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Aug 10, 2007



Bravo! What a great post. The push and pull between 3d and 2d should stop. The future is here now. Second Life is nothing more than a programming language and extension to the existing "web". I can link my website to the Virtual World and the Virtual World to my site. The change in thinking you describe is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thank you!


Very well said, Mike! While I enjoyed all the books you mention greatly, they are works of *fiction*, not predictions of the future. I've felt many need a reality check some time. We're not super heroes (or villains) here, we're people. Virtual worlds are an exciting new way to communicate, share information, and experience life, but the rose tinted glasses should be dropped. We aren't magicians.


Magnificent Mike. Spot on. Thank you for so much for this.



Crunchy! :-)

Welcome to the club of been-there-done-that world developers who have enough arrows in their back to see that the road ahead is fuzzy...

As I've written before, and several times:

The point is that idealistic assumptions and techno-optimism are no substitute for understanding what people actually want and do when they interact with each other, whether via computers or in the physical world.


Well said!

One thing that has never surprised me has been how many people have ignored the obvious: people use the web because it's incredibly efficient. Adding back in inefficiency is so obviously wrong, and doomed to failure.

As a way of example, at GDC the Sony guys presenting Home were so proud of the fact that, to select a movie you wanted to watch, you had to walk to the movie theater and then walk into the cinema you wanted. The whole time, I was sitting here thinking "This whole transaction would take me 2 seconds on XBox's list-based control".


Ohh, I agree with most of this. My one quibble is that "Web 2.0" is only the latest label attached to developments and concepts of CSCW/CSCL/community computing that go back 20 years.

If I was betting on a horserace as to what is going to drive the information metaverse, ubiquitous computing is several lengths ahead of VWs. You have a whole generation of people in the industrial world who use little computers to engage in rich media conversations. In the developing world, these little computers are more widely adopted than traditional workstations with internet access.


Good points overall. To imagine the web is converging into one contiguous 3D space is silly indeed. However, uber-technically misleading as it may be, the term "metaverse" has gained traction and it's going to be tough to herd that cat back into the bag. It's a word/term/meme that will evolve to be something rather different from Stephenson's vision, no matter how annoying that might be.

Btw, this post pretty much echoes the Metaverse definition in the Metaverse Roadmap Overview:

The Metaverse is a complex concept. In recent years, the term has grown beyond Stephenson’s 1992 vision of an immersive 3D virtual world...

There is no single, unified entity called the Metaverse—rather, there are multiple mutually-reinforcing ways in which virtualization and 3D web tools and objects are being embedded everywhere in our environment and becoming persistent features of our lives. These technologies will emerge contingent upon potential benefits, investments, and customer interest, and will be subject to drawbacks and unintended consequences. ...

In time, many of the Internet activities we now associate with the 2D Web will migrate to the 3D spaces of the Metaverse. This does not mean all or even most of our web pages will become 3D, or even that we'll typically read web content in 3D spaces. It means that as new tools develop, we’ll be able to intelligently mesh 2D and 3D to gain the unique advantages of each, in the appropriate context.

So, we're all in agreement here.


Sorry about the hanging blockquote. Fixed here.


From the article Mike cites:

In this future scenario, you could go mall shopping with a gang of friends during a lunch break, even while you remain miles apart. In reality, you'd all be pinned to your work terminals, but on that screen you would be transported to a digital replica of the shopping center...

If, as Alvis Brigis says: "So, we're all in agreement here", who's feeding that crap to Business Week?

And, we definitely are not in agreement. I don't know anyone out side the industry who's ever heard of the The Metaverse, so in my book it has no significant traction at all.


An example from WoW;

Whenever I want to check on in-game rewards, I don't walk to the actual vendors inside the game world. Some of the vendors are in the main city even, and to fly to them is a quick and painless process (Lower City, Sha'tar, Scryers, tier 4/5/6 etc.). But still, I use the regular "old web" armory, because it's just several orders of magnitude faster. Efficiency pwns.


