Sunday, 2 January 2011

Predicting the Metaverse in 2011

Everyone who blogs about virtual worlds seems to make predictions for the year ahead at this time so, not to be out done, I though I too would have a stab at it if only to look back next January and see how much I got wrong.

Gaga arrives at the Museum on Heritage Key grid

First off I want to mention that Justin Clark-Casey, a core Opensim dev, predicted last year that Open Simulator would not come out of Alpha in 2010. That's right it didn't happen but I have to say, despite it's continuing quirkiness it certainly seems a lot better and more stable than a year ago. It's frustrating when you consider how long Opensim has been in Alpha and I think the Chicken & Egg policy for submitting patches may have held it back more than anything else. I say that because the Imprudence viewer devs have decided to team up with Aurora now (a separate development of Opensim) when they had decided to work closer with Opensim in response to the Linden Labs TPV policy. They switched to Aurora and will develop the   Kokua viewer after being frustrated with core Opensim policy so I read.

So I would now guess that Opensim will finally go to Beta in the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2011, maybe (I'm playing it safe!).

Gaga at Stonehenge on Heritage Key grid

My 2nd prediction is that Hypergrid will see more growth than proprietary grids over all especially if HG 2 arrives with a means for content creators to block their creations leaving the grid in which it is sold. I have though about this a lot and it seems to me that if sales are tracked on the sellers own server they could provide outlets on trusted grids for purchasers to receive what they paid for free of charge on their home grid and, since HG 1.5, avatars  appearance is called from their home grid and not downloaded to the grid one visits this to my mind would be the kind of content protection that might just work. Certainly, objects like furniture wont be travelling to outside worlds anyway if the seller dose not allow it.

I have read that many HG-enabled grids claim up to 50% of their traffic is arriving via HG teleports so I predict substantial growth in Hypergrid travel in 2011 generally.

My 3rd prediction is that more developers will pull out of Second Life TPVs and turn their attention to Opensim, either getting involved with the official core developers (especially if they change their 'Chicken & Egg' six month rule of not looking at the code), or new teams setting their own goals and branching off. I think some of the laid-off Linden employees might end up contributing too. The  Aurora team is an example and they have set an impressive list of objectives which I am happy to say includes improving the Opensim physics which, according to one core developer, they never considered it their place to do any better with -  not that I want to knock them, I really don't. I think the whole Open Metaverse community owes a great deal of gratitude to them for their hard unpaid work over the years, without which we might not have Opensim today.

Gaga gets to see the Terracotter army on Heritage Key grid

My 4th prediction is that Second Life will continue to loose market share in the early part of 2011 due in part to the doubling of tier charges to none-profits and education but this will be offset by opening the main grid to Teens - a timely move. However, I suspect Linden Labs will alienate more of their older users by this move especially if the Lab starts bullying them about adult content still lingering in the Mature sector. I suspect many sim owners will find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea when it comes to handling the visitors to their Sims. There will be fear about age and constant worry about nudity and public cybersex (actually, all sex is public really since one can cam in and listen through walls so LL has kind of made a nonsense of what Mature means). Probably many sim owners will either go to full Adult or shut down and be done with it and, possibly, move to Opensim where they are not subjected to looney Linden's policy.

My 5th prediction is that Second Life will recover considerably in the mid year onwards as Mesh comes to the grid and Viewer 2 and V2 TPVs get wider adoption but I don't think any of this will save Second Life from a very slow long-term decline. Simply because Opensim and other platforms will be advancing and seriously giving Linden Labs a run for their money.

My 6th prediction concerns browser based portals into virtual worlds. I am confident that some serious breakthroughs are on the cards. I have looked at a number of these and visited some of them. KataSpace from  Katalabs  which is built on WebGL and HTML 5. This can run on Firefox without a plugin. It works but still rather primitive. 3Di  was, however, the first to port Opensim through a web page back in 2008 and the company is currently re-designing it to take advantage of Unity3d. Canvas   is the latest to begin testing and based on technology licensed from IBM. Next up is  Rezzable's  Unity3d based portal and the one that impressed me the most (see pictures). I went to the page and opened the portal window. I found it smooth, and though it was merely a waltz down a corridor introducing me to Heritage Key's  Opensim-based virtual museum, I was tempted to register and see the world. I loved it!

