Springe zum Inhalt

Mario Sixtus, a well known German freelancing journalist, wrote a very critical article about Second Life and the hype around it in his blog. Translated it's called somewhat like "My ultimately last words about Second Life".

His message is basically this: modern web platforms have reached today an abstract level, that constantly refuses to be compared with RL equivalencies. Journalists actually have to learn something new if they want to write about those services.

On the other side there's Second Life: nice, colorful pictures, you can actually show nice movies of the world in your articles, no need anymore to show boring sequences with someone just hacking onto his keyboard, and, oh, look, how convenient, it's all about sex, so let's write about it! Ah, a millionaire already? Let's write about it!

It's also no wonder, according to Sixtus, that the industry is hailing SL as it's saviour, since old strategies did not work very well in the WWW and you actually have to learn something new.

In Second Life it's just like in the good old times[tm]: making ads, opening branches, having nice launches and so on and on... and even better, this time you've got the press on YOUR side! Amazing!

Sixtus' conclusion is: Second Life is not the internet, it's a biotop, a bubble for people who fear the future.  So it's target group is for people who still think in terms of the old century; it's basically the past, but not the future.

...like the CTO of Lindenlabs who dreams of an infrastructure that can support 10 millions of concurrent logins or like the CEO of Lindenlabs who dreams of 1.5 billion people online in Second Life or virtual worlds (the statement is in the current Avastar) but at the moment I and most other people would be very glad already when SL would scale better when more than 30.000 people are online at the same time.

This seems to be the magic number at the moment after which SL goes haywire.

The scientific service of the German Federal Parliament has published a small whitepaper (just two pages) about what Second Life is in a nutsthell. The PDF is in German only, of course, but if you're interested, you might want to give it a read.

There's a new hype in the town called "Web 2.0" hype - it's being called Twitter. What it is about?

To cite themself:

A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM, or right here on the web!

So it's basically about you telling the rest of the world what you're doing right now in your pitiful life. Not more or less, period.

Frankly said: why should I care about that rubbish at all? I value my privacy and for sure I am not going to tell the whole Internet what I am doing right now, where it still can be found after years and forever!

For an example, how this might look like, just follow this link. So it's basically a very stripped down form of a diary with some community features around it. Period. Boooring...

I've found more coverage on Croquet in my rss aggregator, especially on the eLearning blog of Tim Wang.

So, some more facts about Croquet are:

  • it's hard to understand at first, it sems. Wang states that it took him months to understand and appreciate the power behind the system.
  •  they've shifted from SL to Croquet because of the costs and - much,  much more important - you can import models from tools like Blender, 3d Mx or Maya 3d without problems at all into Croquet! That's quite an important point where SL still lacks greatly, so this is of course a great plus.
  • Croque detects other computers around automatically, that run Croquet, too, and seems to be able to link with them
  • It allows appliation sharing between different operating systems.
  • Builtin video conferencing and communication tools.
  • Other things.

BTW, here is an presentation done by Julian Lombardi about Croquet. Looks interesting to me.

Here's an interesting read from 8th March that shows much of the current problems of SL at the moment. Astrin Few is a musician in SL and giving live performances, being the 4th year in the game; it's printed in the Second Life Herald.

To cite the main statements of the open letter:

It's been a long time since Linden Lab put anything really useful into SL that works (and that's allowing that the addition of the FMOD stream player in version 1.2 "works"). For quite some time now, there has been more and more that is broken and degrades the experience.

I still love performing live shows in Second Life. But that's about me and my listeners. I'm lucky if my stream works for them when they listen with the embedded stream player. I'm lucky if my event actually made it into the Events listing. I'm lucky if the sim doesn't crash. I'm lucky if my listeners can chat without too much lag, and I'm even lucky if my guitar rezzes and they can see me holding my electric guitar, and not my acoustic.

[...]

