re all going to get explored. We’re not going to pick one. There isn’t winners or
losers; the range of opportunities for enabling.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So we have time for one last question, and, Zero, this is for you. I
see the backchat in the web. I think a lot of this is the web and event partners. People are
asking lots of questions about the future of the Linden dollar. And I know that Zee and, I
believe, M and Philip have all mentioned at some point recently, the thought that the Linden
dollar could have use and value outside just the World of Second Life. So there are just
questions about: How would other grids use these? How would Linden Lab control the
supply so that there isn’t hyperinflation and so on? Any thoughts on that, Zero?
MARK LENTCZNER: Sure. Obviously, I think not just Linden Lab, but a lot of people in
Second Life think the Linden dollar is a tremendously valuable asset and is a great system
and one that we want to grow in the ways in which people can use it. As far as what
happens when grids open up and why won’t that spell doom for the Linden dollar, recognize
that we believe the Linden dollar’s a valuable asset, which means that we’re not going to
engage willy-nilly in any form of exchange or work which would somehow cause that to be
put at risk. The Linden dollar does have to remain a stable entity, a valuable thing. And
we’re not just going to go ahead and engage in a protocol or in some exclusion which just
lets it be devalued or disappear. A caution I would give is, when you think about how the
grid opens up, it’s very easy to be very quick to assume in what manner or in what style or
what lack of controls there may be when that opens up. And I would challenge you to keep a
very broad and open mind and challenge your own assumptions.
Just because one creates an open protocol doesn’t mean, for example, that people will be
able to willy-nilly take Lindens in and out of your account. Of course we’re not going to
design a protocol that enables that to happen. And, of course, we’re going to look to how
can we build protocols and build systems that enable, again, Linden Lab to take the Linden
dollar where we would like to take it, as well as John said, other people to do what they think
is important to do. I don’t think there’s any cause for deep alarm there.
DAVID LEVINE: One other thing that--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. Actually, I’ll tell you, we’re actually basically out of
time because we have one more segment to go. But, Zero, great answer. You do
Alan Greenspan proud with that. And so I want to thank you both, Zha and Zero, for coming
on the show and talking about the Open Grid project.
I, for one, also just want to give a quick shout out to all the many folks--and I’ve been
reading the backchat--all the people who’ve been involved with this. I gather you’re handing
a whole bunch of work over to Whump Linden, who I see is right here with us on Muse Isle.
So, Whump, have fun, and no doubt we’ll be trying to get you on the show, to see how much
hair you have left in several months. So, Zero, Zha, thank you so much for coming on.
MARK LENTCZNER: Thank you, Beyers.
DAVID LEVINE: Thank you. And just a final comment to anyone listening, and this is my
universal comment to people: You got questions, concerns or issues, I’m very visible on
Second Life. I listen to IMs. Drop me a hello, and come talk to me about it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! We appreciate that. Now we are delighted to have
Ben Duranske, Metanomics’ legal correspondent, close out the show with Connecting The
Dots, to talk about some of the difficult legal questions that are raised by the Open Grid
project. Ben, take it away.
BEN DURANSKE: The biggest legal impact of the grid, local law, you want to run a casino,
you drop a server in an [AUDIO GLITCH]. But that’s the easy part. As Zha and Zero noted,
content export is hard technically. It’s also hard legally. Make no mistake, content export is
coming, even though it’s not in the Beta. The marketplace will demand it. So what happens
to my suit, hair and skin, all of which were designed by talented residents, when I take my
avatar to the Antigua World to play some blackjack? And what if the guy that runs the casino
there programs his server to let me make unauthorized copies? Those aren’t new questions.
I dug up an old audio recording of Second Life’s first birthday, where then CEO
Philip Rosedale discusses interoperability and export of content from Second Life to other
locations through the internet. Philip says, “I don’t think that we fundamentally object to
people being able to take their content with them. I believe that the content people create,
even if there are many digital Worlds out there for you to be in, the content you create
should be your own property. In the end, the more open systems will win.” Philip was
actually responding to a resident concern that Linden Lab might not allow content exporting
to other Worlds for business reasons. Today residents are far more concerned that Linden
Lab will allow exporting, perhaps to grids without the same technological solutions in place
to protect the content.
And that brings us to the heart of the question: What is the legal status of Linden Lab’s
permission system? What obligations does Linden Lab have to prevent transfer of Second
Life virtual property to other grids without similar permissions? While I’m in Second Life,
unless I’m using an exploit to cheat the permission system, the suit I’m wearing cannot be
copied, so I only get one. It can’t be modified, so I can’t make the tie a different color. And it
can’t be transferred to another user because the designer set it up that way. But that’s just a
technological limit. And, like it or not, copyright law, with one big exception I’ll talk about in a
minute, isn’t all that interested in technological limits.