Then there was Friends Hangout  yet another Unity3d based portal on a web page which I got to from Evolver  where I made the animated avatar image seen on these pages. Apart from these efforts Blue Mars and Linden Labs are experimenting with Cloud to stream the virtual world to the web page but this is the more expensive route so the end-user is likely to have to pay for it. My prediction then is that anything based on Unity3d are the ones to watch and I think it might be safe to predict that by the second quarter of 2011 there will be a usable Unity3d web-based portal available for Opensim from the open source community.

My 7th prediction concerns Blue Mars from Avatar Reality. This impressive virtual world, with it's bigger regions and Mesh-based objects and avatars really shows what a future virtual environment should look like but I can't say I am convinced it will get mass adoption, not in the short term anyway. The viewer is a heavy download and good graphics card and high-end computer are a must. Then you have to download each city in turn before you can visit. If the owner makes changes then you have to download again. The developers are well aware of the download problem though and, as mentioned above, they are working on a cloud streaming to deliver the experience on a web page. I think BM has a long term future if their capital holds out. I predict major improvements through 2011 if it survives.

My 8th prediction is that Kinect will come to virtual worlds during 2011 although I hesitate to put any firm date on it. What happened was someone created drivers  for a PC that allows devices to interface with the Kinect for Xbox 360. This lead to an Austrian company that makes hardcore porn videos showing how the controller can be used in interactive sex games. There demo shows a female avatar being grouped on screen. It's kind of spooky but it shows the shape of things to come and were we are heading.

Next up will be Haptics! What, you don't know what Haptics means? Think of the Holodeck in Star trek. Yes, using ultra sound to touch and feel virtual holograms. The mind boggles!


  1. I enjoyed reading your predictions. Especially #8 about Kinect becoming an interface for virtual worlds.

    A researcher at the University of Southern California has developed some middleware called FAAST that they've open sourced. They're currently using FAAST to get Kinect to work with World of Warcraft. I think it's just a matter of time before someone modifies FAAST to work with virtual worlds like SL and Opensim.

    It will be a very interesting 2011. :)

  2. Great stuff, Path!

    Thanks for the heads up I will check that out. If my prediction on Kinect comes true it will make an interesting tool for us travellers.


  3. I saw the link in Pathfinder's blog and thought I'd stop over and weigh your predictions. :)

    1. Agree, especially since a lot of universities have moved to OpenSim.
    2. Agree, assuming "more growth" is defined as a percentage than raw numbers. I think Second Life will continue to grow as they emphasise entertainment, and a 1% grow in SL is probably on the order of 50% growth rate in OpenSim use. What we need now is *metrics* for OpenSims.
    3. Agree, but how many folks are really working on TPVs now, anyway?
    4. Losing market share - well, educators, at least. I think main consumer base will also slide first quarter, at least until their new leadership's effects kick in. But the question I have is: What market are you referring to? Virtual worlds? SL vs OpenSim? MMOs?
    5. Hm. Agree with the first half, disagree with long-term due to OpenSim. OpenSim's success is implicitly tied to SecondLife. e.g. Second Life gets mesh, then OpenSim gets mesh. Until OpenSim really decouples itself, OpenSim can't topple SL. That won't be until OpenSim gets maybe out of Beta, even. That isn't to say Second Life may not suffer a slow decline, but I'd wager on other factors.
    6. Web-based virtual world viewing continues to elude even the biggest companies. I don't agree. However, I think Tipodean's web viewer is the best chance so far - it's certainly the first SL/OpenSim viewer I've seen that actually works. The problem is that it requires an intermediary server. It's got great potential for business use.
    7. Agree. Notice that in 2010 both Blue Mars and MineCraft were released, and only the latter got wide adoption. Easy toolsets for average users seem to be a key to launching. That's initially what boosted Second Life, being the first virtual world where people could reasonably build things easily without a submission/censoring process or third party SDKs.
    8. I agree, though I think the uses will be extremely limited in 2010. I think we'll see universities and a few businesses come out with some specific use-cases, but nothing for mass-market.
    9. I think haptics is 5 - 10 years off before we see it touch the consumer market.