The way we get passed the walled gardens is by demanding the walls be taken down and replace them with standards.
The web was not the web when it started. We had many walled gardens.
We are only just seeing the rise of web services and more underlying interacting over and above the simple http links we and embeds.
We dont have a the 3d web yet, as we dont have flying cars. However we do have the capabilties and willingess to deal with walled gardens.
Gibson recently said again of Neuromancer "I gave them something they could carry around and give to business people who did not have a clue..."
Having a sci-fi vision of the world to help people less close to the reality of it helps those people set the requirements and agenda for the future.
I think snowcrash gives elements of understanding, though clearly not a technical design document it does suggest one pattern.
A year ago we did nto even have people asking for things to be liek snowcrash :-) It is understandable that they are eager and I hope we can come up with the goods.


Very well said! Thank you!


I re-read "Snowcrash" again last year, having originally read it near the time when it originally came out. It was interesting which things had become "fictionally anachronistic" in the short time since its publication.

I do think that the metaverse analogy is often over-used, and that people talk about 3D web stuff as if it's the same thing. So... if the dealio is that we're going to stop quoting SC erroneously, that's fine with me.

I would like to point out, however, two things. One, there were all kinds of computery things going on in SC besides the metaverse. It was a specific, shared space. Not all digital communications went on there, and certainly not all programs were linked into it.

Second, the metaverse in SC was physically immersive beyond being a faux-3D representation on a 2D screen. So while (again) I'm fine with forgoing the inappropriate hyperbole about "3D web-sites are going to be like the metaverse," it will be an entirely different story when you *feel* that you're in a real, 3D world.

Looking through a 2D window at a 3D-like plane is, as has been said, inefficient for a lot of things. An actual experience whereby I can do lots of the other physical, functional stuff from SC... that's the metaverse. Not "Web 2.0 + SL."


Gibson himself has commented that all of the many, many times an interviewer has asked him of his vision of cyberspace, "How did you get it so right?", that his first thought is, "actually, I got it almost completely wrong." And furthermore, that he thinks that's a good thing. Cyberspace as a 3-D construction is definitely an anachronistic ideal.


@ Randy: Point of clarification. When I wrote, "So, we're all in agreement here.", I was referring to the various peeps who frequent TN that include those that Mike pointed out are "actively working on a ‘Metaverse Roadmap’" to whom "any criticism of this grand vision may seem like nothing more than curmudgeonly Ludditism." IOW, I don't think the majority of the Metaverse Roadmap crowd, which I am a part of, simply believes the Metaverse = 3D Web. And I agree with you in that many, many people outside of TN do erroneously equate metaverse directly with the 3D Web.

re: your question "who's feeding that crap to Business Week?" Having spoken with a few reporters about this, and seeing how fledgling VW build-out companies like to market themselves, I'd venture that 1) the VW companies are rallying around the term metaverse because it partially hypes what they're doing and partially makes what they're doing easier to understand to reporters and everyone else, and 2) the reporters have found the metaverse metaphor to be an effective tool for communicating what the hell is going on to lay persons.

As far as The Metaverse meme having no significant traction, I guess that depends on your definition of "significant." In addition to a plethora of companies, reporters, bloggers, and other individuals that are using the term quite frequently, here we are on this post discussing the fact that many people are mis-defining what's going on. That being said, I think that it's not that big a deal what people label it, so long as they consistently better the analysis of what "it" is.

However, I do urge those that find the term "metaverse" logically problematic or memetically irksome to venture alternatives that 1) accurately explain the present VW/Web phenomenon and 2) are easy to relate. The only think I have been able to think of so far is "web nouveau".


Alvis: I don't think the majority of the Metaverse Roadmap crowd, which I am a part of, simply believes the Metaverse = 3D Web.

Glad to hear it, as I was glad to read the excerpt above. But I don't know that that vision has been adequately communicated; from where I sit the idea of the "3D Web," much like the idea of the 3D desktop before it, has more currency in the popular imagination, as evidenced by the recent BW article among others.


Don't underestimate the strength of prevalent visions on future tech. Snow Crash's metaverse had areas coded by different people, similar to linking between sites. Although, I agree that a "single" spatial world/metaverse is still unlikely given what the web has evolved into.

Spatial representations are useful in the right places, but of course there are tradeoffs. 3D navigable spaces and objects are very intuitive given good input devices and the best stereoscopic displays -- everyone uses 3D in real life. But spatial representations have their limits. I'll gladly replace the spatially intensive drive to work with a quick "link".

