Aug 2, 2012

White Noise

Will the real Metaverse please stand up? #SecondLife


Over the years I've continually heard how many different virtual environments are "a Metaverse" or (shudders) "the Metaverse". Recently I read the question "Is Minecraft the Metaverse?" on a random blog post somewhere.


From my point of view, this is a train of thought that makes me twitch every time I hear it. While I understand that virtual world participants have the best intentions, I have to admit that their notions of "Metaverse" are woefully misguided at best.

The Metaverse is a singular construct much in the same manner as The Internet or the World Wide Web. I cringe whenever I hear people refer to different virtual worlds as "a Metaverse" or "The Metaverse" because it reads/sounds to me in the same manner as if one were to say many things are many Internets. We don't state the Internet in plural form, nor should anyone state the Metaverse in plurality.





Cyberpunk History

I get my notion of the Metaverse from many sources, but most importantly the genre which spawned it overall. To this end, we're talking about Cyberpunk culture.

The construct of a Metaverse within this genre was varied but held a common theme altogether. In the book Neuromancer by William Gibson, it was a matrix - an endless sort of digital void with blue grid lines extending forever. Things were constructed on this grid at varying points and complexity, programs ran on this grid, etc. Then came Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which for all intents and purposes is the cited inspiration for most virtual environments in the industry - at least if we look at systems like ActiveWorlds or Second Life.

In this same genre also existed systems like you would see in Shadowrun, and this is one of my favorite descriptions for a Metaverse construct. There were things like nodes, virtual FTP systems - a three dimensional free-space with ICE security and more.






Shadowrun on Sega Genesis | Hope you brought a decent deck, chummer



What I see in The Metaverse, a real one anyway, is not a singular construct but a contextual and decentralized construct which defines an overall system. While Neal Stephenson may have eloquently described The Street in Snow Crash, I believe that in a true Metaverse, The Street was simply a main gateway world (possibly the oldest and most popular). That being said, I don't believe the entire Metaverse was The Street. It wouldn't make any sense to assert that if we put it into context with its predecessors - The World Wide Web & Internet.

However large or popular a singular destination on the Internet is, no single destination comprises the entire Internet. When we put it into context with the genre of Cyberpunk, and not just a singular destination view of a particular novel, we see that the Metaverse is just a 3D Internet.

Existing in The Metaverse were many gateways of entry, many destinations, and many contexts, but they shared a common protocol and standard. In this context, then, places such as Second Life consist of similarly The Street context, but then other destinations in the Metaverse existed such as (in context) Open Simulator, and related spinoff systems utilizing similar variations. We also would say that maybe destinations such as Kaneva, There, and (at least minimally) Blue Mars were destinations in the overall Metaverse but not a single one was the Metaverse itself.


I have to momentarily pause and mention that even in The Street context, Second Life fails miserably. In order to have The Street, a virtual environment must be a contiguous virtual land mass which is traversable in circumference. As in, I could start walking from the entry and eventually travel around the virtual world to return to my starting point.


Google Earth I suppose lets you pull that off, at least the contiguous sphere of a planet, and with Sketchup I suppose you could place rudimentary models. However, that being said, Google Earth is a Paraverse at best. Minecraft, then gets a second look because it almost comes close to meeting the requirements. However, it’s a single destination among many possible destinations, and no manner by which to seamlessly traverse them all under a passport – yet.


I give Minecraft the “yet” because you do have a singular login, and with that login you can join many servers. So the passport is rudimentary implemented, and the planet twice the size of Earth is there as well, but I couldn’t walk around the virtual world and return to where I began. I couldn’t seamlessly transport from one space to another, and (to wit) the concurrency rate of any of these systems is still miserable. Even after all of this, I’d still dismiss Minecraft simply because it isn’t able to talk to any other system but its own.

The problem with virtual worlds and virtual reality is that there seems to be no clear differentiation as to what constitutes them - except in the minds of futurists like myself who make such distinctions and state merely:




The Metaverse is a decentralized construct of three dimensional virtual environments whereby the environments themselves are the product of the end-users which inhabit such spaces. Each virtual space may behave differently or be controlled by differing interests, but they share a standard methodology of ubiquitous access. Within these multiple contexts exists ubiquity of access and interoperability whereby a single means of access can traverse all spaces within the connected Metaverse.