Look at something distinctly analog for an example. The script to a hot movie that’s in
production. Scripts are often printed in colored ink on colored paper so they won’t
photocopy. But that’s not what really protects the intellectual property. That just makes it
harder to infringe. What actually protects the intellectual property is the legal framework of
copyright law and a lengthy nondisclosure agreement under which the script is given to the
actors and the crew. Similarly what protects your intellectual property in Second Life isn’t
really the copy/mod transfer system. That’s just the ink and paper that won’t photocopy.
What protects your intellectual property in Second Life, and on any grid, is the legal
framework of the copyright system and any agreement you reach with your customers. That
probably sounds a little scary because copyright suits can be pretty expensive, and some
infringement won’t be worth pursuing. But realistically, that’s true on the 2D internet too.
The posts I write at Virtually Blind sometimes get copied and posted on amalgamator sites,
some of which are hosted overseas. It’s annoying, but it’s not worth my time to pursue it. On
the 3D internet, you’ll have to pick your battle too. There are legal arguments that Linden
Lab has an obligation to prohibit unauthorized transfer though. First is estoppel. For a half
decade, Linden Lab has encouraged users to create this amazing content-rich [AUDIO
GLITCH] around us all the time. It’s this rich content that makes Second Life profitable, and
not a fraction of it would have been created without copy/mod transfer. One could
reasonably argue that Linden Lab should be estopped--that’s the one legal term today--from
allowing content created under this system to leave Second Life.
The other argument is one I alluded to earlier. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
circumvention of technological measures to prevent copying is prohibited. Arguably, Linden
Lab cannot circumvent the copy/mod transfer system creators rely on by hooking up that
content to grids without such a system. After all, remember, your rights under the DMCA are
yours in Second Life, not Linden Lab’s. I don’t think it will come to that though. Linden Lab
says, and I’m quoting, that it will not design a system that lets people openly violate the
permissions of Second Life goods and take them to other Worlds. Take a step back and
parse that carefully. Linden Lab promises that its system will not let people quote “openly
violate the permissions,” end quote, of Second Life goods. As Robert said, we’re connecting
the dots in this segment so I’m going to complete the picture. Linden Lab has left room in
that statement for the creation of a new permission; let’s call it transport, which could be set
by designers to allow transfer of property to non-Linden Lab hosted grids. Realistically,
designers are going to want to allow transport for the most part. The marketplace will
demand transportability of inventory items. After all, I know I’d rather not show up in Antigua
naked--and I’d even pay extra for the option. And designers will, I suspect, want to offer
products that work across grid lines.
The bottom line: There’s a good ethical argument that Linden Lab shouldn’t let stuff that was
built in Second Life get transported to other grids without the designer’s permission. There’s
an even better legal argument there as well, but both are probably unnecessary. Just like
every other form of intellectual property, there will undoubtedly be some infringement. There
already is in Second Life itself. And just like other forms of infringement, the legal system
will deal with the worst of it. The marketplace will sort out the rest. Thanks, Robert.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you, Ben, so much for that fascinating discussion, and I
appreciate that you used only one legal term that was something that is good for me as well.
Just a couple quick announcements to close the show, telling you about some upcoming
events. First of all, some of you may have been here today hoping to learn about the results
of Dusan Writer’s amazing contest to design proposed changes to the interface of the
Second Life viewer. I apologize that didn’t appear at the beginning of the show, but we are
going to be announcing a different version--I’m sorry. We will pull that together, hopefully,
tomorrow. So go to metanomics.net, and you’ll be able to see information about when you
can see Dusan Writer give out 800,000 Lindens to the winners of that contest and also see
some fascinating new ideas on what could be done to improve the Second Life viewer.
I also want to give you some information on next week’s show. We’ll have David Kaskel, the
managing director of Language Lab. Language Lab teaches foreign languages in Second
Life, and their novel curriculum uses a staff of instructors and actors to immerse people in a
foreign land where they use the native tongue in homes, in restaurants, in [AUDIO GLITCH],
job interviews, even airports. So hear these stories straight from David Kaskel and find out
next week why Bettina Tizzy of Not Possible in Real Life has said, and I quote, “Human
resource departments all over the world will soon be ponying up and sending their corporate
executives in droves, to Second Life, to make use of this brand.”
So, see you tomorrow, hopefully, for the Dusan Writer winner announcement, and next
Monday for David Kaskel of Language Lab. Thank you very much for joining us at
Metanomics. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer