October 12, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Tech titans seek virtual-world interoperability

Tech titans seek virtual-world interoperability
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SAN JOSE, Calif.--Get ready to hop your avatar onto a hoverboard and fly seamlessly between Second Life and There.com. To buy armor or gold pieces in World of Warcraft or EverQuest II with actual dollars or euros. Or to pack up your 3D models from a Multiverse virtual world and take it with you to Gaia Online.

Welcome to virtual-world interoperability: a new era where the many previously walled-garden virtual worlds can share content, currency and even identity, all in the guise of making life easier for end users and, ideally, for enterprises trying to leverage the Second Lifes of the world for businesses purposes.

Unfortunately for those who like that notion of interoperability, it's not going to be happening just yet. But a group of representatives from some of the biggest and most powerful technology companies on earth--including IBM, Cisco Systems, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Google and Sony, as well as from leading virtual-world developers like Second Life publisher Linden Lab, the Multiverse Network, Mindark and others--is hoping to change that in the not too distant future.

The first really public shot in this battle was fired Wednesday when Linden Lab and IBM announced their intention to work toward a day when virtual-world users can port a single virtual identity from one service to another.

The announcement was timed to coincide with the Virtual Worlds conference here, an event that has attracted hundreds of people interested in exploring how such environments can be used for business, entertainment, education and other purposes.

"I was a bit bothered by (the assumption) that seemed to exist in the room that moving avatars or objects across virtual worlds is actually much of a market need."
--Raph Koster, founder, Areae

But the real work may well have begun on Tuesday, a day ahead of the show, when representatives from 23 companies and institutions gathered here for a meeting organized around the principle of investigating what it will take to make virtual-world interoperability a reality. The offensive continued Thursday with a keynote address on the subject given by Christian Renaud, the chief architect of networked virtual environments for Cisco.

And while there is no formal leader of the interoperability movement, it seems that the ones fronting the charge, in the U.S. at least, are Renaud and Peter Hagger, a senior technical staff member of IBM's emerging technology and standards group.

"We've had lots of discussions with various companies and, of course, with our customers, and found a common need and desire for interoperability between the various virtual worlds," Hagger said. "We talked about interoperability and decided to kick the tires and see how much interest there was...(The Tuesday meeting) was a very good discussion. The common theme was interoperability as well as standardization to support (it) and the integration of the worlds with each other and with the Web."

To be sure, the idea of making discrete virtual-worlds function in tandem like this is nothing new. In 1989, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins and several colleagues filed a patent application for the concept of moving avatars across worlds, and for anyone who joined Second Life and There.com in 2003 or 2004, the notion seemed obvious as a way of getting the benefit of the better There interface and the more interesting collection of user-generated content in Second Life.

But despite the wishes of many who would prefer to populate multiple worlds with a single avatar identity or to create a particular 3D build only once for use across different platforms, there has been little, if any, progress.

And to some, that's just fine.

"I was a bit bothered by (the assumption) that seemed to exist in the room," Raph Koster, the founder of virtual-world platform developer Areae, said in a posting on his blog after the Tuesday meeting, "that moving avatars or objects across virtual worlds is actually much of a market need."

Indeed, Koster added in his blog post that it struck him as odd that at the meeting, "entertainment, which accounts for 98 percent of all virtual-world users and revenue, was not really represented well in the room."

What's really unexpected, in fact, is that the movement for interoperability is being promoted by technology companies like IBM and Cisco, since neither actually makes a virtual world.

But IBM has put a lot of effort into being involved in environments like Second Life, and has many customers interested in participating in virtual worlds. And for its part, as Renaud pointed out, Cisco is deeply involved by virtue of its making much of the backbone technology that makes such worlds possible.

CONTINUED: Happy with status quo…
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12 comments

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WTF!?
This sounds like one of the best ideas since DRM. DO they really think that: "end users and corporate customers may well lose patience with the requirement to create an entirely new identity or to have to build any kind of content multiple times if participation in multiple worlds is the goal." !? Nevermind the fact that here are no 'corporate customers' isnt building different and diverse content the point? I doubt that any of the people at this consortium have much experience with virtual worlds or MMOs, I have been involved with several of them and each one seems to have a life cycle and span. Each one is destined to become obsolete as a newer game world is launched using better technology and graphics.
Posted by zerophobia (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Standards are important
Standards are important if you want a technology to transition from being a mere toy or curiosity to something that supports a long-term business model.

In the world of visual simulation (e.g. driving simulators, airplane trainers, etc), we have a model standard called OpenFlight. Not all visual simulation applications support it directly, but nearly all can import it, and nearly all of the 3D model creation tools can export it. It is the LINGUA FRANCA of real-time 3D visual models. A model built for one application can be migrated to another with little or no change.

Sounds like the virtual world industry is ready to grow up a bit and begin the process of standardizing those pieces that have reached a level of technical and/or developmental maturity. Standards do not prevent a developer from introducing something radically new and improved, but it does level the playing field so competing products/services compete on features instead of proprietary lock-in (e.g. the Microsoft Word document format).
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Link Flag
How This Will Go
IBM has to break the back of ISO to accomplish this. So essentially, everything IBM said about OOXML was just market FUD. The standards for interworld interoperability do exist. IBM and their new consortium continue to deny it although the conference organizers were very gracious to the W3b3DC which authors the ISO standard.

