Monday, June 18, 2007

Songs of Distant Earth

Will the Web be absorbed into the World Wide Sim: an immersive, 3-D visual environment that combines elements of social virtual worlds? What happens when the virtual and real worlds collide? The MIT Technology Review notes that it the virtual world already exists and it is growing.

Second Life, which started out four years ago as a 1-square-kilometer patch with 500 residents, has grown into almost 600 square kilometers of territory spread over three minicontinents, with 6.9 million registered users and 30,000 to 40,000 residents online at any moment. It's a world with birdsong, rippling water, shopping malls, property taxes, and realistic physics. And life inside is almost as varied as it is outside. "I help out new citizens, I rent some houses on some spare land I have, I socialize," says a longtime Second Lifer whose avatar goes by the name Alan Cyr. "I dance far better than I do in real life. I watch sunsets and sunrises, go swimming, exploring, riding my Second Life Segway. I do a lot of random stuff."

But aside from such diversions, the navigation tools provided by Second Life--users can fly and hover like Superman and zoom between micro and macro views of any object--make it an excellent place to investigate phenomena that would otherwise be difficult to visualize or understand. In that sense, this hideaway from the reality outside is beginning to function as an alternative lens on it. Ever wondered when the International Space Station might pass overhead? At the spaceflight museum, your avatar can fly alongside models of the station, the Hubble Space Telescope, and many other satellites as they orbit a 10-meter-diameter globe in sync with real-world data from the Air Force Space Command

The article goes on to describe the commercial and social logic behind the construction of a Second Earth. Anyone who works online is already aware of the subtle merging of the real and virtual worlds, although it takes place in a desultory fashion. We "roam" the world with our video conferencing, IM, VOIP and email. Very often we don't even use our true pictures or names, relying instead on avatars and aliases to hide our "true" identity. The office too has lost its physical anchor. We deposit our working documents online where they are always available to us -- and whoever we want to share them with. Our office is where we are connected. But when connectivity becomes ubiquitous then our office is where we can enter our virtual world.

While the real world will never go away, it is easy to see why some people would like to fly, if only on their displays, besides spaceships, float on the winds and exchange poetry with a beautiful virtual girl on a lawn of ever green. The sick, the old, the ugly, the halt and the outcast. All the lonely people here do they all belong.


Blogger Doug said...

As Rush says,
"The Makings of a Perfect Marriage"
...from one who has tried marriage in the real world 3 times!
Trying to remember the name of the first quality, workable virtual world back in 96 or 97, I think:
Our son was 13.
...we had a great time, in the
Fearless New World.

I was surprised they did not become instant internet gazillionaires:
Don't know what did happen to them.

6/18/2007 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Worlds Chat

Size of download: approx 4.2 Megs
Hard disk resources: approx 4.4Megs
Platforms Supported: Windows 3.1 (runs in 95/NT)
Setup: Simple, self installing EXE file
Cost: Free, Gold CD version with more features available
Worlds is the pioneering platform in 3D virtual communities and rich immersive environments. Launching in 1994, Worlds leverages its patented proprietary technology in partnership with brand leaders in specific market segments to offer users multi-user environments that have interactive Avatars, rich media graphics, text chat, voice-to-voice chat, video and e-commerce.
The 3D communities allow visitors to interact with each other, teleport throughout the Worlds environment as well as participate in shared experiences. Besides partnering with existing content providers that have strong brands and an existing following, Worlds also encourages individuals to create their own virtual spaces, communities and unique Avatars with easy-to-use tools. Worlds was and remains true “social networking” well before the term became mainstream.
State of the Art, 1996

6/18/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...


“The present invention provides a highly scalable architecture for a three dimensional, multi-user, interactive virtual world system.
In a preferred embodiment a plurality of users interact in the three-dimensional, computer-generated graphical space where each user executes a client process to view a virtual world from the perspective of that user.

The virtual world shows Avatars representing the other users who are neighbors of the user viewing the virtual world.
In order that the view can be updated to reflect the motion of the remote user's Avatar, motion information is transmitted to a central server process that provides position updates to client processes for neighbors of the user at that client process.
The client process also users an environment database to determine which background objects to render as well as to limit the number of displayable Avatars to a maximum number of Avatars displayable by that client.”

