Had a very revealing conversation with David Harrison, a PhD at Victoria University, about the prospects of potentially using Second Life as a tool for architectural collaboration in the very near future. His current PhD is entitled ‘Building Digital Bridges’, where he looking at “exploring the means of encouraging digital conversation and collaboration by insular organisations associated with the building during its lifecycle.” He’s chronicling his work among other insightful observations of how architects work across the digital divide on his blog: http://www.stress-free.co.nz/. I took the general stance that Second Life is poised, in my opinion, of being ‘the’ Metaverse in the future and the go to platform for architectural collaboration. He, however, differs and brings up some very salient points that i thought I’d share…
Ryan Schultz wrote:
I hear you. My fascination with SL is that more than any other burgeoning platform out there, it seems Second Life is in a better position to become the next 3D Web or Metaverse. The main reason being: The community. There’s just too much invested development from such a large and diverse community for them to flippantly jump ship to another platfrom. Even if there was a better platform out there, with better tools and interface, the community due to their entrenched economic interests, would go to the ends of the earth to try and figure out a way to make SL’s more user-friendly.
I would disagree with this presumption simply because online communities are very fickle until development of the underlying technology has plateaued.
In contrast the world of 3D is still developing at such a rate that the communities are relatively small and not deeply entrenched. For example the number of active users of SL is dwarfed by these 2D communities and small compared to gaming worlds such as World of Warcraft. Then there is the forthcoming release of Sony’s Playstation3 3D world which, even given its poor sales, will be bigger than Second Life in terms of potential users (i.e. every PS3 owner).
I can’t help but feel the online 3D market is at the same place as the 2D online world was between 1990 and 1995. Back then we had walled gardens like Compuserve, AOL and even Microsoft Network (which originally shipped with Windows 95). Whilst these communities had a lot of money behind them the rapid adoption of open HTML and HTTP concepts quickly usurped them. When this occurred participants were more than prepared to transfer or write off their investments in these old, established communities in order to be on the newer and more widely adopted one.
This is of course contingent on SL opening its server code. Furthermore, If SL was solely occupied by a mass of renegade amateurs, the likelihood of it becoming ‘the’ Metaverse would be lessened, but since there’s already an impressive list of corporations using the world, they themselves would be hard pressed to abandon ship even for a better alternative.
I haven’t seen any examples of big business investing serious money in SL. What I have seen is a lot of experimentation and jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of publicity. When big business is prepared to spend millions on SL development in the same manner in which they do with the Web then it becomes difficult to change. The day this happens within a 3D environment I think we can say its reaching some level of maturity.
They would of course die to leave if they could export their developments to a non-proprietary world that was compatible with Second Life. Which is only a matter of time, with the growing number of open source metaverses out there such as: Croquet, Open Source Metaverse Project, and Ogoglio project to name a few. So with this threat looming on the horizon, I feel SL has no other choice than to open source its code lest they loose their population. They will just have to figure out other ways to make money such as becoming a developer on their own platform and provide services similar to those provide by companies such as Millions of Us, Clear Ink or The Electric Sheep Company… or becoming ‘the’ lending institute.
Therein lies the problem for SL, for it to succeed as a technology/community it must eat its parents (Linden Labs). If Linden don’t let this happen it will no doubt wither and die on the vine, but if they do open it up they become a bit player in something that is now much larger than them.
Tim Berners-Lee and the others behind the Web weren’t driven by profit and as a consequence this decision was easy.
Unfortunately for Linden Labs and SL this decision isn’t so clear cut.
Even if Google, Microsoft, or Adobe came out with a platform similar to Second Life tomorrow, I feel those companies that have invested in Second Life would stay because the prospect of Second Life becoming an open platform is more attractive, and a better bet than a proprietary platform with a better user-interface (with no history of open source initiatives) that could potentially, one day, create a restrictive monopoly. Why are they there at all then if Second Life is still proprietary? For the same reason, people paid for the use of roads before there were public interstates. And like interstates, since so many diverse markets are using metaverses (like they did the internet) to expand their markets, it would be foul hearty to allow any one company to gain control.
Perhaps the most intelligent thing Steve Balmer has ever said is ‘Developers, Developers Developers!’.
Communities rely on their developer community, be it the people that write the software through to the users that take part within it.
