Here comes another wave of ideas for metaverses?

Metaverse technology and approaches to how people can interact in a MMO type way are appearing thick and fast. It always opens debates around one world versus many, it starts technical arguments around platforms. However that diversity is both a rich source of ideas and approaches and a restrictivce and confusing situation in social media circles.
Eric “Spin Martin” Rice comments on some of the problems of this in a recent post Just where and why are people choosing to gather in 3d spaces.
Recently Roo and I have been discussing the evolution of all these fragmented spaces. I dont think it is enough that we just tell people what is out there at the moment. It is by no means solved or possible may not be solvable, but it is worth considering some things here. Often interoperability reduces to a pure technical discussion when in fact its a social and organizational problem too. As virtual world companies and communities attempt to own their customers/members in a traditional sense they clearly want you to come to them to experience their wares and their way of doing things. This is a wider web2.0 conversation around who owns me and my stuff.
We are starting to see some words appear in up and coming virtual environments that start to hint at maybe some different metaphors. “Widgetized” is a forced word but if you read the press around RocketOn (props to Xantherus for twittering this company the other day) you start to see that we do not have to stick with the real world analogies that we have today. I am second guessing what Rocketon is doing but having a thing you take around with you from world to world appears to be their approach.
So I made a little picture, not so much a roadmap as a suggestion of where we are today and the ? as to where we need to evolve to in our understanding tomorrow. It is fairly self explanatory I hope.
We have gone from not knowing about anything going on around us, to our friends being online and sharing their thoughts/pictures/videos asynchronously to a set of single worlds where our avatar presence is part of the experience for us and those around us with a nominal amount of the previous steps awareness pulled into that environment too.
The trick is to think about the evolution from that, not to just replace real world metaphors but to extend them.
We already see this adoption as people start thinking about metaverses. They start with the replicas of themselves and of their offices and of their existing assets. They very quickly start to evolve their thinking and challenge why we need to stay on the floor in an office, do powerpoint, market with billboards etc. The non-real world representations start to flow as ideas.
My suggestion here is that the very container of those ideas, the world itself may also need to have this sort of evolutionary thought applied to it.
Single worlds and single avatars and a single live presence may be too restrictive, though is a comfortable metaphor to help people adopt metaverses and to feel some benefit from the.
This idea I think flows across each of the quadrants we see from the metaverse roadmap with the distinction being made with the types of virtual worlds and metaverses. Mirror Worlds, Virtual Worlds, Augmented Reality and Lifelogging.
Any thoughts?

Long Live the infocenter !

I’ve always been a bit scared of infocenters – even though, deep down, I know they’re “just HTML”; they never quite seem that way. Javascript and to-the-pixel object placement is just getting too good these days. You could almost mistake it for a java applet or at least some kind of fancy AJAX application.

But no, it’s just a set of good-old framesets, frames, HTML content, hyperlinks and images, bound together with some javascript eggwhite and stirred vigorously for a few minutes to make the infocenters we know and (some, I hear) love.

However, to make it seem like it’s “alive”, there is a Java servlet lurking back at the server, generating parts of the Infocenter dynamically, including rendering the Table of Contents from a behind-the-scenes XML description, and running search and bookmarks and things like that.

What I became curious about, then, were two things:

  • Could we extract a sub-set of an infocenter and just display that, rather than having to wade through everything we were given? For example, I might only be interested in the administration section of a product, or might only need to know about one component of a toolkit of many components. Having a more navigable and less intimidating sub-set would greatly improve productivity.
  • Rather than having to install an Eclipse infocenter run time on a server to host a set of documentation, is there a way to run it on any plain old HTTPd (e.g. Apache)? I accept that search, bookmarks, and other dynamic features won’t work, but the real information – the useful stuff in the right-hand window, which we use to do our jobs with the products we’re trying to understand; and the all-important navigational Table of Contents structure in the left-hand window – would be available to us “anywhere” we can put an HTTPd.

With a ThinkFriday afternoon ahead of me, I thought I’d see what could be done. And the outcome (to save you having to read the rest of this!) is rather pleasing: Lotus Expeditor micro broker infocenter.

