Open Second Life — The Roadmap?

Open Source InitiativeAlthough it doesn’t come as a surprise to many of us, Linden Lab has slowly gathering up momentum on their future development strategy for Second Life, which, as we all know, is making the whole code open source.

We know now that the major reason for doing so is not simply “being nice” (which they certainly are 🙂 ). The whole point is that Linden Lab is unable to hire the thousands of programmers it needs to make Second Life, as a product, do everything we wish. And I’m not simply talking about “fixing bugs” (which is always the first thing that everybody mentions) or “getting rid of lag” (which would be the second one!).

No, we’re in fact thinking way beyond these two things — which are short-term anyway — which is basically drafting the guidelines on how Second Life should evolve during the 2010s. In essence, planning for the future: thinking what Second Life is supposed to become in the next decade. And Linden Lab is being pretty open about it (pun intended).

This time, we don’t see any of their usual arrogance in the past: “hey, we know what we’re doing, and we’ll just implement what we wish, and let you just applaud our wisdom and technical know-how”. Apparently — and this is what I find far more interesting — Linden Lab has stepped down from their Ivory Tower, took a deep breath, rolled up their sleeves, and said: “all right, everybody, let’s see what we can do (together) to improve the way Second Life works”.

Such a positive attitude! Linden Lab is obviously not the fire-breathing chimera that most people think they are, but still, this is a novel approach that they’re trying out. No more “secret talks” at the SL Views (which are still going on, they simply don’t get any more publicity) or “Lindens sitting with the FIC on dark corners of the grid” and whispering about the Big Changes to the Selected Few, slapping NDAs on them afterwards. This time, at least, nobody can blame them for doing it all, well, in the open.

The first step was pretty simple: open up pages on their Wiki and allow people to comment there; allow people to enter features and comments on the bugs listed at the Jira; and, of course, keeping in-world office hours, something that has become popular among many residents as well. The Office Hours seem to have replaced the whole concept of the Town Halls, and it works — instead of getting hundreds of angry residents trying by all means to shut the Pooley stage down, there are comfortable meetings every week, and since there are so many, the meetings are friendly and usually to the point. Also, they’re attended by residents specifically interested in certain topics, instead of being very generic (although the higher up the hierarchy — like when Philip or Robin are in-world — the more likely the conversation degenerates into generic issues about “policy” and “strategy”).

For the Open Source efforts, people like Zero Linden are quite fundamental, since he seems to be coordinating all the work that goes “under the hood” — ie. low-level communications. And, apparently, this is now something that is quite open to discussion. And it is being discussed.

Besides the in-world discussions and the Wiki/mailing list discussions, we have major bloggers like Tateru Nino dedicating a whole series on uncovering the way the SL Grid works, and proposing changes. Tao Takashi is also doing the same. The important thing at this stage is to raise awareness by calling interested people to the drawing board.

I believe this is the major opportunity for the open source advocates and system engineers that have been yelling at Linden Lab for the past four years that they have got it “all wrong” (Morgaine Dinova, I seriously hope you’re reading this!!). It’s time to guide Linden Lab to do it right — with our help. LL has widely opened the door, embraced the project wholeheartedly, and given us the keys to the command centre.

Now it’s up to us. If we ignore the opportunity, we’ll miss the last chance to “do the right thing”, as well as forfeiting our “right” (claimed for so long!) of fully participating in the design of the next stage of Second Life, instead of being mere spectators.

So it’s time to stand up from our cosy chairs and get some work done 🙂

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About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

  • Thanks for the post 🙂 I should maybe make clear that the new grid architecture is probably not being implemented in a complete open source way. The protocols will be defined in the open but it still might be that the LL implementation might still be private for some time.

    Of course there are things like OpenSim and other stuff which will become a replacement in the future.

    I would also like to imagine completely different region implementation like more game like (think EVE Online).

    But for all this use cases or scenarios are needed so they eventually can be supported by a new protocol (does not mean that they need to get implemented but the more flexible the better).

  • >“all right, everybody, let’s see what we can do (together) to improve the way Second Life works”.

    Oh, baloney, Gwyn, nothing of the kind. As I’ve noted on Tao’s blog, they aren’t incorporating any real critics or any kind of voice in their strategic planning except the ones from their existing choir of fanboy geeks.

    Of course the Lindens, true to form, true to their long history of creating the FIC, and NDAs, and SL Views, and all the rest of it, are going to have a select cadre of types they trust and have a comfort level with and pass on the world to them first, on favourable terms.

    But why should they get to do this? It’s our world, our imagination, remember?

    I can see that the only way to address this is to form some kind of pressure group that will demand accountability from them and their amen choir. I’ve been doing that all along, of course, but I can see where unless some really coherent and strong lobby gets going that puts on the table either support for land and content value or compensation for its loss, they won’t bother. Tekkies that they have under their wing won’t care, and will be all entranced with the technology — the world is a byproduct, a side issue to them, something for blingtards to do while they serve as unwitting load testers.

    What’s also uber annoying about this is the idea that there’s some window that opens and shuts and that if you don’t get on the select list today by sucking up to the right Lindens, you can’t participate in the formation of the Metaverse. My God, that sort of idea is whacked. The Metaverse goes on being formed around the Lindens — in spite of the Lindens.

  • I recall in the early 1990’s, the preeminent/most-popular service in the US was America On-Line (AOL). 10 years later it is a rapidly dissolving shadow of its former self (more or less an IM service). It was the whole online experience for so many – and didn’t change. They contributed some nice IM technology, but the corporation itself is more or less relegated to the dustbin (well through a series of mergers with “old Media” but thats another story)

    I am sure this is a lesson to LL and SL – they cannot afford to invest as fast as they need to to stay competitive – and how to leapfrog the competition if it is your “genetic survival” at stake? Open Source! What a nice lateral solution – you relinquish a lot of control, but get more stable code in exchange – and of course, if people adopt your code in making their own servers – a few protocol changes and you have remade the internet (a giant leap from this, for sure, but I am sure not inconceivable).

    But Open Source is scary – it is a communal effort – with no one responsible or in charge – for the code at least. It is at least as scary for LL as for SL denizens. But it appears to be a *neccessary step*

  • Note that the Lindens are holding regular in-world meetings about OpenSource, details here.

  • Ah, Bromo, there are definitely very good examples of so-called “guided” Open Source projects. The better-known ones are things like MySQL, Mozilla, Apache, but even things like WordPress are “guided”. They have a company or organisation behind them to establish roadmaps, deadlines, and all the usual bits associated with “corporate”, close-source projects. They use project management and bug tracking tools. They have project managers and team leaders. Open Source development can, in fact, be much less anarchic than it is usually perceived in the media — the issue is just that this point is little emphasised…

    Second Life will just be another one of those “guided” open-source projects.

  • Of course, they can’t make the whole code open-source, because their physics engine, Havok, is proprietary and just licenced to Linden Lab.

    What they would have to do is make it so that one can plug in any physics engine that one likes, but that leaves the problem that there are not at present any serious opensource physics engines. That is not to say that there will not be in the future, of course.