To put it into better light, we continue to compare the Metaverse to the World Wide Web.
When you are online using the World Wide Web, you have a web browser program which follows standard protocols for communication and rendering the content. HTML5, PHP, Javascript, WebGL, and more. For proprietary functionality these web browsers accept "Plugins" which the end-user may install as they see fit much like modules installed on a Shadowrun Deck. No single website on the web constitutes the entire world wide web, and looking at the situation in the proper perspective, we obviously would think it's absolutely asinine to state a single website is the entire web.

Now you understand my frustration with the semantics of The Metaverse terminology and usage today. These virtual environments are destinations in a possible Metaverse in the same manner as Google and Yahoo are websites on the web.



Snow Crash


I state possible Metaverse because to this day nobody is talking to each other in a standardized fashion, and that bothers me for different reasons. For now, what we have is decidedly not a Metaverse but a lot of proprietary stand-alone virtual worlds. I hate to burst people's bubbles, but there is no Metaverse.

The distinction between Metaverse and Video Game is also fairly straight forward, in that a video game differentiation is a matter of contextual insight. World of Warcraft is not a Metaverse enabled system because the virtual environment itself is a closed construct whereby the participants are interacting on a linear model. The environment and media is predefined, with only the variation of interaction within that predefined space being the dynamic aspect. In the Metaverse - the context itself is open to interpretation by the participants, as well as the very construct itself which begins with a totally blank slate.


Therein is the major reason that Minecraft is not a Metaverse, let alone the Metaverse. By definition what you may create within the construct of Minecraft is limited by the recipes which are predefined. I’m sure you can build things there, but you are severely limited still compared to a virtual environment such a Second Life wherein you have LSL and Mono scripting. I call that a definite step up, but not quite total freedom.



Hiro ProtagonistAs far as reaching for a true Metaverse designation, Linden Lab would first have to understand that the idea of “Shared Experience” is absolute bullshit. If you want to define yourself as the Metaverse, or at least the first major construct within the Metaverse, and set a precedent for others to join on, you have to take a hard look at the Web Browser itself. There is an underlying “shared experience” that is HTML5, much in the same manner that Second Life would have assets. After that, it’s up in the air as to how the end-user experience plays out. Plenty of customization options and contextual modifications make no two experiences totally the same – and in the Metaverse those plugins are the same as slots used on your deck, or third party additions which fundamentally change your viewer to add or remove features even if those changes differentiate the “shared experience”.

This differentiation is very important to understand because it's a metaphorical context understanding, and it is the underlying definition which drives social media altogether. A gaming context is predefined, and the experience is set up for you like an interactive choose your own adventure novel. There is a linear flow to the experience, and it is a controlled manner. In the Metaverse, there are no options other than to say that the participants are expected to define their own experience in totality. The company which controls the destination does not (or should not) be defining the in-world experience, but instead the participants should be.


If we look at Linden Lab policies, you can begin to understand that whenever that rule is broken when dealing with a Metaverse context, there is backlash for obvious reasons. When we really think about it, the Metaverse is a 3D Social Media outlet of experience. This however doesn’t insinuate that trying to redefine the rules of social ecosystem is a good idea – which is why the social media integration aspect of Second Life has largely failed. Not because integrating social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc into Second Life is a bad idea, but because the particular methodology and thinking behind that implementation particularly was poorly thought out and is a prime example of otherwise intelligent people acting incredibly stupid.


Twitter provides the platform, the participants provide the flood of content and experience for the ecosystem. Social media in general works like this as well, and it’s only when the service provider company decides to personally meddle in that ecosystem that the proverbial shit hits the fan. Hands-down, this has been the case time and again for Linden Lab, Active Worlds, and every company which started as a sandbox environment and later decided to start stepping on toes in their own ecosystem or other ecosystems by offering the same content options that their own participants where already handling. It’s sabotage at best.



Metaverse Checklist


I’m going to rattle off some prerequisites that should be met prior to anyone describing anything as The Metaverse or a construct within The Metaverse, just to set the record straight.





There is no central server for assets, or specifically for authentication. A virtual world within The Metaverse is akin to setting up a web server. Certain spaces may be gateways, but overall they are not the choking point of control no more than any single destination online in the world wide web would constitute a singular entry into the online world. Authentication may be centralized for your “passport” or you may have multiple “passports” which can be used within the virtual environment altogether. So when you log into the Metaverse, your credentials are universal across all participating constructs. The assets themselves also are decentralized, meaning no single datacenter houses them, and in fact the participants themselves are part of that asset storage and retrieval system.