This is a subset of the Lotus Expeditor infocenter containing just the microbroker component, being served as static pages from an Apache web server.

First the information content. The challenge I set was to extract the sections of the Lotus Expeditor documentation which relate to the microbroker component. It has always been a bit of a struggle to find these sections hidden amongst all the other information, as it’s in rather non-obvious places, and somewhat spread around. This means creating a new navigation tree for the left-hand pane of the Infocenter. When you click on a link in the navigation tree, that particular topic of information is loaded into the right-hand window.

However, it quickly became apparent that just picking the microbroker references from the existing nav tree would yield an unsatisfactory result: the topics need to be arranged into a sensible structure so that someone looking for information on how to perform a particular task would be guided to the right information topic. Just picking leaf nodes from the Lotus Expeditor navigation tree would leave us with some oddly dangling information topics.

Fortunately Laura Cowen, a colleague in the Hursley User Technologies department for messaging products, does this for a living, and so was able to separate out the microbroker wheat from the rest of the Expeditor documentation and reorganise the topics into a structure that makes sense out of the context of the bigger Expeditor Toolkit, but also, to be honest, into a much more meaningful and sensible shape for micro broker users

First we needed to recreate the XML which the infocenter runtime server uses to serve up the HTML of the navigation tree. Laura gave me a sample of the XML, which contains the title and URL topic link. From the HTML source of the full Expeditor navigation tree, using a few lines of Perl, I was able to re-create XML stanzas for the entries in the navigation tree. Laura then restructured these into the shape we wanted, throwing out the ones we didn’t want, and adding in extra non-leaf nodes in the tree to achieve the information architecture she wanted to create.

Wave a magic wand, and that XML file becomes a plug-in zip file that can be offered-up to an infocenter run time, and the resulting HTML content viewed. After some iterative reviews with potential future users of the micobroker infocenter, we finalised a navigation tree that balanced usability with not having to create new information topics, apart from a few placeholders for non-leaf nodes in the new navigation tree.

So far so good – we had an infocenter for just the microbroker component of Expeditor, and it was nicely restructured into a useful information architecture.

Now for phase two of the cunning plan: can we host that on a plain-old HTTPd without the infocenter run time behind it? The information topics (the pages that appear in the right-hand window) are static already, and didn’t need to be rehosted – the existing server for the Lotus Expeditor product documentation does a perfectly good job of serving up those HTML pages. It’s the rest of the Infocenter, the multiple nested framesets which make up the Infocenter “app”, and the all-important navigation tree, which are dynamically served, from a set of Java Server Pages (JSPs).

A quick peek at the HTML source revealed that several JSPs were being used with different parameter sets to create different parts of the displayed HTML. These would have to be “flattened” to something that a regular web server could host. A few wgets against the infocenter server produced most of the static HTML we would need, but quite a few URLs needed changing to make them unique when converted to flat filenames. A bit of Perl and a bit of hand editing sorted that lot out.

Then it transpired there is a “basic” and an “advanced” mode which the back-end servlet makes use of to (presumably) support lesser browsers (like wget 😐 ). Having realised what was going on, and a bit of tweaking of the wget parameters to make it pretend to be Firefox, and the “advanced” content came through from the server.

Then we had to bulk get the images – there are lots of little icons for pages, twisties, and various bits of window dressing for the infocenter window structure. All of this was assembled into a directory structure and made visible to an Apache HTTPd.

Et voila! It worked! Very cool! An infocenter for the microbroker running on a straight HTTPd. Flushed with success, we moved it over to (the friendly fan-zine web site for the MQ Telemetry Transport and related products like microbroker). Tried it there…

Didn’t work. Lots of broken links, empty windows and error loading page stuff. Seems the HTTPd on isn’t quite as forgiving as mine: files with a .jsp extension were being served back with the MIME type text/plain rather than text/html, which may not look like much, but makes all the difference. So a set of symlinks of .jsp files to .html files, and another quick wave of a perl script over the HTML files put everything right.

