Why Open Sim is the Future Metaverse (and why it is not the present)

I have been following the Open Sim development for a couple of years now. Some of the latest developments have convinced me that if there is ever going to be a 3D internet, it will be based on Open Sim. I say this knowing that Open Sim currently has a rather low population of participants, low enough that one could question the sanity of such a statement.  Well here is a brief summary of this conclusion.

What is a 3D internet?
A 3D internet is one that is navigable in 3 dimensions rather than two. Instead of websites, you have explorable regions. Instead of 2D text chatting, you have 3D avatar chats.

Why is a 3D internet inevitable?
Sometimes things can be explained easier visually rather than textually, and 3D often gets visual points across better than 2D. For example if you are a photographer with a website, and you want people to see your photographs and find the ones they like best for purchase, the “slideshow” approach is a bad way to do it. After the 4th or 5th click, people start to wonder if it is worth it. Immerse the visitor into a 3D gallery of your photos and people will venture around, allowing them to find the pictures they most like fast.

Hyperlinks in 3D

The thing that got me interested in talking about the 3D web again is the recent development of  “hypergrid” teleporting.  Teleporting from region to region is easy if your start point and end point are on the same grid, but the 2D World Wide Web is built on the ability to move from page to page, where the pages are often on different sites and different hosts.  The development of a 3D web requires the ability to move from grid to grid, and from host to host.

While far from perfect, that obstacle has been resolved.  It is now possible to move from grid to grid without needing to create accounts on every grid or closing your browser.  The picture above is the OSGrid me meeting the Reaction Grid me after clicking on a “hypergrid” link.

It works similarly to the slurl’s in SL except if your destination is on a different grid, your avatar is uploaded to the new grid and your name changes to firstname.lastname @ gridyoucamefrom to prevent conflicting names. It is really cool when it works, but unfortunately a lot can go wrong.  Instructions can be found here, if you want to try it.

Not all hypergrid enabled regions can reach all other hypergrid regions.  Took me about a dozen tried to find a combo that worked.  To get from OSGrid to Reaction Grid, I found a region called Hypergrid Market Middle on OSGrid (a very boring place BTW), then clicked on this link: secondlife://hypergrid.reactiongrid.com:9009

Eventually all the bugs will get ironed out and an independent 3D web will really start to develop.

Why will the 3D Internet be based on Open Sim?
It wont be Second Life.  There are many reasons. First, a 3D internet cannot be controlled by one company.  Second, it is inappropriate for a 3D internet to be under a virtual economy if it is going to be universally adapted.  Thirdly, the designers of Open Sim are moving away from SL’s strict protocols.  Open Sim regions no longer have to be strictly 256m x 256m, they can be larger.  Researchers have managed to put 200 avatars on a single region, and have run up to 40 regions on a single server.  Open Sim offers a flexibility that SL cannot offer.

It wont Be Blue Mars, IMVU or any other current 3D Virtual World. These all do what they do well enough, but they are all designed to be proprietary.  IMVU is strictly a chat program in 3D, Blue Mars is a gaming platform.

The only real open flexible 3D platform that could be competitive is  OpenCobalt.  It interfaces with Google protocols allowing Sketchup KMZ files used in Google Earth, allowing import of the huge library of 3D objects in Google’s database, as well as in the OBJ format.  This is stuff OpenSim still can not do.  My knowledge of OpenCobalt is small, but there are three reasons why OpenSim will win: 1. it is already proven scalable technology, 2. More developers are working on Open Sim than OpenCobalt, 3. It is a lot easier to add KMZ and OBJ support to OpenSim than it is to add the OpenSim scalable multi-region stuff to OpenCobalt.

Of course, something designed from scratch could be better than OpenSim, but it would take years to develop, and OpenSim has a huge head start.  Network protocols could be designed to replace TCP/IP as well, but would never be implemented because TCP/IP is too well entrenched.  I believe we have reached a point where we are stuck with OpenSim.  Improving the platform is easier than rewriting it.

If OpenSim is the future, why is it not more popular now?
This is a very valid question.  SL has more than three times as many regions (32,000) as all of the OpenSim Grids combined (10,500).  The OpenSim grids are growing at a rate of 10% a month so far this year, while SL has only grown 1.4%.  That’s the best stat comparison.

SL has more than 500 times the number of accounts as OpenSim, and over 100 times the number of active players.  At any given time, about 60 to 70% of all regions in SL are uninhabited. In OpenSim, that percent is closer to 99%.  OpenSims one advantage is cost.  It costs 10 times as much to get a dedicated region in SL as it does to get one on OSGrid, but your SL region is 100 times more likely to get visitors than in OS, so if you want visitors, the premium is probably worth it.