Contextual Experience


A singular viewer which is extensible through third parties, and provides a standardized basis for interaction only, while additional functionality can be “plugged in” at the user’s discretion. In short the experience is modular and the interface is minimalistic by default. Just like I can access FTP, HTTP, etc through a web browser, and plugins by third parties extend the functionality for my web browser, and third parties are free to build their own web browsers with whatever abilities they choose – so would a Metaverse Viewer achieve. One viewer, modular, extensible, and very capable to meet the needs of many.



Standardized Protocols


They should all be a collective construct. Not just Second Life and OpenSim, but every virtual environment that wishes to call themselves “Metaverse Compliant” should be talking the same language and together be considered a contiguous space.





The centralized server methodology for glass ceiling concurrency is not acceptable. Lessons Learned from LucasFilm’s Habitat eloquently defines this issue and states the solution since 1991. It is an absolute travesty that not a single company in twenty years has actually implemented it, and more so that their concurrency issues directly stem from that blatant ignorance of the subject.


Dynamic Content Creation/Consumption


There are no preset goals, no predefined recipes. You are given a toolset and encouraged to define all aspects of your virtual world from the ground up. The experience is asynchronous and fluid, with little if anything to hinder this ecosystem. Even the viewer/program is up for interpretation by the ecosystem – with only some base definitions of standards to work from in order to maintain a minimal expectation of ubiquity. In this context “shared experience” is far too broad of a term to invoke.


There is no such thing as a producer or consumer in this ecosystem, but instead only the new social media breed known as Prosumers.



Epilogue | Final Thoughts



W YT girl

That’s not to say the Metaverse will never exist. Far from it, actually. What we’re seeing today are the beginnings of that Metaverse construct forming, gaining ground, and experiencing growing pains through every phase in this evolution.


I understand that the population really wants to see the Metaverse, and they are at least partially right for identifying at least the base components of what will make up the actual Metaverse when it exists. That being said, we must not confuse the sum of the parts for the whole.


Systems like Second Life, ActiveWorlds, Kaneva, There, and even (possibly) Minecraft are merely individual parts of a greater whole that is the eventual Metaverse. They are one of many modes of context, experience and immersion in a sea of many which are interconnected under a single ubiquitous access and protocol of interoperability.


Since that doesn’t exist yet, it is safe to say there is no Metaverse – but we’ve at least begun to correctly identify what will comprise it when somebody decides to actually go ahead and build it.


What we have today is simply the inkling of the many things that the Metaverse ultimately would be, but spread out among countless systems and never all in one spot. What the Metaverse would be, is all of those things in one program, wherein the “companies” provide service access points and facilitate content creation under the premise that each company is a “Burbclave” in the digital world. No single entity has yet to put the puzzle together, and such far I have seen only many years of companies snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The program would be built as a modular expansion system inherently, the interface would be minimalistic and intuitive, contextual for everything. The Metaverse will seamlessly integrate into your real life as well through Augmented Reality, creating a hybrid of the two and blurring the lines between real and virtual.


The Metaverse will be many things to many people, but what it is not is what we have today.



Y.T. (Yours Truly) Picture courtesy of

Shelby Rasmuson in Second Life





I thought today’s post deserved a soundtrack :)


  1. We might be coming close with the hypergrid. Today, more than 100 different grids have hypergrid connectivity enabled. All run OpenSim or one of its derivatives, such as AuroraSim, but there is no technical reason why, say, Second Life can't turn on hypergrid connectivity (since both OpenSim and Second Life use the LibOpenMetaverse communication standards).

    The hypergrid allows a person to take an avatar that exists on one grid, and teleport with it to another grid. The latest version of the hypergrid supports inventory access, hypergrid landmarks, hypergrid friends, groups, and even hypergrid instant messages.

    Any other platform can plug into the system by adding support for LibOpenMetaverse and for the hypergrid protocol.

    In the future, it's likely that something like that is exactly what will happen, either with some derivative of today's hypergrid system, or something else that does the same function.

    1. Problem with LibOpenMetaverse is that it assumes functionality in the flavor of SecondLife or OpenSim systems. The real question is whether or not you can apply that to Kaneva, BlueMars, There, Club Penguin, Worlds Inc, ActiveWorlds, etc in the process to make a contiguous Metaverse.

      For instance, if somebody made a virtual environment that didn't use "simulators" but instead was a full planet, then how does the region functionality of Hypergrid even apply? This is part of the issue I'm having with current "solutions" in that they are built not for standards or interoperability, but seemingly for closed interoperability within it's own ecosystem alone.

