Is there really virtual world
promise in peer-to-peer
… at this stage?
As if, worrying whether the soon-to-be-released Second Life Viewer 2009 will require educators to completely revamp their techniques and training of students, was not enough, we still have to wonder whether we might not have backed the wrong horse and that the possible peer-to-peer virtual world competition for Second Life – both public and behind the firewall – waiting in the wings, might not provide better applications.
We already have Entropia, Forterra(Olive), Twinity, Wonderland, Croquet, Prototerra, Kaneva, Hipihi, and others in the virtual world arena but just when one might have thought that Second Life and the Second Life-based OpenSim worlds – OpenSim, OpenLife, OsGrid, and smaller players like ONGENS, etc – were holding their own for education purposes, at least one and perhaps two of the Open Source alternatives to Second Life appear to be breaking through, although they don’t have numbers yet.
The latest food for thought on this issue came from Feldspar Epstein, of The Metaverse Journal, who explains the difference between the OpenSim concept, and that of Open Source such as “Open Cobalt” and “Solipsis”, as being that essentially while OpenSim grids are designed to be served from a common point, Open Cobalt and Solipsis implementations are designed to be served from many points – they are both peer-to-peer technologies.
“Open Cobalt (based on Croquet technology) consists of two parts: a browser and a toolkit,” Epstein says. ” The browser is used to view the 3D virtual workspaces created with the toolkit. Each workspace can live on a separate personal computer. Workspaces are real time and computationally dynamic, and each can host multiple participants. Additionally, individual workspaces can be interlinked into a private and secure network of work spaces.”
Epstein lists a number of attractive Open Cobalt features, particularly for researchers and educators, as: Open source licensing (MIT); deeply malleable, collaborative space; runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux; internet access is not required; it can run over LANs and Intranets; private and public environments can be created; in-world text, voice and video chat, web browsing (VNC allows access to browsers like Firefox) and annotations; Access to remote applications via VNC; Navigation between virtual workspaces is possible using 3D hyperlinks; Mesh, texture, media, and whole avatar imports.
Meanwhile the efficacy or on-going viability of the French Telecom-developed Solipsis is more murky, although according to Epstein it is about to go into beta testing but I would question this.
A search of the net would suggest otherwise.
On Solipsis netofpeers.net it is revealed, in a link from Professor Shun-Yun Hu, of the University of Taiwan, that although Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world with no central servers, only relying on end-users’ machines, the initial Solipsis project ended some time ago when the core team left the project. The original Solipsis web site is available here. Although the dowloads are available there appears to have been little real activity since 2005, and the developers’ page is here but a number of the links appear dead.
More recently, however, Joaquin Keller, has started TwinVerse – a virtual world based on geography, pictured right- and which seems little more than a glorified video and text chat room overlaid on Google satellite pictures/maps of various world spots, and nothing like the 3D virtual worlds, as presented by Second Life or Twinity or Entropia et al, and less than half as interesting.
Speaking of peer-to-peer virtual worlds Epstein doesn’t go into the much-touted Australian startup, Project Outback (from Yoik) which folded sometime ago after considerable promotion by one of the former Kazaa peer-to-peer network promoters, nor the most viable other offering VastPark. currently in closed beta (downloads here) and based on the OPeN (Univ. of Melbourne) software funded by NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research
Centre of Excellence, which signed a commercial license agreement with VastPark, in 2008.
Other peer-to-peer possibilities, in various states of array and disarray, include : Colyseus (CMU); HYDRA (National Univ. of Singapore); and peers@play (Univ. of Mannheim, Duisburg-Essen, and Hannover).
However, after looking at all the offerings I could find for peer-to-peer worlds ( I may have missed some) I believe that aside from Open Cobalt, which is actually Croquet in another form, and VastPark, there appears nothing in the peer-to-peer virtual world public domain that is any real threat at this stage to Second Life and open-source Second Life-based products, for credibility, ease-of-use, attractiveness, population, and what I believe is the fundamental key to virtual world success, immersibility (suspension of disbelief).
So forget peer-to-peer virtual worlds for the moment and concentrate on worrying about the Second Life 2009 viewer, or perhaps the new adult continent of Zindra. Just kidding.
Filed under: Education in virtual worlds, Education, Second Life, Virtual Worlds Tagged: | Second Life, OpenSim, Entropia, Australia, Wonderland, Croquet, Forterra, OpenLife, Ongens, OLIVE, Virtual Worlds, Vastpark, Solipsis, OSgrid, Open Cobalt, Feldspar Epstein, The Metaverse Journal, TwinVerse, Prototerra, Kaneva, Hipihi, Open Source, Peer2peer, peer-to-peer, Shun-Yun Hu, University of Taiwan, Joaquin Keller, Kazaa, Project Outback, NICTA, Colyseus, Hydra, peers@play, University of Singapore, University of Melbourne, University of Mannheim, Duisburg-Essen and Hanover