Saturday, December 11, 2010

SL in Shiny Chrome

Recently I tried the Second Life Web Viewer Beta and was but mildly impressed. Afterall, uber-brainy resident Katharine Berry had long ago developed a browser-based interface limited to text so it was inevitable that in-world graphics would eventually be added by someone. During the trial I wasn't focused as much on "gee, this is in a browser" as I was continually noting how dull the experience really was when The Lab was clearly focused more on the social aspects of being in Second Life than the access method. My test avie was always being directed to "fun places" and "places to meet people" with virtually (pun intended) no emphasis on creation or other advanced features. Admittedly, avatar customization was very creatively handled but the limited documentation indicated this feature was an enhancement to the social aspects of being in-world. Likely this was a test of more than the technology. I'm sure folks involved with trying to increase the in-world population had a firm hand in what was going on. In all, there was a sense of "something is up" about the whole thing.

Then today as I was reading Andy Ihnatko's Chicago Sun-Times post "What does Chrome OS and Google notebook mean to you?" it struck me where SL on the Web is going: To The Cloud!

Google's idea, far from new, is that any computer you use will behave the same way, use the same applications (apps), and store information in a network-based space. I think it was the NEC company that pushed this idea long ago and it was then called "thin clients" ... the machine in front of you is simply a dumb terminal and all the "real work" is done on a networked computer somewhere else. That "somewhere else" is "The Cloud."

With Cloud SLing, The Lab wouldn't have to worry as much about viewer development, hardware compatibility, third-party viewers, and all the related expenses that come with such diversity. Innovation and control of our experiences would be firmly back in their hands. It could also lure more people into the service, like those who have Apple iPads but don't use traditional computers. People like my mother. Seventy-four years old and taping away for at least six hours a day, nary a clue that she really has in her hands a computer far more powerful than the first one I used to access Second Life over five years ago.

A Second Life app for the Web browser or for devices like the iPad or the next generation of televisions shouldn't be too hard. In fact, one is likely to appear soon, I imagine, considering the limitations of current options for the ever-increasing number of portable devices. Pocket Metaverse, one of two viewers that I can find for iOS devices, is fine for occasional use, but without graphics, it is somewhat of a nuisance to use. So bring on The Cloud! I don't think we will have long to wait.

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