      Kind of like saying, it can be the Metaverse as long as it's an OpenSim Derivative - which is entirely incorrect thinking. Personally, I wouldn't dare build a full Metaverse on the basis of OpenSim or SecondLife technology or methodologies. Neither can handle their own marginal growth, let alone billions of simultaneous users.

  2. Hi Will

    Reading your arguments I kind of get lost at the point where you dismiss LibOpenMetaverse because it dose not apply to a list of other proprietary worlds you named - some of which are practically dead I might add. Be that as it may but the Metaverse can only exist if someone develops the software. Second Life's server software is proprietary and so too are all the others you list. So surely the open source software, which Opensim is, meets your criteria in so much as it supports many independent worlds that share a common gateway in hypergrid and there is no overlord in control.

    Forget the closed worlds like Inworldz and others that reject hypergrid connectivity. I'm talking the many grids and standalones that do enable the HG gateway. It may not form the ideal "Metaverse" yet but it is closer than anything else I know of. I don't understand what fault you find in it given that it is still evolving.

    Second Life and grids like SpotON3D wannabe's I totally agree can never be a Metaverse because they are closed worlds built to make profits for individual companies. Opensim is open source and anyone can use it to build independent but connected worlds. As Far as I understand the definition of a Metaverse Opensim meets it more than any other software.

    1. To be honest, I see OpenSim as a potential future Metaverse basis, however that does not mean I believe it constitutes a path to that end-goal currently. A lot of my train of thought follows a non-linear approach and doesn't always translate well unless I state there is the here and now situation in which it is not sufficient but with more attention to it, such could in a future tense become promising.

      I dismiss LibOpenMetaverse because it is misleading in a way. While it is true that anyone could pick it up an integrate it into their own system for interoperability, it is missing a key ingredient in order for that to happen:

      A compelling reason.

      In order for LibOpenMetaverse to gain traction, the components and methodologies by which it addresses must also offer compelling reasons for non-opensim styled systems to participate. In short - a more agnostic approach to the methodology.

      Right now, if one were to incorporate LibOpenMetaverse that entity would be adhering to a particular flavor of virtual world environment, of which being a Second Life methodology of "sims" and regions, and even an asset system which is not entirely in the best interest of anyone other than OpenSim styled systems to utilize.

      What I'm getting at over all is that the "viewer" should be modular in a manner by which only the basic functionality should exist - while anything explicit should remain a plugin architecture or an SDK. This being true for even OpenSim viewers.

      For example, I often ask what happens should a third party create a system which utilizes a peer to peer architecture brightnet capacity for the asset system, load balancing across the entire user base and anchor servers, while also providing an environment which is contiguous space twice the size of Earth?

      I'm not entirely sure LibOpenMetaverse applies then, since it wasn't built in a context other than "grids" and regions. So the real question becomes whether or not the key criteria of interoperability exists with multiple systems and not assuming them to be OpenSimulator or SecondLife flavored as a prerequisite?

      Underlying the entire conversation is usually my question of the key criteria - How simple is that interoperability step with non-OpenSim related systems, and more importantly how effective would it be to justify our main criteria of incentive to do so?

      So while I state things such as "Open Sim is not the Metaverse" and I say the same for other systems (including Second Life), it's a chronological probability argument - because they all *could* evolve into that level over time but as of this moment have not.

      Yes, it is still evolving. I have taken that into account and it is the crux of the debate I make. It's not there yet, with emphasis on "yet". I cannot make an assertion if or when it ever will be there. or if it will evolve to serve more of it's own needs than an agnostic set of protocols which can easily create the bridge of interoperability across a wide basis of platform with ease.

      Personally, I'd like to see a teleport from something like Kaneva to an OSGrid Region without the need to log into separate viewers. It's all fine and well to say this works when you're talking about your own system... but it's a whole other story when we ask if it works just as well when applied to a system not their own.

      Since it's Open Source, maybe it would be more impressive if one could show interoperability capability between... Open Cobalt, Open Wonderland, Solipsis and OpenSim (Hypergrid). when that happens, I'll be far more intrigued with the possibilities of LibOpenMetaverse and what it could do for everything else in the sphere of "Metaverse"

  3. Fun and interesting post! I agree with you that if the Metaverse ideal is going to be realized, it will be through an emergent process that springs from the efforts of many different technologies, companies and user communities. We forget that we're in the Model T days of virtual worlds, with the equivalent of a handful of manufacturers, dirt roads and no global infrastructure. Truth is, no one knows for sure what will emerge, but it's sure fun to think about!