It's quite simple. I'm OK with the fact that Linden Lab has done virtually nothing to support live music in SL. But I'm fed up with the performance of the Second Life platform. And downloading and viewing the viewer source code gave me no further confidence in Linden Lab's ability to write code that really works. As an owner of, and senior developer at, an Internet application company, I have some expertise in this. I'll wait for Google or someone else to create a new 3-D virtual community that is functional and not overcome by buggy, extraneous features. But I hope a miracle occurs and Second Life becomes adequately functional again. Soon.

BTW, the statement about the code tells just what another programmer, Felix von Leitner (his page on Advogato), mentioned in his own blog about it when the code was opened up in January this year. Von Leitner is a very well known contributor to the Opensource scene and has earned much respect in that field, so you can expect him to have profound experience in the field of programming.

The first fact he finds silly in his blog entry about it is that there are over 748 instructions of "Flawfinder ignore". Flawfinder is an automated tool to find exploits in the soure code. Then he rants about the usage of the system() function, which he views as another big error, amongst some other things.

His main statement translated to English is roughly this:

Hacking Second Life is like hacking like the Special Olympics. I could not sleep at all after doing that. If you're using it: be sure that you're probably going to participiate unintended at Grid Computing soon.

Translation: the whole client of Second Life consists of a messy piece of junk code, the big nonos of programming, which can be easily exploited (as easy as stealing a lolli pop from a child), are all over in it everywhere and better expect it to get exploited by trojans soon. The consequence would be: fix the code and fix it fast and: install a source code repository, even if it is read only.

There is Second Life in town, but it's of course not the only player here at the moment, though the most popular. At least one competitor exists, that has its roots in the academic area and has much broader goals than Second Life: Croquet.

Croquet has far more ambitious goals than Second Life ever could hope to have. To cite their website:

Croquet is a powerful open source software development environment for the creation and large-scale distributed deployment of multi-user virtual 3D applications and metaverses that are (1) persistent (2) deeply collaborative, (3) interconnected and (4) interoperable. The Croquet architecture supports synchronous communication, collaboration, resource sharing and computation among large numbers of users on multiple platforms and multiple devices.

And, in contrary to Second Life, all components of Croquet are already available as Opensource (seems like a BSD-style license to me), so anybody who wants can install a Croquet server whereever he wants.

Though SL has already a high learning curve at the beginning, Croquet has an even bigger, and the underlying concepts and principles differ very much. For example, no currency in Croquet at all, Croquet is more like kind of an in-house tool and such. Though it's competition to SL.

Well, one of the principal architects of Croquet, Julian Lombardi, wrote in his blog now an article about "Metaverse Scalability" and took Second Life as an example for old architecture, which should have been obsolete by ages and that Croquet is architecturewise far more advanced and ahead of SL.

Before Mr. Lombardi began working on Croquet he was designing ViOS, which could be viewed as one of the ancestors of Second Life.

The first of his key statements is this:

Virtual environments such as multi-user flight simulators and first-person shooters rely on many independent server sessions that are limited to a relatively few users at any one time. Massively multi-user metaverses, on the other hand, require the client to be updated as fast as things happen within the environment. This means that large-scale metaverses need a lot of horsepower in the server layer since every move and every action of every avatar must be conveyed to every client. This puts a tremendous load on a few servers for even the most trivial of interactions.

Well, that's of course true and the reason why there is a limited number of avatars per region only. But that alone is nothing new and it also depends on the game. When all stuff is being preinstalled on the hard drive and you don't have to stream inventory in, you can with ease handle 1000s to 10000s of players on one server. Many MMORPGs are able to do so.  But SL does not only stream inventory, it does also execute user scripts, therefore it needs much more computing power per avatar.