So with an afternoon’s work, we were able to demonstrate to our considerable satisfaction, that we could excise a sub-set of an Infocenter from a larger book, restructure it into a new shape, and take the resulting Infocenter content and flatten it to a set of HTML pages which can be served from a regular HTTP server.

IBM at the NRF

Does your avatar know how to make actual money? Bernadette Duponchel’s does. She was recently at the National Retail Federation conference with the rest of her team, presenting IBM’s take on virtual worlds for the fashion design industry.


This is the second consecutive year IBM has demonstrated the use of virtual worlds at the NRF. The brief demo highlights the benefits of real-time collaborative design, short feedback loops when tweaking materials and costs, and even pre-selling the item before it is physically manufactured.

Building cities by generation – Introversion

A recent conversation reminded me that I had read something in edge magazine about city generation for games. The premise being that whilst real places or soon to be real places may need to be hand crafted, sprawling believable cities that are backdrops or scenery, like forests or mountains, just be able to be generated. Of course ‘just’ hides the complexity of what needs to be done. The guys at introversion seem to be on the case though.
This video shows some of the toolkit in action as it decides how and where to layout a sprawling city.

There is more from the developers on their forum
I had seen this in a number of places on the web too like kotaku and digital urban it is certainly of interest in gaming community but procedural generation has its place in all sorts of content and simulation arenas.

Geek Rockets 2.0

We have just had a note to the emerging tech group here in Hursley inviting us to the 2nd rocket day. (I nearly said annual but it was back in September 2005 that we had the last one).
It reminded me that it was so long ago I had not youtubed the video I cut of the event. Unlike most video I do now which is small mobile snippets I had used a DV camera and then spent hours editing it up and cutting a soundtrack into it. Daz did a great one too with stills and a Kanye West track.
Making video like this is a very rewarding experience. So here is the 5 minutes of madness in a field in Hampshire.

Who knows, if I get to go to this maybe this will be a live webcast on into multiple virtual worlds (batteries and people willing)

March 5th Conference – Metaverse Evangelizing in a Web 2.0 world

Whilst Roo is off at SXSW doing his thing on March 5th/6th I will be at the Web 2.0 and Beyond: Applying Social and Collaborative Tools for Business Problems(this is the link) conference here in the UK explaining all things metaverse and also the use of Web 2.0 to move a corporation into action as we have done with eightbar and our various other creative outlets.
So if you are wondering what this is all about, and there is way more than just hearing me talk about life as epredator, then sign up and come along to this one.
The full page of speaker details are here, we also have Ian McNairn from IBM Software Group talking on day 2.

InstantAction in browser 3d multiplayer

As many of you know our IQ internal metaverse is based on the garage games Torque engine so we are always interested to see what is happening with it out there in the world. teamed up with GarageGames to create this new multiplayer game experience in browser. The aim is to go way past the flash games approach and have a more detailed engine running that has grown up from game development.
So, being beta style Web2.0 people Roo, Rob and I dived in to see what it was like as the beta opened up some new games.
They have Marble Blast, Screwdriver and ThinkTanks all available as online or single player games.


Now the company is focused on all sorts of gaming experiences, a little past casual and puzzle games, aiming to exceed xbox live and playstation network.

It will be interesting to see how the dev kits help us in the future with corporate style intraverses. At the moment we still have a client install, though one that runs on mac, pc and linux for our metaverse. Also as instantaction is still in beta we have not explored what happens server side with interactions and persistence of worlds. I have no doubt someone is building something out there in garagegames land and I know we woudl love to see it.
For now lets enjoy the fact the games look pretty good and see where this develops.

Rare audio of both metaverse evangelists on Voices in Business

Roo and I did a podcast the other day. It is a rare thing for us both to be recorded at the same time.
You can listen to it here on Mike O’Hara’s Voicesinbusiness blog.
Just in case you cant tell the difference Roo is the posh sounding one and I am the slightly less posh (or scruffy) sounding one.
We covered a lot in a single take and it was both where all this has come from where it is going and where it is now. So good stuff.
I am not going argue over the billing with Roo first as Mike actually came to see Roo but I had gap appear in the diary so joined in too.