Why the horrible stats?  I like to think of the 2D internet as it existed 20 years ago.  SL is AOL, and the WWW is a couple of years away.  The people who were on the web at that time were students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.  So who are the few people on OpenSim?  students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.

When it became obvious that the open WWW was superior to AOL, everyone flocked to WWW.  I’m hopeful that history will repeat again with OS and SL.  On the other hand, maybe it is more accurate to think of SL as “Windows” and OS as “Linux”, and OS will be forever stuck as a niche platform despite its parity.

Setting up a Simple Open Sim Sandbox on your hard drive

This is an edited repost from last August.

Most people that play Second Life, run into this problem eventually: You want to build stuff, and cant afford a lot of land, so you go to a sand box region, and when you go, its laggy and overcrowded.

Why is it even necessary to build stuff in world anyways? We can make our own textures and animations offline using other programs then import them into SL. Why cant be build objects in a third party program and import them?

There is a solution with OpenSim. You can create a free, lag free personal sandbox island on your own computer and build what you want.

I heard horror stories about setting up an Open Sim server of my own. Unfortunately, instructions to set it up are often overly technical and have the format “if you want to do this, then A, but if you want to do that then B.” A lot of tutorials want you to compile the latest source and set up another database, none of which are really necessary.

All I want to do is set up an Open Sim sandbox on my own hard drive. I’m not looking to connect it to a grid, or invite my friends to connect to it. I just want a free place to play and experiment. How difficult is that?

Its not difficult at all. Here is the process for Windows PC’s in four easy steps:

Note: If you already  have an earlier Open Sim set up, back up your build in an OAR file, and your inventory in an IAR file, so you can reload them later, then completely erase the old files before beginning.

Step 1: Download and unzip the latest Open Sim build. They now have a zip file for PC’s that makes loading Open Sim on your hard drive really easy.  You just need to know where you want to unzip it to.

The download page is here.  The file you want for the PC is http://dist.opensimulator.org/opensim-0.6.8-binaries.zip

Step 2 : Open the directory you installed the program to, and find “opensim.exe” if you have a 32 bit version of windows, or “opensim.32bitlaunch.exe” if you are running a 64 bit version. Right Click and “create a shortcut” and move it to your desktop. (Vista and 7 users only: Right click on the shortcut you just created and go to Properties, then the “Advanced…” button, and check “Run as Administrator”). This is needed to get all the permissions right. Every time you launch the shortcut you may also be asked to “allow” the program to run. Its a very minor inconvenience.

Step 3: Run Opensim for the first time. The scary part is that it will look like a DOS command prompt which you may not be used to. Don’t worry its easy. It will ask you to fill out a bunch of initial settings. You need to make up a first name, a last name, a password, and a server name. The rest of the settings you can just press enter to use defaults.

Step 4: Right click on your Second Life shortcut, and create another shortcut. Right click on this new shortcut, rename it to whatever you want, maybe something clever like “Local Life”. then in the “Target” section add the following info the the end of whatever is there already:

-loginuri 127.0.0.1:9000 -login firstname lastname password

The last three things should of course be whatever you made up in step 3. Launch shortcut!

OR Step 4: Launch the Hippo Viewer (downloadable here) and put your name and password in, then select “local” on Quick Grid Select and sign in. If you plan to do some building, this is better as the Second Life client does not support building with prims bigger than 10 meters on any side.

The first time on you will probably see a puff of smoke on top of a small round dome shaped island. Going into inventory under Body Parts you can create then wear a new shape and new skin. If you still see a puff of smoke press ctrl+shift+R to rebake your texture.

Note some third party viewers do not work in Open Sim, especially the Emerald Viewer.  This may change in the future, but for now stick with the Second Life client or the Hippo Viewer client.

There you are on your new island. There are no shops to buy stuff and you will have to load all your own textures, build your own stuff, and basically start from scratch. But at least there will be no lag. For help you may want to consult the opensim wiki page.

Free Content

If you feel lonely stuck on this tiny atoll with nothing visible in any direction. I found the following free content you can download and load to your private server.

Here is a decent OAR file you can download (read the thread for details).  If you do not know how to import OAR files to your private server, read this page.  It will create a city in the clouds high above your head along with teleporters on the ground so you can easily reach it.  You can edit to your hearts content.

Here is a decent collection of freebies in an IAR file you can download into your inventory. If you do not know how to import IAR files to your private server, read this page.  This should give you a decent collection of props (including trees, campfires, etc) to make your island less barren.

Moving Content from Second Life to Open Sim Using Hippo Viewer

You say you have too much invested in SL to move over to OS?  There is a simple and free way to move your own prim based content, and full perm content from SL to OS without getting a paid program like Second Inventory. This also works with the Meerkat viewer for Macintosh computers.