Other main statements are:

Our strategy back at ViOS, Inc. was to simply re-tune the system and put up more servers as the loads increased - hoping for the best. That approach would work well for Intranet applications that serviced relatively small numbers of clients. It even worked well for ViOS' initial user base of around 15,000 unique users. Problem was that once we had several thousand simultaneous Viosians tooling about in the landscape, they began to overload our interactivity servers, resulting in performance problems and service interruptions. Since there wasn't a lot of cash flow or investment capital during the 2001 post dot-com financial downdraft, we were unable to add servers at a rate that could meet the demand. If we had, it might have led to another few years of success for the ViOS metaverse platform - but sooner or later we would have been brought down by fundamental flaws in our approach as a bottlenecked client-server based architecture.

[...]

By contrast Second Life makes money by controlling who can create islands and how those islands are linked to each other. It also has a very similar technical architecture to that of ViOS - a vintage twentieth century client-server architecture with with single points of failure, inertia, and control. It's been interesting to watch Linden Lab's struggle with the inevitable technical problems faced by Second Life as a result of its recent popularity, constrained architecture, and non-scaling technical approach.

So... you could state Mr. Lombardi's article unter the sentence "Lessons Second Life should have learned from ViOS and why Croquet is such a much better approach." Who would have thought that...

It's interesting that he speaks of single points of failures and a non-scaling technology base. LL thinks, of course, otherwise. So, the future is going to show us who is right about that one.

And, of course, Croquet is the solution to all this problems:

The Croquet technology has been developed with these lessons in mind. It is designed to scale in support of interconnected multiverses of millions of users without the need for any dedicated server infrastructure. Croquet's architecture makes it possible to develop metaverse applications in which, anyone can freely put up content in islands of any size, interlink those islands with any number of other islands, and control access to those islands.

The problem is just that not really much use Croquet in those days. The media hype is focused on SL. So... this reminds me a little of VHS vs. Video 2000 in earlier times. Croquet as the Video 2000 and SL as VHS and we all know who had won this battle.

I think all tools in this area have their right - and need - to exist. But if Croquet can really scale will first be known when thousands of people are using it. Until then it has maybe been designed with that goal in mind (SL has been designed for 100.000 concurrent logins, too), but only a test of this technology under real usage is going to show us the truth. Period.

Well, of course there are already some adopters, like the University of British Columbia who is moving their learning group from SL on UBC island to Croquet according to this blog post. Why? The math must be simple: Croquet claims to be technology wise superior, it's full opensource, so you can get your own Croquet server without renting it. So Croquet is cheaper. It would be interesting to watch their experiences with it.

Yesterday there was a new German whitepaper called "Second Life and business in virtual worlds" released done by Pixelpark AG and Elephant Seven AG.

The content is split in roughly three parts: first an introduction about what SL is, some things about the economics and three strategies how a RW company could make its in world presence, what to expect and what not, the advantages and weaknesses of the system, and how to be succesful with an in world campagne, how to get experience and so on.

The second part consists of many case studies, like Adidas and so on, what companies wanted to do in here and  how they achieved it - or failed to do it.

The third part lists other 3d world projects, lists their attributes, advantages and disadvantages  compared to Second Life.

For short: the target audience of this whitepaper is a project leader who must decide on if to get into SL or not. It tries to be a somewhat unbiased view of the things and of course is more objective than something from Lindenlabs or the main stream press, so it's worth a read.

Well, after I finished my roundup I've found an article from last week in my feedreader run by Infoweek called "Inside Second Life's Datacenter." It showed up today at Slashdot, so... it should be already very popular now.