A few years ago, Intel tried this trick with the 3DIF and the U3D efforts but failed. It is not enough to sell iron. You have to be a content builder to make this work. This group isn't seeking interoperability. They want dominance in a field for which they have no content.

This isn't going to work. Here is what happens:

1. Palimpsano's money is spent fast but with mostly a lot of meeting minutes to show for it just as similar efforts in US DoD to set standards just prior to the advent of the WWW produced a lot of paper but few lasting systems although it fed the emergence of XML from SGML.

2. IBM loses the credibility it almost gained from the OOXML fight with Microsoft by demonstrating it favors standards in one market if it hurts their competition but is against them in another market if it helps their competition.

3. One of IBM's competitors such as Microsoft wakes up and realizes it can enter this market cleanly and fast by buying or developing the standard 3D and adding it to their server products. Because the European companies who have the most to lose from the IBM-led effort are also the most advanced using the standards, they can't object and MS gets a seamless entry into the worldwide market while the IBM tactics fracture the American markets further without having any effect on MS.

4. Google gets the point and follows suit with Sun as their partner using the powerful but eco-friendly Sun servers.

Owning 3D viewer tech is owning a loss leader just as the web browser itself is a loss leader. If MS or Google fold the X3D language into their platforms, they get fast entry, frictionless politics, and for very little investment, thus picking up all the jacks off the table with one bounce of the ball. Just prior to that, the IBM team leading this effort will be posting resumes.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What are you talking about?
I think you must have commented on the wrong story...
Posted by adamopolis (25 comments )
Link Flag
Typical Money Grab!
How lame :p it's just another grab at personal information - the biggest part of joining an online world/communite is building your "Av" and establishing your personality

those who complain about the time it takes to make an avatar are in the wrong place - it's a world to learn and explore - not a game to "get to and beat" - it's about attitude, not play-a-bility ! NyaNya ~ Mitsu
Posted by Mitsuyasi Tiger (3 comments )
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The "Snow Crash" ideal
I don't know nearly enough to speak to the technical (and corporate, and political) details, but I certainly see the why -- this is about the next-generation equivalent of the shift from BBSes to the Internet. Most if not all of these guys have read "Snow Crash," and that's what they're aiming at. In this case it would be a sort of multi-Metaverse -- a single network connecting multiple virtual worlds, rather than a single online world.
Posted by Fax Paladin (1 comment )
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experts,experience and leadership
"If the platforms, like (Linden Lab) and Areae and Multiverse, can help steer the direction of this group," said Chris Sherman, the executive director of Show Initiative, which put on the Virtual Worlds conference, "then it's got a better chance of succeeding than if it's (run) by companies that have limited experience in the space."

Sadly only LL has any "actual" experience running virtual worlds and web3d systems with paying users from that list.

Oddly enough, yes the organzation with over a decade of the collective corporate and individual experience in web3d standards and usage, is relegated to non existance or irrelevance by these new learned experts in all thing virtual and 3d.

best wishes, i cant wait for the ability not to have to work for Kodak, in order to take pictures:)

c3
Posted by cube3 (190 comments )
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Follow the leader......
"...some feel that the entire interoperability battle would be better led by those who actually make virtual worlds than those giant companies."

It already is being led by such as those..... and they are, of course, Virtual themselves.
Posted by amanfromMars (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
slight of hand. and hoping we're slight of mind
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.news.com/8301-13580_3-9796868-39.html?tag=nefd.blgs" target="_newWindow">http://www.news.com/8301-13580_3-9796868-39.html?tag=nefd.blgs</a>

tell us about the rabbits....

is "blogger" 1930s german for "journalist"

c3
Posted by cube3 (190 comments )
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Forget the front end, it's about the back end (for now)
First, I was present at that meeting, and there were lots of people there who have operated virtual worlds for money for years (ourselves included).

Second, the part that catches the media's attention seems to be the "unified client," but that's actually something I see as being very far out. Much more compelling, and immediate, is the ability to integrate the back ends of virtual worlds.

Consider a company A that runs a chemical plant in city B. Company A uses virtual world platform A for simulation and collaboration, and the city uses virtual world platform B for city planning and training. Company A has a great model of their chemical plant in their world; city B has all the streets, sewers and water pipes in their world. Now, they want to run an exercise considering an accident or terrorist attack at the chemical plant, where chemicals might spread into the city.
The way to do this is to hook the systems together at the back end (server side). Company A employees log into virtual world platform A, just as they always do, and they see city firetrucks pull up on city streets onto their chemical plant. City employees log into virtual world platform B, just as they always do, but now they see the chemical plant simulation provided by platform A. The two kinds of employees can communicate and interact through the back-end integration.

That's a compelling use case that delivers more, costs less, and doesn't even need re-training for the participants. All it needs is a standard for integrating virtual world back-ends as and when needed. Stay tuned for actual progress in 2008!
Posted by jon watte (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How in the world
This is going to be funny! Second Life can`t stay stable enough to be even thought about hopping worlds! if you think ASecond life is bad now. WAIT! unital this joke happens If it really does. This wil never happen.
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
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