Rating my predictions for SL over the last year – Part 3

January 3, 2009 at 12:25 am (secondlife) (, , , )

Well looks like my first few predictions for Second Life this year panned out well. Let’s see how the next few guesses went.

Predictions 3 and 4 were:

  • Many new entrants will come… and go.
  • Google will release a VW which will be wildly successful, then disappointing, then wildly successful.

These are worth looking at as a group due to the biggest surprise of the year, Google. So let’s see how Google changed the game and how, despite much prognostication, they didn’t.

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Someone invented virtual worlds and has the patent to prove it!

December 14, 2008 at 4:35 pm (secondlife) (, , )

As Terra Nova previously reported: Worlds.com has filed United States Patent: 6219045 claiming that it invented virtual worlds.

Unfortunately for them they invented virtual worlds some time around 1996. I personally invented virtual worlds some time around 1992, and have the documents to prove it. Many of my friends also invented virtual worlds. In fact if we organized a meet-up of all the people I know who invented virtual worlds we’d need to hire a second bus to drive us to the venue.

So what does the worlds patent have that all of us didn’t invent? (Apart of course from mysterious unlabeled diagrams.) Well Worlds patent covers making sure the client isn’t overloaded with too much stuff, or it their words:

The client process also users an environment database to determine which background objects to render as well as to limit the number of displayable Avatars to a maximum number of Avatars displayable by that client.

… though that might mean something apart from what I imagine, as I can’t quite understand their grammar. Putting limits on a client-server system to make sure you don’t overload the client seems like such a sensible idea. I’m amazed nobody thought of it before!

In fact they did. It’s standard best practice in designing any non-trivial client-server system. Before Worlds first mentioned thinking it up the problem in their patent, the United States Military had set up a team to solve the problem. Not long after this team became a member of the Web3D Consortium to work their draft spec towards an ISO standard.

For a patent to be upheld I believe there is a requirement for the idea to be novel. When five minutes googling can turn up countless prior-art examples (such as the above) there’s obviously no novelty here.

That’s not to say that Worlds.com hasn’t innovated in some ways. Everyone designing software must innovate – coding is a process of creative problem solving on many levels, so software development is innovative by nature. The patent though describes nothing that hadn’t been done before.

Folk who know me understand that I have a jaded view of intellectual property law, and expressed it in a piece for the international justice commons. To quote:

The use of patent law to stifle technological development is well documented. Arguments of this sort cite a “negative right” the patent holder gains, allowing them to exclude competitors from exploiting a similar invention they may develop independently. The legal burden of producing prior art in such cases can preclude the competition from proving their case even when they may have developed the invention first. When this is the case and a patent is contested, the competitor may be forced to cease development of the invention, or pay a licensing fee for use of the others’ IP.

I can’t see how this patent could be used any way apart from aggressively. Worlds, as an early entrant into the virtual worlds game, would be well aware of the other early developments in their emerging field. No honest software engineer would ever dare claim they were the first to invent the generic wide reaching processes described in the patent.

So this begs the question… what are Worlds.com trying to do here? Is it just trolling? Did the lawyers knock the technical guts out of their innovations? I’m not quite sure.

— UPDATE:

Tateru Nino posted quite a good article on the subject before me it seems. Much less ranty than mine.


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Rating my predictions for SL over the last year

December 7, 2008 at 11:35 pm (secondlife) (, , )

Now my original post of predictions for SL and virtual worlds has had a year to incubate, its time to see how I scored… hmmmm. (I’ll address these one per post)

1) Linden Lab will experiment with other service providers:

Originally I foresaw LL creating “mini colabs” at international ISP partner locations. I pointed out Australia’s Telstra as a likely early test candidate, as it is a national ISP and telco, was throwing a lot of resources into SL, and a great test candidate on the technical front. Australia is about as far from the USA as possible, so if they could extend their current California-Texas link to Aus and make it work, they could make it work anywhere. (They have a third colab currently at another location but I don’t know anything more about it.. testing servers?)

Well I got it half right, that was their actual strategy it seems, but Telstra is still waiting, and the hosting package they had been promised is about 18 months late. Australia probably started to look like too much of a liability too along the way when it became evident that internet service was so poor that it became an election issue. Singapore is now looking like they’ll get first dibs on a local colab, and as the most broadband connected small nation on the earth they’re a good initial market.

The Lindens are currently alpha testing a “behind the firewall solution” for SL, which means they’ve packaged up the server side so it can be run elsewhere. They have two alpha testers, but of course nobody can tell us who they are for due to confidentiality of course. When it is announced I’d bet a few lindies one of them has telco or ISP interests.

So, did LL experiment with other service providers? From a business perspective yes. It seems they had already quietly laid the business foundation to work with Telstra Australia when I made this prediction. … as far as having any practical outcome from this initiative… maybe not so much. Everyone is still waiting on the tech.

Recently however LL has started making a lot more encouraging noise about the infrastructure required to support a more distributed grid so it would be unsurprising to see announcement about practical non LL hosting initiatives pretty soon.

So I’ll be charitable to myself and say I got this one right. They have obviously laid the business foundation for it, but were let down on practical implementation by the technology. They’ve been working throughout the year though to fill that technology gap so it appears to still be a strategy. Lucky I called it an “experiment” in my prediction … the experiment failed, but it appears they’re still trying 😛


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