6/18/2007 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Think that's Tokie-D-Bear on the Left
He got spooked when people started getting busted for exploiting kids through the web and disappeared.
(not that he was that kind of Avatar, but he had been open about his tokn' habits and decided to eliminate his virtual existence)
...just when he and my kid were getting really inventive w/their stories and creations!
Tokie Blunt Script:
Step on a crack and step off the station

Scott Benson (our webmaster) remembers this page too, and remembers that Tokie had an access log to his pages. Tokieís log could be accessed by clicking the link, "See who the last 20 people to get high with Tokie were.” So of course Benson clicks the log and there's my name, Leahy's name, all "getting high with Tokie" with our e-mail addresses, and the domain. And now Benson's name too! Oops! Well, we promise we didn't inhale."
And next.. Wolf gives us Cure95 the bot-meister

“Another tale from Worlds Chat: last August (1995), this robot avatar occasionally floated off the old ideas platform in version 07. This was before all the “fly off the platform” tricks you've seen in version 1.0, so we couldn't figure out how it got there. What's more, it would spew these outrageous quotes at random intervals, stuff like:

6/18/2007 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

IIRC, the post's title is from an Arthur C. Clarke story.

6/18/2007 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger kilmer4 said...

My brother was in town last week. I picked up and had installed a couple of web cams & installed skype.
The webcams cost $50 at bestbuy. They had video & audio. The cost of installation was $30. Now I get video & audio free. My brother flew back to hawaii, popped open his laptop and gave me a call. The video & audio synced in real time. It was like my brother was right in the room. I was pretty amazed. Looks like a pretty good christmas present.

I found a website where you can upload your videos called

You can take videos and upload them or collect your favorite videos.

Marshal McCluhan said the medium is the message. What's the message?

In the 1950's home movies had a brief life. But there wasn't a real way to socialize them. Nobody wants to come over to your house to see slide shows or movies of your fabulous vacation. But what if you could upload your stills & movies to the net and send a link to your family & friends so that they could look at your stuff at their leisure or not. I sent a link to to my brother in law. He's taking my sister their family & my mother down to montego bay jamaica this week. maybe they'll take some videos and email them around to the family. if so I'll look at them.

During the 60's the television crushed everything before it. There was a 20 year period in my family where we could not see each other nor could we accurately interpret events before us. The record is skimpy. The record is growing denser now.

6/18/2007 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

It could happen. However, until Microsoft incorporates three dimensional surfing into Windows, I doubt it will have mass appeal.

Every heard of Adobe Atmosphere?

Adobe once came out with a nifty creation called Atmosphere and it was wildly popular among its beta testers. But Adobe lacked the necessary patience to foster an online 3-d community, so it pulled the plug. There wasn't enough money in it for them.

Caligari and Curious Labs (now e frontier) went to the effort of creating software especially for Adobe Atmosphere. Viewpoint also made software for turning 3d objects into avatars, and even enthusiasts for old Canoma were excited. And then there was the effort put in by amateur enthusiasts. There was even a model of the World Trade Center created for Adobe Atmosphere. Rolu was a driving force, bringing excitement into the platform. A Brazilian by the name of Americo Damasceno was ready to sell a book teaching people how to use Atmosphere. After all the high expectations, one can imagine the unhappiness when Adobe cancelled Atmosphere.

Caligari's truePlace (intentional capitalization) is out there with voice chat. It has collaborated with Renderosity (a major digital artist hangout) for a three dimensional art gallery. Still, Caligari's webpage is down right now, and that's not a good sign.

"Second Life" has found a novel means of generating revenue -- property taxes. That, and attempting to become the Enron of electronic real estate. The whole thing looks like a Ponzi scheme in cyberspace and part of me is waiting with Schadenfreude for the time when the Second Life's real estate bubble bursts.

I strongly dislike the entire premise of "Second Life", as it functions as a "world government" for the domain it controls. I think it is unwise to vest too much authority in Linden Lab or any other corporation.

6/18/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


Was your title a reference to a Mike Oldfield CD, by any chance? (If so, I have it too.)

6/18/2007 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Back in the old command-line days you could do anything if you knew how. You can communicate any which way today if you know how. But the mass market is in the mass-market interface. Whether or not this virtual world stuff takes off, the trend is clear. We are going to be able to communicate in a very rich way with almost any other person or group of persons on the planet and surround ourselves with the necessary context. This is what massive multiplayer game people do already, and that is what business people will seek to do in the near future.