1. Go to SL and select the object in world. Right click and select “more” then “more” again, then “Export”. Save item as an XML file on your hard drive.

2. Quit Hippo and go to an Open Sim grid of your choice. Click “File” then “Import” then “Upload Textures + Import”, then select the XML file you saved. Instantly the object appears in front of you.

If you can find some nice full perm prim hair or prim shoes in SL to export, you can look stylish in OpenSim. Demo Video.

Have Fun!

I may eventually write about upgrading the database on your home grid and connecting your build to the OS Grid, but these are more complicated, and I have not even figured them all out myself yet.

For now I have a sandbox to play in and build stuff… FREE!

The Mainstreaming of SL (or why I will reduce my coverage of Second Life)

On a web page I wrote about the history of computer animation, I charted how the industry went from cutting edge to mainstream in about a decade, wearing off the novelty, but still producing quality from time to time.  I believe that is the present state of SL today.

Second Life is becoming “mainstream”.

I have said on a few occasions that SL is like a 3D AOL before the world wide web exploded. In the early days of the web it was fun exploring new web sites to see what people were posting. As the web progressed, the number of web sites exploded, and the overall quality improved.

At that time I was a reader of PC Magazine and they were doing an annual “Best of the Web” list each year. They had to stop when the web reached a saturation point.  I feel like we have reached that point in Second Life.

We used to go to really original places like Svarga, Straylight, and Insilico and be amazed. Now dozens of new servers pop up monthly with similar looks to these places.  It is getting harder and harder for builders to trump the latest, and even if they do get something amazing built, it gets lost in the noise.

The overall quality of SL region builds is going up, which is a good thing for us players that love to explore, but it is getting harder and harder to find places unique and original and wonderful enough to blog about. My next post is going to be the my second annual best of SL, and it will probably be my last best of list.

At the same time SL is changing its business model. Recent xstreet changes have been made which have upset casual merchants, but at the same time should help keep the copybot pirates from making a quick buck. SL is also limiting scripts people can run simultaneously, and making other changes that hurts the “freedom” in SL, but should make the platform more attractive for casual “mainstream” users.

All of this is following the same trend we saw in computer animation and the world wide web.  We are reaching a saturation point. Second Life is no longer cutting edge, instead it has dulled a bit.

The cutting edge is in the Open Sim community, which still is working on improving the platform to match SL, and hopefully surpassing it soon.

The potential cutting edge can also be seen in Blue Mars, which recently added the Caledon “steam punk” community from Second Life to Blue Mars and is opening stores.

My current plan is to keep this blog going, but instead of pushing myself to post every week, I may post only when I find something to post about.  Hopefully there will be enough to keep me busy.

Why BUILDERBOT is an Awesome Idea!

The Second Life world seems to have its panties in a bunch over a new 3rd party utility by Rezzable dubbed Builderbot.

Basically, Builderbot can copy every object in an Second Life sim and put it into an OAR file that can be loaded onto any OpenSim server, thus making a near exact copy (scripts as usual are a problem).  They also are creating an OAR editor, and (even more impressively) a way to port OAR files into Second Life, thus making transfers from OpenSim to Second Life possible.

There are two things that are upsetting to the Second Life community: 1. Builderbot does not look at copy permissions or ownership, it just copies everything on the sim. 2. Rezzable was planning to release the SL to OAR part of the Builderbot for free.  These things had the whole community grabbing torches and pitchforks ready to boycot Rezzable. Rezzable finally gave into demand and will not be releasing the SL to OAR part free.

Hate to be the person that disagrees with pretty much everybody on this issue, but maybe I’m the only one who sees the big picture. Builderbot is an awesome idea and a key component to expansion of the 3D web. It is probably the most important 3rd party SL utility ever, and if Rezzable doesn’t release theirs, someone out there should release something similar, including the ignoring copy permissions and ownership part.

Mobile Building

Lets start with the obvious need for Builderbot. Currently, putting a build in Second Life requires that you actually be in Second Life and spend sometimes weeks building there, paying monthly tier as you build. If you want to take your time and do it right it will cost you. Then there is the occasional system hiccup that could cost you hours of work.

Builderbot does two things, it moves the building part of the project off the SL grid. You can now build your server build on your own computer, no system outages to worry about. You can save and backup your work to OAR files as often as you like. If you make a mistake, just load the latest backup. When you are done building and ready to move your build to SL, it can be moved into SL in a matter of minutes, or at most hours. This is the primary design of this program.

Fixing SL’s Design Flaws

Second Life as it was initially concieved is a flawed system. Whoever thought it was a good idea to equate Real Estate with computing power, I hope they have learned a valuable lesson. I have written about this major flaw before. Bottom line, SL runs on thousands of computers, and as many as 80% are not doing anything at any given time.