    1. Not sure about the Model T days... I would have said that around 1994, but it's 2012 going on 2013. I think the technologies all exist with full capability and what we're lacking is a concentrated motivation to put that into action so this crosses the threshold of critical mass.

      I really do want to see this happen. Though as long as history keeps repeating itself, that will remain unlikely for the near term.

  4. I lean the other way. The Model T was the vehicle that pushed automobiles into the middle class mainstream. Virtual Worlds aren't quite there yet.

    Other than such quibbles, I agree with you that what's holding back an integrated Metaverse isn't technology, but the commitment of vendors to build upon open standards and/or provide open APis to allow for a greater level of interoperability, such as authentication.

    1. The problem I see with the Model T analogy is that the Model T was the boon to the automobile industry, which promptly left Henry Ford in the dust when he vehemently refused to make a newer model. Maybe a better analogy would be to say that what the future Metaverse needs is innovation and a willingness to do so across the board?

      As for "mainstream adoption" We've been there a couple of times, and each time that spark was lit, somebody managed to unbelievably screw it up and douse the fuse before it got to the powder keg. A number of times the industry has enjoyed the mainstream participation only to somehow fall on its face shortly thereafter. The very definition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

      I suppose then the Model T analogy actually works for this context - creating something that gains widespread adoption and attention only to miserably squander that opportunity while the world passes you by.

      We've had a lot of false starts... so I think it's time to make the next one count instead of looking for a mere 15 minutes of fame.

  5. My two cents? I think we are still in the very eve of the future Metaverse. Actually we ave (an) Internet with its own protocols and standars, but we laggard (one only) Metaverse with the same carachteristics and with the possibility to go from one (virtual world/grid) to another (virtual world/grid) as easy as to turn webpages because of this gap.
    When the Metaverse will give you the possibility to have any virtual world "just a click away" we will have "the" Metaverse, not before...

  6. This all sounds a bit like how to connect "dimensions" from parallel universes. Science suggests that there a possibly numerous other universes parallel to our own. We just can't go into one even though they may have the exact same kind of physical laws. This is similar to how the various digital platforms "exist" together on the web, yet one cannot just pop in between one virtual platform or the other because of constructed laws applied by closed systems or incompatibility.

    Wouldn't that be great if, once yall figure out how to connect the dimensions in the cyberworld, it led to a way to access the dimensions
    in our real world? How fun is that?


  7. Maybe now that the viewer devs are being forced to create separate OpenSim viewers, the LibOpenMetaverse library can expand a little bit to add some of the other things you're suggesting, Will.

    In any case, it's an open source project, so anyone can contribute code.

    For example, Kitely has mentioned worlds that are in space -- no land at all. This is not something currently supported by OpenSim. If Kitely adds this functionality, they'll probably donate it back to the community (they've donated a bunch of stuff already).

    Most of the other worlds you mentioned are room-based instead of region based.

    This is the major architectural difference between them -- instead of walking from region to region, you teleport from room to room, and the rooms can be of any size.

    Personally, I prefer the ability to walk from region to region -- it allows me to create a mental map of the world.

    But with megaregions (and the new variable size regions being developed in Aurora-Sim and, hopefully, soon to come viewer support for this) there is no reason why a "room" in one of these worlds can't be treated like a single variable region-sized mini-grid.

    Mesh is already supported. At the very least, these other platforms should soon be able to use LibOpenMetaverse -- or some derivative thereof -- to have visitors from other worlds view their environments.

    Evolution has been very closely tied to SL up to now, but it no longer has to be. And the other vendors can contribute.

    Don't forget -- the early WWW functionality was EXTREMELY limited compared to what the proprietary vendors were offering at the time. Open standards, developed by cross-industry committees with many competing and contradictory interests, move slowly and no apparent sense or logic sometimes.

    But, as with the Web, they get there eventually. Sure, every one of us can second guess things after the fact (they should have built in more security from the start, they should have done that, they should have done this other thing). In no way is the Web perfect. But it works, and it has transformed the world.

    I think the hypergrid could follow a similar path. It's not perfect. Built from scratch, many people would do things differently. Having to maintain backwards compatibility is a pain. The fact that the viewers are totally separate projects is a pain that slows development. Etc, etc... But it's headed in the right direction, and there are a lot of different people -- very different people, in many different organizations -- who are committed to moving it forward.

    I think we'll get there. It will take three times longer than we think. But it will faster than we can handle and society will change again and our kids will have a hard time understanding the world we lived in back when.

  8. Here is a link to a recent article that I think relates to this discussion...