Adobe and Microsoft aren’t in it to build the highways, they are in it to own the tools others use when making the highways.
Google on the other hand is in it to make the highways but they’ve illustrated in the past they are more than willing to give those highways away in order to own the billboards on the side of the road.
Back to your thesis, the reason there is not the level of conversation and collaboration between insular organizations in the building industry is the fact that they all don’t speak the same language so to speak—of which I know you are aware. I feel because the market expansion in so many diverse economic sectors would be improved with an open platform in 3-dimensional communication, the market as a whole, will eventual just bypass proprietary CAD/BIM software as it is currently being developed, and opt for a more open platform.
The users of CAD/BIM aren’t interested in ideas like open standards just like Joe/Jane Average doesn’t care or know about Net Neutrality.
Architects want to get buildings built and to do so they will use the tools that make it easiest for them to do this.
It then becomes a battle of user interfaces and in such a conflict the well established and proprietary CAD vendors hold a huge advantage.
Formats such as Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) are intended to enable open interoperability but it is a very complex industry and as a consequence its adoption rate is slow and the format complicated.
I’d argue that in the office productivity world the most important enabler of the OpenDocument format was not the establishment of the standard but Sun’s gamble to open source the StarOffice code-base. This made available to the open source community a set of user interfaces that could realistically compete with Microsoft Office. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a similar event in the CAD/BIM industry for an open format to not only be established but taken seriously. Unfortunately the CAD/BIM industry does not yet have a company which has established a Microsoft-like monopoly and until that happens there is very little financial incentive for the existing vendors to undertake such a radical action.
I’m of the mindset promoted by Adam Smith that the more people gravitate toward those systems that allow for the expression of their own self-interest, the better we all are both socially and economically.
Nice, don’t know much about Adam Smith.
I think one of the more exciting indications of SL’s potential, is that people are still a little confused on what you can do with it—its use is still somewhat nebulous. Similar to how the uses of such disruptive technologies as the radio, telephone, and internet were not immediately known, SL’s potential is just beginning to be tapped. And similarly, if these technologies were proprietary and not open to the public commons, one could easily argue the level of innovation seen thus far would not be half of what it is today. I’m not ultimately saying that if the uses for a burgeoning technology are somewhat nebulous, they will automatically be a platform for innovation, but, I feel, the fact that millions of people have flocked to SL to explore it’s potential is a good sign that Second Life will become such a platform.
I would say a 3D Internet-based world is complimentary to existing technologies and services rather than disruptive.
Most of the discussion around environments such as SL are more to do with how (if it all) it can be used to assist with conventional processes rather than replace them. For example the most interesting things I’ve seen in SL are 2D Internet browser and video windows arranged in a 3D space. This isn’t disruptive but it does make you think how can the third dimension improve on an existing message.
The value of SL is not attributed so much to how useful the tool is, but more the fact that masses of people use it—the barrier for entry is low. Similar to the argument that Andrew Hinton uses in his slideshow ‘Architectures for Conversation’; of how AK47’s are more prolific than M-16’s because they are ‘Open’, ‘Inexpensive’, ‘Simple’ and ‘Close Enough’—so too does SL share these characteristics and the reason, I feel, people will use it as ‘the’ platform for innovation in the 3-dimensional world.
I disagree that Second Life is the AK47 of the 3D Internet world.
In fact I think one could argue it is the M4A1, a relative of the M16 used by the special forces:
This is because:
Open – SL is currently proprietary and it is uncertain what an ‘open’ SL would look or behave like
Inexpensive – Virtual land costs real money in SL. In contrast the Web is theoretically free but of course there are attributed costs involved depending on your participation but these are distributed (e.g. domain name registration).
Simple – The user interface and the underlying data format is far from simple when compared to an Internet browser and HTML.
Close Enough – To what? The Web enables us to exchange textual (and now 2D visual data) easily. Due to its open, inexpensive and simple properties we have been able to build all sorts of interesting applications on top of it (e.g. search). I don’t think we have established the properties of a ubiquitous 3D environment to say anything is close enough just yet.
Anyways, as usual, I’ve spent way too much time on this reply. Would you mind if I posted this conversation on my blog? I feel other people might benefit from this dialog. The internet is a wonderful thing.
