Friday, July 18, 2008

Web 3.0 Beta

Earlier this month, IBM and Linden Labs, owners of virtual world Second Life, made a bit of history and likely paved a small part of the path to the 3D Internet. They enabled a group of Second Life avatars, dubbed "gridnauts" to teleport from a Second Life preview grid, a location separate from the main Second Life world, to another world running on an OpenSim server. So what? Well, as the Second Life blog put it, "an open standard for interoperability based on the Open Grid Protocol would allow users to cross freely from one world to another, just as they can go from one Web site to another on the Internet today."

But Linden Labs faces some major stumbling blocks in its effort to open up and enable the next Internet. Chief among them is that Second Life is peopled with folks who buy and sell articles of clothing, avatar "looks" and innumerable articles they have created and store in their avatars' inventories. The creators and owners don't want those things transported freely to other virtual worlds where ownership rights could be lost. In fact, the Second Life gridnauts landed in the OpenSim world without any of their clothes for just that reason.

What's more, almost all the "land" in Second Life is owned by Linden and leased by residents. That monopoly keeps the company cash-flow going. In fact, only IBM "owns" regions in Second Life, hosting several regions on its own servers. All other landowners actually are renting space on Linden's servers.

Ownership of land and things in Second Life is a knotty problem, and one that could prevent Linden from becoming the true leader in creating the next Web. IBM, on the other hand, just continues on its trajectory to become the backbone provider if its big bet on virtual worlds pays off.

OpenSim developers have recreated many of Second Life's features without the monopoly. Even before Linden made its viewer software open source in January, developers had begun enabling people to create avatars in a cheaper, but very similar, world. Eric Reuters, the Reuters correspondent embedded in Second Life has a nice explanation of the implications of all this for Linden here.

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