Oct 1, 2011

Taking Diaspora Seriously

Why social is a large part of our virtual future. #IEEE #SecondLife




I’m a strong advocate of privacy and our ability to choose individually what level of privacy we believe is adequate for ourselves. Sure, there are constant arguments over how anonymous representation can lead to bad behavior in many, but I’m a realist about the entire situation. I see the glass as neither half empty or half full, because there is equal potential for both good and bad in everything we do.


In the case of Diaspora, I won’t say that they are the end-all to be-all social network. They may or may not have a long standing chance in the grand scheme of things – especially when facing giants like Google+ or well established social networks like Facebook, both of which have far more clout and resources to throw around to gain favor. However, that being said – I do absolutely believe in the power of privacy, choice and above all else, that just like the Internet itself, a virtual environment collective would make up the very thing which we today consider a Metaverse.


In order for a virtual environment standard to really take hold and be beneficial to all, it must be addressed from the standpoint that all will be involved or affected by it. I’ve played a part in many virtual environments in my life, and have seen some truly amazing things whether it’s creative content from individuals or truly innovative paradigms from research initiatives.


One of the research initiatives that really helped cement and shape my beliefs on virtual environments for the future was one called Solipsis Decentralized Metaverse (INRIA), and while they went with the notion of a fully decentralized architecture, I immediately recognized then that even if it was technically feasible, the reality would be more of a hybrid approach.



An early look at Solipsis from 4 years ago



I keep this understanding today during my tenure as object interoperability lead for IEEE Virtual World Standard Workgroup, in that in order to truly foster in a full Metaverse, we must take into account that no single entity should be holding the keys to the entire kingdom.


Whether this is concerning the underlying technology, the components, or a myriad of other aspects which are bound to interoperate with the ecosystem that is a virtual environment, I take these ideals into account in that it’s never as simple as defining a single thing when it comes to the Metaverse.


A Metaverse, for the most part, is the conglomeration of many types of technologies, filetypes (assets) and protocols that come together in a hyper-media environment that even transcends the web today. There is no simple answer for what components make up a Metaverse, because the further you scrutinize in detail the more obscure it becomes. What number of image formats could we support for textures? Are we taking into account emerging standards that are dynamic like procedural methodologies? Will centralized servers really play a role in future iterations or will a more decentralized approach reign supreme? How many protocols for simple text message transfer are there, and then what about VoIP traffic protocols? What sort of protocols and techniques should be used for the social media facing aspect of a virtual environment?


There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, and that’s exactly what the IEEE Virtual World Standard Workgroup is aiming to do, to the best of our abilities. I imagine the Metaverse as a hybrid of decentralization nodes – each system on a common standard, even if internally they are all very different. Walled garden mentality, in my mind, really is a hindrance to a truly open Metaverve – but if they must continue to exist, then they should at least be willing to offer some sort of compliancy to the overall network of virtual environments if they wish to retain any semblance of standards.


Being a de-facto standard isn’t enough, because in the end it’s self-serving to the company or entity that holds that de-facto, but offers little in the way of worldwide benefit in the grand scheme of things. Much like the days of AOL, Prodigy and other such services, the walled gardens are doomed to be eclipsed by bigger and better things (in this case it was the world wide web), and it was only reluctance and willfully keeping their clients ignorant of the things that are bigger and better than their own walled garden service that kept those services around as long as they were.


We live in a similar age today but have the benefit of hindsight where we can look back at those early walled gardens before the true explosion of the world wide web came about, and we benefit today from that evolution into open standards. Virtual environments today are much the same, in that they mostly are closed and walled gardens – nobody is interested in talking to each other from virtual environment to another, because it simply is not in their best interest.


The more things change, the more they stay the same.


We have hindsight now, and we know that walled gardens are only the precursor to a global standard which will foster a revolution and explosion of a new paradigm. Nobody really holds the keys to the Internet, not even Google. There are countless services and products, billions of sites and pages for all manner of things (good and bad).


Remember, this is all from the standpoint of a decentralized methodology we call the Internet. No single entity owns all of the servers of the Internet, and no single entity owns all of the content. Everyone is free to make their own space as they see fit, and by and large it has been an overwhelming boon to human society as a result.


A Metaverse Standard for all, holds the ability to foster similar results in the synthetic environment age. This is why I officially acknowledge such endeavors as Diaspora on the metaversestandards.org wiki, and as a legitimate social network to be taken serious.


It isn’t because I believe Diaspora itself is an end-all to be-all winner, but more because the ideology and methodologies behind that system are the ideal brass ring we should all be acknowledging for every aspect of our virtual environment going forward. I acknowledge Diaspora officially in whatever capacity I may be allowed, simply because it is the paradigm shift which I believe will foster in a better generation of privacy, decentralization and methodologies which are beneficial to all.


Diaspora tells you that you are free to start your own node as part of the entire network, that you own the content and information that is yours. They tell you that they respect your privacy, and want to help you protect it – even saying they respect your right to personally decide if being anonymous, pseudonymous or completely authentic (as in using your real name) suits you. They do not believe in a single entity being the only option, and in fact make their source code open to everyone, while actively encouraging everyone to start their own “pods”. They respect not only you, but the very foundation that made the Internet amazing – and for this the least I could do is tip my hat to them, and the many hard working people behind it. Their ideals and goals are in line with those of the IEEE Virtual World Standard Workgroup; what they want for a social network, we want also for a virtual world standard, and I highly believe social networking is an integral part of the entire virtual world construct.


I acknowledge Diaspora because I believe in the paradigm and ideals which they stand for. In a world where Facebook is being sued because they still track you even after you log out of their system, and Google insists you don’t have a choice in whether or not you must divulge your real name, it is refreshing to see there is a beneficial alternative for all – where everyone is on a level playing field with access as they see fit.


If anyone deserves my praise for upholding the values set forth in the creation of the Internet, then I gladly give that praise and recognition to Diaspora. Clearly, among the countless ‘nyms and their avatars, so do you.



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