I don’t mind as I’ll probably reference back to it myself 🙂
From: David Harrison
Sent: Thursday, June 07, 2007 6:14 AM
Subject: Re: [Get in touch…] just introducing myself…
Thanks for the email and blog comments, but as you can see I’m a bit
slow when it comes to email as the business related stuff during the day
usually burns me out.
You might be a bit disappointed to learn I am not a fan of Second Life.
It maybe because I’ve play too much World of Warcraft but I think it is
more to do with the often self-manufactured fanfare that surrounds it
and Linden Labs.
Personally I think Second Life is going to be usurped by Adobe and
Microsoft on the Web when it comes to 3D environments on the Web.
Adobe is doing some really interesting things when it comes to Acrobat
3D and Apollo which suggests it won’t be long before we start to see 3D
concepts traditionally associated with Second Life begin to show their
heads in other places.
Likewise Microsoft and Autodesk are teaming up with the XPS/DWFx to
create 3D technologies that can be used in partnership with Silverlight
to do very similar things. This isn’t even taking into account Sony with
their Playstation3 digital world which will no doubt be followed by
Microsoft, probably leveraging some or all of the aforementioned
Then of course there’s Google who seem to be doing their best to model
and photograph the real world to the extent that we will all be able to
experience it virtually in a manner very similar to Second Life. The
advantage they have with this approach is that people understand the
real world and can immediately associate themselves with its digital
So while Second Life is forging a trail I don’t believe it will be long
before it gets some serious, more solution specific competition from a
number of big players.
Open sourcing their server infrastructure would certainly help ensure
‘Second Life’ as a concept remained valid in a competitive world but how
Linden Labs would continue to make money if this would occur would be
difficult to say.
On the Second Life/collaboration front I don’t believe it would take
hold as the average person off the street doesn’t want to go through the
effort of signing up for a Second Life account, learning the UI and
navigating through the world just to checkout an architecture project.
From a real-time collaboration perspective products such as Adobe
Connect (formally Macromedia Breeze) are more relevant within the
industry because the technologies they are based on are ubiquitous, have
a broad installation base and everyone understands the PDF/Flash user
When you mix products like Connect with formats such as 3D PDF and DWF
you get a very powerful, real-time collaboration tool that business can
grasp much faster than Second Life.
Also just from a tools perspective Second Life is lacking a level of
deep interaction within CAD packages that would be needed to take hold
in a business environment. At the moment I would say its less of a
struggle to digitally collaborate using Google Earth as a
3D-collaboration medium than Second Life simply because it feels like
every CAD vendor is jumping over themselves to deliver a seamless
import/export plug-in for that platform.
So I am afraid to say you won’t find me on Second Life anytime soon.
That is not to say I don’t think 3D collaboration will not take off
sometime soon, I just feel the bigger vendors out there are going to do
a better job of providing what businesses want when compared to the
consumer-focused Linden Labs and their Second Life community.
> Ryan Schultz sent a message using the contact form at
> David, Love your blog. Considering the subject matter you cover in
> your blog,
> you might be interested in this ‘Wikitecture’ experiment we (RL
> in Second Life) conducted in SL that is exploring how feasible a
> collaborative approach to architecture might be for the profession.
> Unfortunately, mostly due to a lack of monetary incentive I’m sure, we
> did not have many participants throughout it’s month long duration. We
> however are still hopeful that future experiments will garner further
> I guess another reason I’m writing, is to ask if you’ve given any thought
> of using ‘Second Life’ as a platform for “encouraging digital
> and collaboration by insular organisations associated with the building
> during its lifecycle”? Although the technology is quite rudimentary
> compared to the tools AEC professionals typically use, it is
> considered by
> many to be the burgeoning foundation for the 3-dimensional web. There is
> pretty strong speculation as well that SL plans to open source its server
> code in the near future. They have had their client(viewer) code open
> quite some time now.
> Anyways, just thought I’d say hi and show my support. If you have an
> Avatar in SL, look me (Theory Shaw) up and I’ll give you a tour of the
> Wikitecture experiment. I’m also participating in this competition,
> hosted by, http://www.ctrlshift07.com/, of which you might be
> familiar. http://www.ctrlshift07.com/second-life/
> Regards, Ryan