Already it is perfectly possible to work in a team where the participants never see each other and may never see each other in the flesh. I am struck by the existence of friendships with people I have with people I have never actually met. But then, there are already doctors who operate on patients they never actually touch, and "pilots" flying UAVs another continent away. Some posts ago you will have noticed the existence, albeit in still expensive form, of virtual room displays. All this will drop in cost and wind up on Best Buy or Amazon.

We have still not fully understood the magnitude of the revolution that has been unleashed.

6/18/2007 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The post title was a reference to Asimov, but I could not also help but think of the lines marking the end of our human time and time to come with yet no end.

But the whole world shall whiten, here or there ...
When the great markets by the sea shut fast
All that calm Sunday that goes on and on:
When even lovers find their peace at last,
And Earth is but a star, that once had shone.

6/18/2007 09:53:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

We have still not fully understood the magnitude of the revolution that has been unleashed.

We humans have the ability to extend our bodies with tools, real or virtual. We can easily learn to drive a car, fly a plane, hit a golf ball with a seven iron, or control an avatar with our mouse. Our ancestors never did these things. They walked across the savanahs and shot lions in the ass with arrows, because they could, but they never controlled an avatar with a mouse.

The tools are of course developed by humans but used by others. Those who use the tools can often take them places that the creators never imagined.

6/18/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Will it be possible to virtually kill Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri? I doubt it. If anything, the threat will come from the other direction. Terrorists from al-Qaeda are quite adept at using our technology against us. A man with an "insurgent" mentality is more likely to exploit new technology than a ponderous federal bureaucrat who is more accustomed to stomping on people like an elephant than thinking of anything new.

Somehow, I think a good understanding of Pakistani organized crime would be more useful than worshipping Silicon Valley's latest gadgets. And reading The Dancing Girls of Lahore would be a good start.

6/18/2007 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Asimov! Solaria here we come.

6/18/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

here's a pretty good picture of the back end that makes the networks possible.
The voice of ip convergence

6/19/2007 05:45:00 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I think virtual worlds like Second Life and World Chat have a very limited audience in this form – too techie and socially pathetic. In this early stage they’re not as expressive as MySpace, as social as Google Groups, as informative Blogspot as or as rewarding as contributing to Wikipedia. But they may just develop something that mixes well with something else to be a revolutionary change to society.

Maybe in virtual worlds, eHarmony like profiles of users could be used to influence the behavior of their characters, maybe through virtual space grouping or to flavor the environment depending on their compatibility with whoever they are engaged with. Maybe some combination of their profile, their feedback and their creativity determines their avatar.

Maybe avatars will move out of virtual worlds and be visible across all participating websites enabling people to “people watch” who’s online and enable websites to better understand their customers.

I’d like to think something positive would be the motivator of this development, but the first use would likely be for sex.

6/19/2007 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

How long before some crazed cyber-jihadi figures out how to build a virtual bomb belt? There you are, floating along looking at the countryside, when BOOM! You go flying in several different directions. Maybe this would give people with an insatiable need to kill a way to blow off that steam without actually offing someone in real life.

A guy can hope, right?

6/19/2007 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

The revolution will ride the wave of complete immersion.

6/19/2007 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Hope Muntz said...


Adobe bought what became Atmosphere from MetaCreations as that company broke up from expanding too fast. Originally the product was called MetaStream and was developed to interact with Bryce and Poser. Bryce was (and still is, I guess) a 3D 'worldbuilder' and Poser a 3D character and motion builder--Adobe stupidly passed on both (as well as Canoma, a photo-to-3D city builder), and so Bryce went to Corel and Poser back to its original creator, who incorporated as E-Frontier. With me so far? With no way to provide 3D modeling or avatars for its online 3D world, Adobe gave up on what was a very fast and clean web delivery engine. Second Life imitated it successfully and uses Poser (I believe) to help build avatars, though I think their model import from all sources remains pretty rudimentary. Seems to me I heard of a SketchUp filter under construction for that. Corel sold Bryce to Daz3D, and E-Frontier was bought by the Japanese company Shade. How do I know all this? Cuz I'm a nerd and spent lots of time in HS trying to get all these apps to work together. Which they actually did (except for reliable motion) and looked better doing than Second Life does now. And this was like 10 years ago.

6/19/2007 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger Hope Muntz said...

Oops, sorry--

I only read your first paragraph. Now that I read your whole entries I see you know more on the subject than I do ;)

6/19/2007 04:14:00 PM  

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