Anyway, the main post was about how the 3D web won't/can't happen. I disagree that it won't be 3D spaces, but agree that it won't be one spatial world. There will be 3D websites eventually. Looking at a 2D picture of anything, the Grand Canyon for example, is not the same as being there -- or being there in even today's best immersive stereoscopic environments. Even a 3D webstore could be much better than the current 2D webstores. If you prefer 2D, you could view 2D content such as 2D catalog in a 3D webstore, but there would likely be better 3D options.

It would have been hard to predict the current 2D web before the protocols where in place, or before monitors were invented. Surely it's not hard to imagine standard protocols that would allow 3D. Of course 3D with a 2D input device and a 2D display is just annoying for most people, if not everyone. Research in new tech like this is just slower than the other advancements we've been seeing, especially in software. It'll get there. We're just spoiled with seeing new technology so often these days that it's frustrating we have to wait so long for some things.


I agree it's time to move on. I've proposed an alternative to metaverse - "meshverse" but thus far have not gotten much serious interest in switching from "metaverse". Is that not the right term or is it just too hard to switch?


Good post, Mike. I'll just second most of what Alvis has said above. I don't know anyone who's pushing to 3D-ify everything out there. As Eric Olson says above, there will be places where 3D is useful, and places where it isn't. Just because BizWk has its own mildly informed take on things doesn't mean there are people "feeding" the magazine a certain kind of information. It's difficult enough for those of us who have a better grasp of these things to understand what each other is promoting, envisioning or even just talking about. (Sorry, I seem to have dropped a couple of grammar packets in that last sentence, but you know what I mean.) It's far more difficult for a journalist to do a few interviews and then boil those down accurately and comprehensibly for a public that's just reading about these things for the first time.

It's early days for all of these things and for all of these visions (pace Randy). The challenge, as Randy notes above, is to understand what the user wants and can deal with. Most people, however, can't want things they haven't ever imagined, so I think it's outstanding that we're currently in a period of great imagination where all these things are concerned, as that's one of the few things that will lead us toward new paradigms for connecting, online and off. And new paradigms are still possible, to be sure.


Y'know, blaming an SF writer for Business Week's breathless jet-cars-and-food-pills-meet-web-2.0 future is kind of merciless, don't you think? Perhaps we ought to ask why the journalists were picking it up in the first place?

SF writers don't, as a rule, have much influence. In fact, it's remarkable how little clout we have: people only pay attention to us when we're already going in a direction that they're interested in, the rest of the time we're those eccentrics over in the corner.

(Sorry, you just pushed one of my buttons.)


This post is reminiscent of someone saying in 1989 that it's time to forget this silly idea of artificial intelligence a la Asimov and realize that it's all about expert systems.

We're so far from anything remotely like Snow Crash's Metaverse that claiming that we now know that it's a silly, fictional idea is itself a silly idea.

People want immersion, if it ever becomes easy and non-intrusive for them to get it, they'll prefer it to less immersive experiences. If anything, the success of 3D gaming interfaces proves this principle.


I'm not convinced either way on this for a couple of reasons.

One is that while 3D spaces are less efficient than html and hyperlinks in general (I like Damion's example as a case in point), they don't always have to be so. Some creative designer might find a way to make it work as well, or better.

The second is that as biological creatures, 3D plays up millenia of evolved toolsets we walk around with. There is hard-coded intuitive appeal to the (literally) heads-up display. Someone might do it right at some point. It's not like any of us saw what Tim Berners Lee saw with hyperlinking, so who knows who else is out there thinking laterally?

So while I think that suggesting SL/There/etc. is the future of the web ain't right, I withhold judgment on the whole concept for now. I'm prepared to let Snow Crash hang out in the intensive care unit for a while.


At first I was in agreement with the gist of this, thinking back to a fellow I worked with (who was not a programmer) who continued to refer to new developments in programming as examples of "Artificial Intelligence". Eventually I grew weary of explaining to him the difference between AI and a "goto" statement. The concept kept him motivated, and as far as I could see, did no harm.

From the description here, I expected to read the Business Week article with the same sense of condescension. But the following snips tell me they pretty much got it right:

Such an advance in technology will require overcoming massive hurdles. The computer interface to take 3D imagery and interaction beyond the confines of Second Life or other virtual simulations will have to be intuitive to users. ... For all the flurry of excitement, there's still a lot of skepticism among tech experts about whether companies can agree on standards that would allow an open 3D world to exist. ... So it could take up to a decade before anything like this becomes mainstream. But companies already are developing new browsers and other technologies that are the baby steps toward making the 3D Net a reality.

To use Snowcrash as a model, it isn't unthinkable that would could eventually use "goggles" to view what we today call "the Internet" and that certain hand motions would allow us to move documents from one stack to another, hand copies to another person, or have a conversation with that person.

I doubt all that will happen in even 10 years, but it could, and I have little doubt that given enough time, that both our fantasies of AI and Virtual Reality can be realized.

In the mean time, while programs like Second Life fall far short of Snowcrash, we might still use those concepts found in Snowcrash to enlighten the design process of current software going forward.

Example: I've long wanted to be able to "hand" someone in SL a PDF file or other standard document type without a lot of hassle (and without having to write a script). Most of us know that such an exchange of documents even in 2D IM interfaces can be problematic. But with Second Life, I've already given the program pretty complete access to my machine (including 20 to 100 percent of its CPU power) and generally the person/avatar I'd be exchanging such a document with will be someone I know and trust. Ultimately, I see no reason I wouldn't choose to store large numbers of documents in Second Life, just as I am now doing with Google Docs. I'd want to have full access to those files both in 3D and 2D modes, and as Google appears to have learned (along with Yahoo and many others before them) the only way to prevent abuse of online storage is to charge something for it.

The great battleground for the next wave of online development I think will in fact be where you store your files. If Google wins there is a good chance that I'll be able to access those files (via open APIs) from just about anywhere. I would hope that eventually SL, and others will not only provide such APIs of their own (no need to wait for the program to be Open Sourced) but use the existing ones that are out there.

The "trick" and it's not a particularly big one from where SL currently stands, is to provide a triggering mechanism, animation and so on, for the transfer to take place (I'm suggesting that the actual transfer mechanism be peer to peer if the data isn't on one of the existing API driven storage mechanisms).


One of my favorite moments in Terminator 3 (spoiler coming up for anyone who's been living in a hole in the ground) is when they finally realize that Skynet has no "system core" -- it's not sitting in a computer they can blow up someplace.

This level of decentralization has been difficult to get across both in fiction and in actual technology, including virtual worlds and VW games. Centralization of everything from power systems and factories to governance and entertainment has been a core concept in our culture for over a century. The move to decentralized sources is a key part of why "Web 2.0" differs from 1.0, and why this has been so difficult to explain to many people. (I also believe this is a crucial part of why successful single-player game developers often have had such a difficult time creating successful MMOs -- a different but related subject.)

There is a central/decentral (also linear/emergent and hierarchical/arborescent) mental leap inherent in virtual worlds and Web 2.0 apps that is for some reason extremely difficult for many people to recognize, let alone get over. I'm not sure why, but I've been through this with lots and lots of people. It's like the mental shift that programmers have to make when going from old-style procedural programming to object-oriented or functional programming, but even more extreme.

And that's the same theme I see playing out here: one overarching centralized 3D world in which we all live and play together (as noted above, in Stephenson's Metaverse the world was laid down by the ACM, true to the centralization theme). Compare that to the the idea of a mosaic of many spaces, some 3D, some 2D, some text only, some with avatar-connectivity, some without, etc. That hodgepodge might eventually accrete into small worlds and then eventually maybe a constellation of virtual "planetoids," but any such combination will be emergent from the bottom up, not specified from the top down.

I suspect most people reading here get this already. For some reason though -- a lack of imagination or communication? -- the MSM pretty clearly remains tied to the "one big central world" idea in which we're all happy avatars walking (laboriously, ludicrously) from one site to another to buy jeans, talk to each other, or explore a virtual space.


@Mike: Good synopsis; I agree. One of the reasons the MSM might have a hard time with the idea of fragmented media spaces is that it's really only pretty recently that we've had anything like that. TV came in (whether VHF or UHF) through your TV. And until quite recently, no matter how much money you had, you got the same shows as everyone in your city. Maybe on a bigger, fancier TV... but the content was identical. Same for radio; AM or FM, it all comes in through an antenna, on the tubes.

In a way, the Web (not the Internet) is the same. You use a computer (either Mac or PC... yeah, or Linux, OK) hooked up to one of a few (very similar) browsers, and look at "Web sites." It's all the same Web, right?

So if TV became cable TV and radio became satellite radio, why would the Web evolve into more than one thing? Maybe you'd have "the old Web" for awhile until everyone could afford "the cable upgrade version." But if 3D is "better" (just like cable TV is better than bunny ears), why wouldn't everyone have it?

And -- to be fair -- if the real-deal, Snow Crashin' cyber-world, feel-o-vision thing does come down the pike... it may take some radically different hardware and software than Web X.0. Heck, Web X.0 may live *inside* the metaverse as a sub-set of metaversal activities; "Of course your Metaverse MultiWorld can still receive transmissions from them ol' Internets... You can have an Internet page projected onto any surface -- or none! -- within your metaversal blah blah blah."

3D contains 2D, yah? Total immersion in new platform allows for immersion with old platforms. For those who disagree with me, please go watch some TV on your computer, or TiVo a show on a device that's essentially a dumb PC with a big-ass hard drive. TV has moved onto the Internet. Eventually, when all TV is on the Internet, would you choose to have any TVs in your house that aren't also an Internet-ready computer?


"...inapplicable geographical constraints: information isn’t about place, and the Web doesn’t have a geography. We call this collection of online sites “the Web” for historical reasons, but it’s not really a web; it’s not even a unified thing like the virtual planet envisioned by Stephenson. "

Google : EFF + AT&T + NSA Lawsuit. Yes it is about geography. And it is " unified " , as 70 % of the internet is already routed there , geographically , even if the virtual " me " is here and the virtual mall is around my street's corner.


a couple of years ago i was interviewed inside of Halo by Chris Burke who engineered a brilliant hack of the popular Microsoft game. it was the first time i had ever been inside a 3D virtual space. we walked around the Halo "set" for fifteen or twenty minutes as we talked about my work and my reactions to being in the space. it reminded me immediately of Stephenson's Snow Crash and i remember saying that i could easily imagine calling up my daughter who lives in London and going for a walk together. the interview is here.
i'm not raising this here to suggest that the future of the internet is a 3D virtual space, but rather to suggest that one element of it certainly could be and that Snow Crash still provides a very powerful metaphor for our imagining of what is possible.


The main problem with Virtual Worlds comes down to the interface. Our primary ways of interfacing with technology are keyboards and mice. Touch-screens are becoming more common, but is nothing revolutionary. With these interfaces, there are only so many efficient ways to manipulate information. that is what Virtual worlds are about, Information (communication is information). Until better interfaces are developed, we will not have true Virtual Worlds.

TerraNova: Death to Snow Crash


"The 3-D Web" isn't a place at all, it's what we know as the web with cooler tools.

The key is being able to interact with the web, letting users flow between toolsets. YouTube ceased to be a walled garden by letting people embed videos. Second Life allows http calls and SLURLs, and has more html features in the works.


Well, if not the " Snow Crash ", then what about William Blake ? Fitts better .


Well, in Snow Crash, the Association for Computing Machinery's Global Multimedia Protocol Group were described as computer-graphics ninja overlords, and seemed only to have to do with creating guidelines and a little bit of organization. All of the money spent on virtual real-estate went back into the Metaverse itself.
Other than that, since Hiro's office was even on his computer, I suspect that the Metaverse was not as unified as you think. Rather, it was probably separate entities simply agreeing to certain protocols, and it was through that organization that the Metaverse flowed so smoothly as one entity. I don't really see a problem with the existence of a non-profit organization out there helping to regulate a certain aspect of the media. Heh... not like it doesn't exist today(cough ESRB cough).
Anyway, Snow Crash as a whole had this kind of decentralization aspect going on throughout it. Capitalism had won even over the U.S. Government, and city/states were all connected via roads owned by companies as well who contracted other companies to "police" them. It all seemed so fractured, and yet worked to enough of a degree that we weren't living in anarchy.
So other than L. Bob Rife being a monopolist of the fiber-optics which were used to access it, I really don't see how anyone could say that the Metaverse had a centralized force controlling it. That's not to say I don't think that any combination of 3D and 2D might have an attempt of centralization made upon it(I'm looking at you, Google and Newscorp), but I can't see it being looked at in a positive way. But I do believe that a protocol will be established sooner or later, much like VHS winning over Beta.
Now, I too, don't see the future of the internet as something entirely virtual, but I believe it will take on a much greater role than it is today. I also think that if technology provides us with the goggles and some way of tracking our movement, perhaps through a webcam even, that virtual worlds might end up being the primary rather than secondary part of the web.


One last thing... Now let's just say that certain scientists who've predicted the emergence of a pandemic are right, and the Avian Flu or some awful and contagious virus ends up causing us to shy away from human contact and live indoors for six months or so, except when absolutely necessary. It wouldn't really even have to be that, just some large-scale disaster/event, such as tremendous heat-waves due to Global Warming or the detonation of several Nuclear weapons. Either way, many of us would choose to stick it out in a protected indoor area for a while.
What do you think would happen to Virtual Worlds such as Second Life? The demand for 3D environments in which to interact with other people would sky-rocket. Why take the risk of meeting somewhere that could potentially cause you infection or harm when having that board meeting online in Second Life or another Metaverse-like platform could be just as productive?
You could see your sweetheart, who's stuck in another city seeking shelter just the same as you are, and be protected all the same.
I think certain unforseeable events might either stifle the growth of the merging of VR with the 2D Web, or they might just cause it to flourish.
For the record, though, I'm definitely hoping against anything that's so wide-scale as to cause us to stay "underground" for a period of time. But it really is an interesting time to be alive, when even the experts sound like crackpots.


@ Eric , i fel for you, dearie.....so, i voluntarily offer myself to feed that mouse ( yes, the animal ) rolling the generator wheel wich supplies electrical power wich you use in your laptop wich you play SL with your GF at , wich ....

Anyway, nice vision/prediction/option.Really. Afterall, that way we don't even need but $L. And some icecream, from times to times, ofcourse.


Heh... it appears you've misunderstood what I've said, whether intentionally or not. I merely feel as though a predicted future event like that could possibly accellerate the advancement of 3D integration throughout the web.
FYI, as my girlfriend's mother happens to be the director of a well-known Healthcare Ethics Center, I've been kept abreast of what's been talked about with the flu pandemic that's been predicted, such as our preparedness. I just happened to think about what could cause something to lead us more to a "Metaverse" model of the internet, and that's what I came up with. After all, in Snow Crash, the U.S. Government did collapse, which would probably have resulted in some radical changes in mood and desires.
But, like I said, I just happened to think of it.

And I wanted to correct the people who mistakenly placed Stephenson's Metaverse as a heavily centralized realm. Actually that was my main point.


Yes, yes, Don Quixote, you've really done a number on that giant, there.

Back in the late '80s, early '90s, many people in the hypertext industry had Ted Nelson's books and vast academic-specified requirements for what would be "useful" hypertext, and their predictions were just as science-fictional. Tim Berners-Lee's "WWW" was seen initially as a preposterous and insulting joke by these academics, because it didn't have bi-directional linking, didn't have persistent stores of previous versions of files, didn't have per-element or per-byte linking, didn't have rich media, didn't even have images until Marc Andreessen hacked them in one day. It just served a stupid text file up, and a dumb browser client rendered it and let you hop one-way (it surely didn't deserve the term "link", which implies bi-directionality) to another stupid text file. And for the first couple years of the web, most people predicted that it would be of little or no use, especially people involved in other versions of hypermedia. The Web is an incredibly stupid implementation of hypertext.

But the Web was *good enough* as an implementation of the idea of hypertext. It took the one part that mattered, connecting one document to another, and dumped the rest, and made content authoring as easy as View Source, Copy, Paste, Refresh. There are applications where a plain text interface is superior to a GUI/web interface, and yet the Web has almost completely demolished those, and has even cut hugely into the rich desktop application market. You don't want to do word-processing or image manipulation in a browser, but for anything simpler, why would you run a desktop app?

Nobody takes "Snow Crash" as a litereral, exact blueprint of how to make a Metaverse. It's a fantastic novel (and I could give you a 10-page infodump on why, but this text area is too short), and Stephenson mostly knew what he was writing about unlike luddite Gibson, but it's inspirational, not prescriptive. What they take from it is an apparently-contiguous (but hosted on your own machines, as in the U.S. Government blue cube) virtual 3D space, where people can meet, use custom avatars, and create stuff. The stuff about lasers painting on goggles, etc., that's all ignored because we don't need it. Snow Crash needed that so Hiro's real-world swordfighting skills would be applicable to the Metaverse; dramatic necessity trumped technical requirements.

Second Life, once it's decoupled from LL's server farms, will be a serviceable Metaverse, just as the Web was a serviceable hypertext, even if it doesn't meet every academic requirement. Second Life's content authoring is as easy as Right-click, Create, Edit. Nobody else is even on the same planet, let alone in that ballpark.

As for why 3D is "better" than the Web, there are huge advantages to personal presence. Nerds who've been alone in their room in the dark with their computers too long may not remember what "human presence" means, but it's one of the most compelling things there is for humans. Shopping alone is perhaps more efficient, but far less interesting than shopping with others. There's still a long way to go in SL (or theoretically a competitor, but all the competitors are worse or not even playing to win) before it's a "Metaverse", but at least it's getting there.

The Web will persist for some time as a lowest-common-denominator way of accessing information, but just like text-mode DOS programs, it's doomed. Very soon, you'll be clicking on objects in your VW workspace, and saying the next generation of tech is preposterous...


Directed toward Kami: Trying to correct an obvious misconception isn't exactly mistaking windmills for giants. A simple "you've beaten it to death already" would suffice. :-) (It was just a little annoying seeing that, but I suppose a few maybe haven't read the novel in a long time, and their memory had tarnished slightly.)
Regardless, I just wanted to reply because I really enjoyed what you had to add to the conversation.
As much as Second Life has succeeded as a platform, I would hesitate before calling it in and of itself the future of the web. It would be more than just detatching it from Linden Lab... more than just using their source code.
I'd hope our creativity and ambitions would allow us to start from the ground-up, having learned from other VWs, especially SL. That way there's not really any corporate control of the VW itself... just corporate entities who choose to set up shop within it.
I'm sure you didn't mean "Second Life, once it's decoupled from LL's server farms, will be a serviceable Metaverse" in a completely literal sense, but in case you did, I just thought I'd throw my two cents in.
Again, however, I loved what you said, even if you did insult me in the beginning :-)


I'm afraid , somebody confuse the utility nature of www , with the entertainment/leisure nature of VW.



"The sooner we free ourselves from that fictional, limiting, inapplicable, 20th Century concept (and stop promoting it in the mainstream media), the sooner we’ll have a good chance of inventing the future, rather than being stuck trying to re-invent a vision from the past. "

Yeah, tell them to do so.


Sorry for the confusion, Eric, I was referring to Mike Sellers as Don Quixote, not you. (And yes, I assume that everyone who reads my posts will either get my references, or isn't worth communicating with...)

The Web started out just as centralized, just as much of a software monoculture, and just as unsuitable for the current work of the Web, as Second Life is today. NCSA made the only good HTTP daemon, and the only good browser, Mosaic. The specification for HTTP and HTML was assembled by a very small group of people. And what do we see today? The web server used by 2/3 of the 'Net (and 90%+ of the large sites) is Apache httpd... Which is based on NCSA's httpd. MSIE is to this day just a banged-up licensed copy of Mosaic, and while there's no code in common, Firefox is a direct heir to the Netscape clone of Mosaic. Safari and Opera are the only major clean-room re-implementations.

Existing code can be fixed, or re-implemented later, once you have a running system. Getting a running system in the first place is the hard part. There is almost zero chance of anyone starting over and making a new Metaverse at this point. Nobody else has a contiguous grid, plus content creation and scripting, plus content ownership and RMT. The best of the "alternatives" is 5 years or more behind LL in technology. I am not gonna wait 5 years for Croquet to get their shit together before I start using the Metaverse, when I can have it *now*.

I'm not at all concerned about "corporate control". When people want to work on big projects, they make corporations, governments, or non-profits; you need a legal structure for dispute resolution. The hippie fear of corporations which is endemic in academia and Stallman's perverted brand of open source just makes me laugh, since I've worked for corporations most of my life and seen just how un-terrifying they are in reality. Almost every media and technology you use and enjoy is owned by a corporation, and they haven't "turned evil" because it's in their financial interest to see that you're happy and have a good opinion of them so you'll buy more products. Maybe an open-source Second Life will end up pushed primarily by a big company that's interested in it (IBM and Google being the obvious candidates), or maybe it'll end up in the hands of a group like Apache or W3C, or most likely, Linden Lab will just continue to shepherd it. In any of those cases, what'll matter is that the standard system exists and can be developed further, not who runs it.


Second Life, once it's decoupled from LL's server farms, will be a serviceable Metaverse

You'll understand if I don't hold my breath waiting for SL to turn into a scalable, secure, robust, open, usable architecture. Right now it's none of those (its much more EBCDIC than HTML), and the people who claim it's in any way close don't understand the problem set.

And if such an SL-partisan as you wants to call me Don Quixote, Kami, I'll wear that proudly.


Damien has a good point, but walking with an avatar is not the only way to navigate a 3d space. Maybe its time to drop the avatar-focus and the physics simulators?


I was having a similar conversation the other day. Funny that I come here and see that its also being discussed here. I was talking about the show Tech Wars, and how they had these 3D hackers flying through the 'net' and being assaulted by energy to kill off their 'anti-virus'nes. I stated that it was a view of the cyberworld created because it seemed that it would be more entertaining then. But there was no practical purpose. Even today many of us reduce our Windows boxes to low level, ungraphic focused settings to get higher performance.

I never viewed the Metaverse as the only cyberworld of connection. I viewed it as just one that existed. One could purchase better looking avatars, one could code in various capabilities. One could create a city or shop that people felt were worth going to. There were rules in place, that required transportation. There was no need for transportation, other than to create 'property' there has to be some abstract of heigth and width. There has to be something seperating them other than a click of the mouse. That introduces time. Time of distance = time to download/load = 0 (at extreme limits of bandwidth and optimization). Thus, transportation is there to get the world a more understandable medium. I think that Second Life has most of the parts of a metaverse.

As for the purpose of any grander 3D environment, 3D web, etc. Most of the people working on it want it to exist, because it just seems cooler than a pure textual, 2D graphical environment.

And this is why it may still end up existing. People may want it to make the interaction with others, shops, movies, books, web more immersive and entertaining of an environment. Sure, it makes little optimization sense. Just as I look up on a Web site what a store is carrying, instead of driving to the store in real life. But those 2D graphics and such limit my possible interaction. I can't feel the material, I observe the sewing work, I can't easily see it on me.

A 3D Web would allow for me to somehow do this more. Again, this could all be done with seperate Web portals, but there still could be reasons for more a more connected environment that has distance/travel/time involved.


Cheiron wrote:

I can't feel the material,

A 3D Web would allow for me to somehow do this more.

Erm, what? How do you propose that faux-3d displays will allow you to employ your sense of touch?



I don't. But there's no reason that this can't be a part of future interaction in other ways. Purely 3D might just give a better way of interacting when shopping.


Not to resurrect this older thread, but while this discussion was happening HiPiHi announced that it is seeking "[t]o standardize 3D worlds and develop interoperability" standards with other vendors, and according to the comments HiPiHi already has IBM and Linden Labs on board (not that that means a great deal, but it's something).

So seriously—if you're going to kill Snow Crash, do it quick. =P


Great post Mike! And Damian makes a great point as well.

Remember these are the same people that sighted each year from 1994 to 2004 as "the year gaming would rule the world".

At the same time, we need to "light the way" more effectively with a compelling vision of where our medium can go - lest it continue to be co-opted by chowder heads who think they're thought leaders because they just discovered Stephenson or Gibson.

Give any one of them a copy of Cryptonomicon and blow their mind with where things could really go.


Excellent commentary. I've read the novel and it's a wee bit funny whenever I compare Stephenson's world to my online gaming experience right now.

In real life, I honestly admit things aren't easy for me, especially at 30 when the days of youth has passed and decades await for me to contemplate where I should be going. Poverty and a sense of hopelessness is prevalent and the society where I live in don't give me much of an opportunity to do as I wish.

But once online I become my ideal self: I have a distinct identity to stand out from a sea of clones, I have something to prove, I have an opportunity to do rightful things to others in the best way I can, and -- provided that I have the proper equipment -- I enjoy tanking. XD


Good point about lighting the way, Jon: better to light a candle, etc. And of course, "the best way to predict the future is by inventing it." :)

(Remind me to tell you about my father-in-law's adventures with people who may have been guarding a huge cache of WWII gold in the Philippines. Stephenson doesn't always write fantasy...)

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