Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Future of the Internet is not Secondlife

I might get a lot of flames for this but it's probably true. Secondlife isn't the promised-land of some post-human immersive reality. It isn't going to become the replacement for the Internet. There are many reasons, but I'm going to examine just one --

The Croquet Project.

The 1.0 SDK was released not to long ago to the development community. It is hoped that developers from around the world will start contributing to the project and speed up its development. It comes under an MIT license making contributing a valiant and probably worthwhile endeavour. I recently downloaded it to give it a test-drive and start seeing what it was all about.

The interface to Croquet is still very crude, but is still usable enough to get started. Those familiar with Secondlife will also find that the avatars are lacking in some of the functionality they are used to -- but will soon notice after some experimentation that they are not limited to the bipedal human form. However, despite the shortcomings (it's still a beta afterall) one might be quick to notice how advanced it really is even in these early stages.

It's scenes like these in the demo that made me do a double-take. Already Croquet is capable of importing objects from 3D modeling software such as Blender. Scripters will have a hay-day with Croquet -- the entire system is built on Squeak; a derivative of Smalltalk. The best part is that scripters with the right permissions can even re-write or modify the system code that the world is running on without restarting the server or recompiling. My favorite part so far however is probably the most important feature of all -- hyperlinks.

"Worlds," in Croquet are individual entities. They are self-contained like a box. You can run one on your local machine and mess with the source code, import objects, and experiment away. If you have a network of computers, you can a world on each one and network them together. This is where Croquet gets really fun -- you can create "portals" to other worlds. They look like something out of a sci-fi movie: like windows with another world on the other side. The other world is of course rendered in real-time and you can even manipulate objects through the window (assuming you have the appropriate permissions of course). It's really an eye-catcher... and stunning since some of the latest games are only beginning to start using this and Croquet is already implementing it in a networked P2P system. So these portals are just like 3D hyperlinks to other worlds.

What is really going to make Croquet the real deal when it comes to the future of the Internet is that it's basically an operating system. With an embedded virtual machine, it can run on its own hardware or on top of any operating system. It can interface with applications on the host machine and users can share those applications collaboratively even if that application wasn't programmed to do so. You can already pull up a mozilla browser or an x-terminal in a Croquet window and share it in 3D. You can stream any media and some developers have already integrated VOIP clients. The single biggest reason why Croquet will become the future operating system is that the users can run and modify the code that the worlds are built on and they can integrate their own applications.

Try doing that with a proprietary system like Secondlife.

The Internet is open. Not closed. Croquet, IMO, is the future.


At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been looking into Croquet myself. Definitely agree that it has a better chance than SL of becoming the next big thing. The openness is a requirement of anything that's going to be picked up that strongly, and while LL talks about it, I don't have the option of running my own SL server. Squeak is far more powerful than SL's scripting options. Croquet plays well with the existing internet. Some content can cross over - there's a demo somewhere of croquet using the basic SL female avatar and using a poser generated animation.

But it is still very raw. SL looks mature and polished next to it. Can't wait to see how things turn out.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Icon Serpentine said...

Quite right Storm.

I got to thinking that even on a marketing level -- Secondlife is marketed as an entertainment product whereas Croquet is being marketed as a platform.

LL might have inspired many people to re-think the Internet and our interface with it; but their market position is going to make it difficult to suddenly switch from a pipe to a platform.

Only time will tell at this point. I'm really hoping Croquet will pick up. It's so neat! :)

At 8:13 PM, Blogger crat said...

There was soem discussion on this very topic a while back on lemonodor: see

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Taran said...

Not for nothing, but what makes SL a success isn't the technology.

I'll say it again: The success of SL isn't the technology.

It's the community and economy. The technology enables that. And I really wish that you'd allow 'other' comments on your blog... Using a blogger ID is very limited for the loads of people who don't use

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Icon Serpentine said...

Taran --

Are community and technology exclusive of eachother in your opinion?

I only ask because I wonder about the chicken and egg problem surrounding the Internet:

Was it the technology or the community that spurred the widespread adoption of the Internet?

IMO, I think that they aren't exclusive; that they drive eachother -- but in the context that Secondlife drives them, it seems more like a MySpace than the Internet itself. Which is why I presented Croquet as the true possible contender as a platform rather than a service.

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Ramon Leon said...

You're missing the single biggest reason Croquet is better, ultimately, Second Life can't scale, it's a server based technology. Croquet is peer to peer, its scalability is unlimited. Croquet really isn't even about 3d, it's about a distributed peer to peer object system in Smalltalk, the 3d is just fluff that shows some of the benefits of those capabilities.

At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peer to Peer + Openness + Better Tecnology + Credibility + Compatibility + Human Greed = The technology will be adopted and will beat SecondLife (unless there is a horrible technical setback or marketing failure).

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous dandellion said...

It will be though again.... Can you imagine Phillip Linden as Bill Gates? On one hand there is nice, easy to use and polished (ok, I'll reconsider this one for both windows and second life) on the other is open and promising system without media buzz and hype.

Lindens know that there is no place for hermetically closed systems in the future. Hence the opening of client's code and integrating flatworld pages. But, hopefully, future will ask for even more. It is on users not to ask for less.

It is a close race. All the beauty and usability and opportunities that one open system like croquet can offer can be easily neglected just for the sake of popularity and all the things already made in second life. Just remember SL from two years ago. Comparing to present, land was unpopulated. And it is not that system was poor and buggy. It was in much better condition than it is now. It's the content of the world that attracts new residents.

And thus any virtual world grows by geometrical progression. And second life already broke its inertia momentum. Croquet is still to make a critical mass of residents who will provide content which will attract new creative residents.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger monte starostin said...

Of course, SecondLife will not be the future of the web. I totally agree. And it is not only a technological matter - it's rather social.

The problem is a world where the content is not yours (read the TOS, not the JOIN US marketing)

Web is free and open. People at second life might be aware that future is 'open', but:
1)They are 'selling' webservers for 1600k US$
2)You need 300 bucks a month to mantain 'your' server.

If you think that there are 9000 regions, and that there are about 40k users online... it is about 4-5 people per server.

They are, actually, fooling people. Most people who buy a server from SL will never be able to pay the rent with their SL incoming. It's an over-paid service.

The made a great marketing, that's all, but, i still think, a liar marketing.

Second Life's economy is based mainly on land and avatar customization and sex, and once gambling.


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