  4. holy cow! what a huge post of predictions! =)

    very well done! (btw, i think Justin edited his post from last year!) =p

    i too believe SL will go down, last years loss of 18 million user hours is massive and indicative of their direction

    but i don't think mesh will do much. it's nice and i have done Blender since it went opensource, but since you build it out-of-world i don't think hardcore SL/OpenSim peeps will embrace it much. i think you'll see models being bought from TurboSquid and see a lot of mesh in-world - but i don't think it will spark any growth or interest - the same fundamental attitudes are in place at LL

    great prediction with Kinect! there are already things called teledildonics that read code placed on porno movies that operate dildos and strokers. one of the teledildonic pioneers is an ex-NASA engineer (who is a girl too!) =)

    combine Kinect, teledildonics, tall female SL lesbians (really men, shh, don't tell anyone), and the thought that now those seven foot tall lesbians can also be 16 years old thanks to teens on the grid and you might see some SL growth!!! =)

  5. Thank you for your comments, Hiro.

    In 2 you mention the need for metrics and I couldn't agree more. I have myself done rough concurrency counts across a number of Opensim grids and, while the numbers don't compare with SL, they are surprisingly high. I have said this on SLuniverse forum before that SL can display traffic figures (though they have stopped ATM) and Opensim can't. Opensim grids are fairly numerous but there is no means to get the collective data and this leads to the argument that concurrency is tiny which I don't think is actually the case.

    In 3 I agree my prediction is a bit of a wild speculation, however, it's not without some foundation. With the demise of Emerald viewer one of the coders at the centre of the controversy did go to work for Uthervse from what I read. Boy Lane (Rainbow viewer) stopped and I feel sure others felt some of the TPV teams are only too willing to slavishly bow to Linden Lab's control. A number of the TPVs really don't add up to much either and seem to cater to tiny niche sections of the user base. There are lots of demands being made by users and Viewer 2 is not meeting with universal approval. I think there are clear leaders but I have to say after trying some of them most are pretty awful and the more they try to add the less stable and the more memory hungry they seem to be.

    In 4 I am referring to virtual worlds in general. Since the Open spaces fiasco SL has not grown at the same rate it did prior and appears now to be stagnating. If you look at Hypergrid Business figures which I follow, Opensim in comparison has faired significantly better in percentage terms but with the appearance of Blue Mars and other VRs entering the market this all must have it's impact on SL. Certainly, I have read SL gets a huge number of hits on their intro pages but it doesn't result in a great many new users. Add to that the existing SL users are becoming more aware of Opensim and a whole lot of them seem much more antagonistic towards Linden Labs I feel sure many are moving to OS or considering it - just as I am.

    In 5 you don't agree with the second part and I agree that Mesh wont help Opensim. It will merely be keeping up with SL which the core developers seem to think is important. However, I do feel a new wave of developers such as the Aurora team who promise to deal with physics and many other features and fixes still not in the core will make a difference. And, if Hypergrid 2 arrives with better content protection then that too will make Opensim more attractive. To my mind Hypergrid and the low cost of Opensim are what makes it better than SecondLife but what makes it worse is the weak physics.

    Anyway, I am convinced that Opensim has the potential to become the platform for a free and open metaverse, eventually.

  6. Thank you, iliveisl *smiles*

    Perhaps I should have used Tarot cards or looked at the stars to make my predictions!


    Hey, I think you're right. I could swear Justine predicted Opensim would come out of Alpha in 2010!

    As for SL I am still there a lot and I can see it changing for the worst. Second Life had meteoric growth in it's early years because there was nothing like it back then and the Lindens really did seem to mean "Your world". Since 2007 the metaverse of virtual worlds has changed so much that LL has got kind of left behind. There is just so much that is new coming on and LL has become a dictatorship born of it's monopoly power. They say power goes to the head!