(From mikes blog here is the run down of the timings)
00:12 – Mike O’Hara introduction
00:40 – Start of interview
01:01 – What is a “metaverse evangelist”? (Roo)
02:16 – What is IBM actually doing in virtual worlds? (Ian)
04:35 – Events for IBM’s partners and customers
05:32 – Customer builds and retail opportunities
06:48 – Why should firms take this seriously?
09:21 – The scale issue
11:15 – Human interaction in the 3D environment
13:10 – Mistakes to avoid
15:24 – Demographics
16:01 – Ian’s predictions for the future
20:10 – Roo’s predictions for the future
22:59 – Web 2.0 style of adoption
24:36 – End of interview
24:42 – The Eightbar blog
25:19 – Wrap-up

Grady Booch on Ugotrade

Over on Ugotrade there is a really detailed and interesting post and interview with the great Grady Booch. He is an IBM fellow and one of the most influential people in software engineering. Virtual worlds have become very important to him. The post covers things like Bluegrass, a software development environment using the torque engine and integrated with the Rational tooling.
I was lucky enough to end up at dinner with Grady at the VW San Jose as Eureka DejaVu was having a real life gathering.
Grady’s humble yet worldy wise demeanour reminded me of a post that Scoble made a couple of days ago in Davos where Bono turned up and said “I am a rock star… sort of”.
In the UK there is also an interview with Grady in the British Computer Society magazine entitled the Mighty Booch, which is reference to the comedy show the Mighty Boosh 🙂
We have not covered Bluegrass much yet on Eightbar though we are very close to the team given our shared interest in Torque. So expect more on here soon.

Artificial Life – Timeless style

I bumped into Timeless Prototype the other day in SL. It had been a while. I asked what have you been up to and he answered. Come over and have a look. So I TPed into Primula Risa on Delphic
Timeless (of Multigadget, multichair and the london eye fame) had started an artificial life sim in motion. Svarga is of coure the famous one but Timeless is doing some other interesting things.
The area is full of trees, mushrooms, ornate plants and flowers that all grow before your eyes, much of the flowere work is that of Spiderkitten Mirabeau and Timeless has worked with SK and brought them to life. The positioning and seeding is all in the hands of the weather and of the random flow of seeds that you see fluttering around the place.
The things that initially attracted my attention were the fish that Timeless has created. Not only are they fantasticaly articulated and organic in their swimming motion but whilst we were talking the fish took an interest in us and congregated around the jetty we were on. Timeless days he has seen all sorts of unprogrammed but interesting behaviour as the fish take an interest in their surroundings and each other. He got me to hover in the water and a fish decided to lift me up and ‘rescue me’ clearly not scared of the predator AV 🙂
Having spent a little time watching things grow and happen it is intriguing how much more involved you can feel as the environment changes around you. The fascination of both the simple patterns of nature with the uniqueness of each part of the landscape as things grow and then die to respawn elsewhere is really good.
I know that under the covers there are some intersting pieces of code, but like all good alife it seems simple, the rules are simple, yet it causes (just like simple flocking) a very complex looking and attractive feel.
I have been looking at putting a-life approaches into some of the things we have in our internal metaverse and we have all talked about the growth of plants and other elements. So it is good to be inspired by such a cool build by Timeless.
I am sure he will add some comments with more details and depth, but you can appreciate it this on so many levels, so go and enjoy it 🙂
I took a whole lot of photos and the odd bit of video, I will need to edit the video up and youtube it. In the mean time heres some pictures from Snapzilla.
primula risa
An overview
Mushrooms and flower
Orchid style flower
bell flower
A very pretty golden flower
Those smart fish
The fish
tateru and SK
Algernon and I also bumped into Tateru Nino and SpiderKitten Marabeau in a small valley on the sim too.
The trees grow in front of your eyes
Here is a large one
There are some nice touches like the mist over the lake too.
The entrance
The jetty
more fish
Surfing fish