But there are some real interesting facts in this article I'd like to point out:

  • the monthly growth rate is about 20% at the moment. That's big!
  • The maximum possible number of concurrent online users at the moment is claimed to be at 100.000 avatars. I don't believe this number, they've got already issues when the number goes about 30.000 anytime at the moment, the grid destabilizes and becomes unreliable. But there's reliability in this unreliability, since you just need to take a look at the online users count and the rule of thumb...
  • Are you seated? Really? Better take a seat. Ok. Their goal is - no joke - to be able to support 10s of millions of simultaneous logins! Bwahaha! Sorry, better first fix the existing login count and make the system scale more well before planning such... high... numbers! *coughs*
  • Second Life consists of around 2.000 servers at the moment running on Debian Linux with MySQL. Debian... of all of the systems. Arg. Right, that's the linux distribution that constantly fails to deliver a new version at the planned timeline reliable (3 years was the worst delay ever, the now planned release of last December is still not there) and is there even more worse in this aspect than Microsoft can ever hope to be! No wonder so much are switching to Ubuntu. Besides, some of the packages are really outdated and some of their maintainers have real weird point of views. And MySQL - well, some still consider it still something of a toy database. It still needs to overcome that image and that's why always so many recommend LL to switch to Postgresql.
  • If the server side part is going to be opensourced or not is still in the discussion. Nothing new there. Many possibilities, not all include an opening of the source code.
  • They're looking for an IT guy who can help them scale their infrastructure from 2.000 servers up to 10.000 servers.
  • They're trying to make the LSL-implementation faster. That's nothing new so far, too, that's their Mono-Project. Testing of it should start in the second quarter 2007.
  • Something new about LSL: it was written in one week back then, and the Mono-Project will enable to script in other languages like Visual Basic or C#.
  • Some new measures under consideration to manage growth: limiting logins at the weekends and moving some of the Second Life experience to normal web servers (rubbish, this should be all in the client IMHO, this is Second Life, not Web 2.0), changes in the database infrastructure and the availability of tools that show you how much computing power your avatar needs, especially when it uses much attachments and such.

Some of it sounds nice, other things - 10s millions of concurrent logins - sound more like Science Fiction at the moment. 100.000 concurrent logins are supported at the moment? Well... yes, could be, but the SL experience then is going to be more like lag hell on earth I am afraid.

So the point is: they're aware of the problems, trying to fix them and planning big things for the future, but hopefully they're able to fix SL first.

It's been a while since my last blogging spree that I've posted any new article at all. So, without much foreword, some new thingies:

  • Dedric Mauriac blogged about the in world building of Packaging and Converting Essentials. Seems he really likes the place.
  • The picture that I made of the P&CE building is now used in their in world ad with permission. Nice. Perhaps I should start a career as photographer in Second Life. Then again my photo editing skills are surely not high enough, I am more a technician than anything else.
  • A change of one of the last updates that not everybody has notices comes into effect now - you can spend maximum 999.999 L$ per classified now instead of 99.999 L$ before. This means the maximum went from something like 357 US$ up to 3571 US$ per week. And there are already ads in the system where the author of it plays around 200.000 L$ per week for it, that's about 714 US-$ for the sum in real money. So these guys are either very wealthy or making much money in world already.
  • Some days ago the Second Life Herald run an article about ageplay. While normal ageplay is nothing to say against it, there's also sex ageplay in the game (child escorts/teen escorts), and this seems to has a market, too. Now how sick is this? It's even against the law in many countries. Of course, the normal ageplayers are not against the law at all, but the growth rate is amazing: 1 % per week. This means exponential growth of course and is something that cannot go on forever.
  • The next planned downtime this week brings us again no update of the primary client, while the First Look client got some of them already. Could be, that they need the whole timeslot, could be not. But they should finally take some time to fix the most annoying bugs in the main client, namely the inability at the moment to offer teleports to avatars who are not your friends and the annoying water-bug. Or they should finally setup a source repository and give some well accredited programmers from the community write-level access. Then it would have already been fixed since ages!
  • Here's another blog entry from a journalist of the Handelsblatt about SL in general. The essence of it is: Second Life is mostly an Empty Life, sex is the most driving force behind the in world economy, rw companies normally don't blend in real well and it's overhyped at great lengths. Period.
  • And now for something completely different: wannabe terrorists planned to attack a very important Internet node in London. They were captured before they could act on their plan. This still shows us: without a first life there's no second life and we should be thankful they were captured beforehand.