    As for Kinect this looks fun and I am sure your right, the porno boys and influx of teens will have a field day with it - in or out of skirts!

    LL's age verification has never kept kids out anyway but it might help SL traffic figures. If it dose I am sure they will put the stats back on the intro pages so show SL is growing again. LL knows how to fake it!

  7. Excellent set of predictions Gaga. The Kinect is now also being used to create Mocap animation files (bvh format) for upload into SL. Early days yet, but I am sure the quality will get to the stage where it will be more than acceptable. As soon as I saw the grad demonstrating avatar control via the Kinect on Youtube (albeit by just triggering inbuilt gestures and keyboard shortcuts) I knew that full control via the Kinect would not be too far away.

    Great article.


  8. Thanks Rock and good to see you back blogging. I think the tutorial you wrote on Chapter & Metaverse will be a great help to many. I don't have a Kinect myself but I am sure I will get one soon.

    Anyway, it will be good to meet up again some place.


  9. Just saw your blog. I thing there's some changes already that no one saw, and a few that could be put into place easily.

    I think the outcome is going to be shaped by what the Immersive Education, IE 3D/VR, is pushing for, the same reason that Apple and other companies provide hardware and software to the schools. When the little darlings grow up, they're already hooked.

    The Immersive Education nonprofit is pushing reusable content using mesh, that is the same whatever world it loads in, and a variety of platforms. This would be setting up the stage for a outside company to netflick the webstores that each world company uses to generate income. If the companies behind the virtual world form a digital watermark consortium to track avatar inventories and communicate the inventories of each avatar porting in to the other companies this would have 2 benefits. The avtar's homeworld account could be killed for content theft if they weren't authorized to sell or give away content, and it would make it easy to track.

    If age verification were used on the viewers, adult content and avatars in adult regions could be ghosted out.

    After I saw a Intel video for Science Sim that they were increasing avatar capacity for transgridding, I saw something that LL said that they were working on increasing server resident capacity, nothing else was mentioned. It may be coincidence, or they may be considering it. If they had sim closures and lost resident logins of what they had in 2005-2007 then why the unexplained need to increase capacity?

    Blue Mars stopped support for non mobile machines. The only videos I seen showed the camera view of the viewer only able to show an avatar closeup and not the world around them. I could be wrong but it seems BM is moving away from a virtual world to just spaces showing only an individual avatar.

    One thing you forgot about the Kinect is there's now inexpensive software out for it to make mocaps.

  10. Hypergrid Business statistics from Maria Korolov remain a waste of time to look at:

    1. Take a look at the waving curve of rising and falling ghost town sims. At least, smart OSgrid regularily deletes their numbers by 20-25% every quarter. The other grid operators indicate nothing.

    2. The term “Sim” remains undefined and statistically indiscrete. The category of Standalone Quad-sims and Infinite regions only underline this fuzziness related to ghost town sims.

    3. From a mathematical viewpoint, the validity of the statistic has no value due to lack of statistical error of margin. Alone the mere estimate of 20-25% of rise and fall from OSgrid indicates that the confidence level ranges at 75-80% and is dropping if you include the error of margin from other grid operators.

    4. As to the dubious sample of grid operators themselves, no quality criteria or benchmarking is implemented.

    Come out of the shadows Maria Korolov and provide a better statistical approach than merely body-counting the rise and fall of ghost town sims.

    For the purpose of hypergrid businesses, Maria Korolov’s dubious statistical approach is a dis-service for Opensim.

    Compliance with DMCA and the Online Shopping Assistant remain to be minimum entry & registration requirements for any legitimate statistic of hypergrid business use.

    Question: What does a service provider have to do in order to qualify for DMCA Safe Harbor protection?

    Endorsed by 27 government consumer protection agencies:

    Online Shopping Assistant

    Beyond the above due diligent compliances, legitimate entry & registration requirements for the bona fide Contract Capability of Grid Operators needs assessment, especially with regard to:

    Implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing