This blog is about the development of future virtual reality software and technology in general, focusing mostly on the realXtend project I'm working on right now. I'll introduce myself later on, but let me first explain a bit about the general
Well, actually it all started a little over a year ago. A group of determined people set out to change the (virtual) world with the backing of a benevolent funder. The simple idea was to create an open source virtual reality platform that could be used for different business applications, improving the quality of life for people and save the environment in the process.
The idea may have been simple and straightforward, but the implementation has proven to be challenging. In practice, we're talking about what would best be described as the 3D Internet or rather the Apache server for the brave new world. And a couple of other components. Something of a challenge for sure, but we were not alone.
At the moment there are tens if not hundreds of millions of people who have already used some kind of a virtual world. Different worlds range from flash-based 2.5D visualizations you can run in a web browser to huge and graphically impressive full-blown 3D environments with complex realtime interactions between thousands of users. Some are open source, most closed. Practically none of them are interoperable. There is no 3D Internet yet.
So what does 'interoperability' stand for? The main difference between browsing the virtual reality and world wide web of today is the user interaction and the most important tool of the interaction is the avatar, the user's virtual representative. Right now there are numerous different virtual worlds, most of which use their own proprietary technology for rendering and functionalities. In practice this means that every world is an island and traveling this archipelago doesn't work. It's a bit like BBS systems of the digital stone age, except that in addition to a different login to every site you also need dozens or hundreds of megabytes of software to connect to each world.
What this means is that each island needs to be big enough and offer enough value for the user to justify the effort of installing software and creating a new avatar in order to get in. Unfortunately it's quite a bit of effort and you really have to have somethig special on your site for people to bother. The idea of the interoperable 3D Internet is different.
In the realXtend philosophy, traveling between sites is exactly as simple as navigating the World Wide Web today. Click a link or type the address of your destination to the address bar and you're good to go. One avatar (or one of many, the choice is yours) will work with every site on the planet. Or in the universe. Suddenly the cost of visiting your site is as low as clicking a button or typing a couple of words and dots. Of course the users will still have to invest effort in installing a virtual worlds browser and creating an avatar, but the cost is shared between all the sites in the entire world. Or the universe.
Suddenly, your specialist site for people who like pink unicorns starts getting hits from unicorn lovers visiting your site, because the number of people already using virtual services on some other sites is so high, that there are bound to be unicorn enthusiasts in the mix. And the relatively few people who love them enough to install the browser and create an avatar just to see them will then continue clicking and visiting other peoples' sites. The snowball is rolling and everyone's winning.
At first it may seem that the sites that at the moment rely on users paying for the land would suffer, because virtual land would be freely available to anyone. In reality they don't have much reason for concern, though, because people will still want their services just like they pay for web hosting today. And since there are lots of services available - many of which the bigger virtual worlds of today don't want to have on their own site - the number of users will increase dramatically and the value of the most sought-after virtual estates will skyrocket.
In reality it's a bit more complex at the moment, because there's lots of legacy stuff out there and users already have their avatars and virtual merchandise in systems that were never designed to be interoperable. We need to find a way to create a bridge between the present day systems and the architecture of the future. Some efforts are already underway and we're hoping to participate. In the meanwhile we'd like to offer you a chance to see what the 3D Internet is all about, just go to http://www.realXtend.org and download the software (version 0.3 at the moment, still very much in development). You need to sign up for an avatar service (consider it somewhat comparable to an email account) if you don't want to host your own. We're offering a public service for a couple of lucky ones, if you're interested just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We're approaching holiday season here in Finland so the development isn't as hectic as usually, but we've got some interesting stuff coming up in the future. Stay tuned.
Last, and the least, the question of who I am. My name is Antti ilomäki, I've been in the realXtend program from the very beginning and right now I'm the project manager of one of the production teams, mostly focusing on basic server and business related features. I'm also the guy who most likely reads the emails sent to the realXtend info-email. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me. In Second Life(tm) I'm known as Hirmuinen Hirvi and you can occasionally meet me at the Arkala Island of Innovation. The realXtend project websites are http://www.realxtend.org and http://community.rexdeveloper.org/ , where you can also find discussion forums and many realXtend users.