The obvious fix is to store unused regions in memory and load them up to an available server as needed. Linden Labs could cut their server need by 50-75% with such a system.

They could also bring up mirrored instances of extra busy servers. Want to give a concert that 1,000 people can attand? Just copy the build on 10 different servers that can service 100 people each. If more people want to show up, add more instances.

None of this is possible without a reliable backup system. OpenSim has OAR files, SL has got copybot (basically nothing). What Rezzable is doing is creating a tool to save SL regions as OAR files that can be stored when not in use, quickly loaded when needed, quickly mirrored on multiple servers. Obviously there is some extra programming involved to do all this, but considering the cost savings it is definitely something worth doing.

Why it is necessary to ignore permissions

The biggest concern from most of the Second Life players, is that Builderbot ignores permission. Copy a region, move to OpenSim, and everything in that region has no permissions at all. Anything in Second Life could be quickly copied, permissions be damned.

Rezzable argues that there is nothing in SL that cant be copied already. Players argue “True, but you shouldn’t make it so easy.”

Building a region is like building a website. I build websites myself and anyone can steal my code by right clicking and click “view source”, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. It is super easy.

What most Second Life players  are asking for is DRM management for SL content!

DRM has been a failure everywhere it is tried. Music, video, ebooks, the case against DRM is pretty clear. Read boingboing.net to find out why. How many of you asking for DRM for SL have stripped DRM off a music or video file so you can play it in the format you want?

A Future Marketplace

I come from the 3D Artist community where people build and sell detailed models for use in other people’s projects. All of these models are distributed DRM free and fully copyable and sharable. Yes, there is piracy in 3D models, but it is part of the cost of doing business. But since I do artwork I may want to sell, I pay for all my models and commercial licenses.  This business model is where the 3D web (SL and Opensim) will eventually go.

Most SL players are thinking in L$ economic terms without seeing the big picture. Eventually there will be an xstreet for all grids, and the ability to buy a pre built full region builds (OAR files) to load on to your personal server or hosted server is likely to be a new popular alternative method to static build exploring.

There is much money to be made in building custom regions.  Especially commercial clients who would not dare copy other people’s work. Individual objects and props have their place in the new marketplace as well, especially if they include commercial licenses that will allow the objects to be put into other builds.

I believe this could be a huge market. If I could explore lag free by loading OAR downloads to my computer based open sim server, I would love it! If I could edit them and share with others to show my edits, that would be really awesome as well. I’m quite certain I am not the only one.

The possibilities for Second Life are numerous as well. Can you imagine the fun of going to an SL club that has a different build for every event? Random combat locales? Roleplay setting that can be brought up as needed?

Like it or not this is the future! Second Life is just the early primitive beginning. In a few years we will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

The Potential of the Open Sim Paradigm

This is a detailed follow up to my earlier “comic” post about Open Sim.

The Paradigm:  The Open Grid

For those who do not know, Open Sim is an open source clone of Second Life. The Second Life download client, itself an open source program, can connect to an Open Sim almost as easy as it can to Second Life.

Open Sim networks run the same way as Second Life runs. You set up an account with a first and last name, log into the grid, decorate your avatar, possibly buy some land to build on, attend events, make stuff, sell stuff, etc.  So far there is little difference between OS grids and the SL grids.

Except there are differences. SL runs SL server software, OS grids run OS server software. OS has some advantages over SL, generally less lag, megaprim support, etc. But, as of right now, SL is the superior and more fully supported system. For example LSL scripting is not fully supported in OS yet.

The first thing you notice when you go to an open sim is that you are starting from scratch again. There are legitimate ways to get some of the SL stuff over to Open Sim, but it is time consuming.

Within a year, the OS project hopes to be at parity with Second Life, meaning if you can do it in SL, you can do it in OS. Soon after that, it is hoped the pattern will be reversed and it will be Second Life playing catch up. Among the things being worked on:

  • “Mesh” imports made from 3rd party 3D models (Maya, 3DMax, Blender, GMAX, Lightwave, Cararra, etc.). Complicated models would generate serious lag, but simple models could do more than the current “prim” system with even fewer resources. This is what There uses.
  • New avatar meshes, allowing more detailed form fitting clothing, or  even non humanoid avatars.

The Paradigm: Region Archives

I mentioned before that Second Life’s fatal flaw is the lack of virtualization of real estate. Open Sim has an archive system (so does Second Life, but the Open Sim one is better). With some improvements, it could be used to store unused regions in storage, instead of taking up server power.

A system could be designed to work as follows:

  1. Player picks a region they want to travel to. System looks to see if the region is active, if so, player is sent to a server running the region, unless region exceeds maximum occupancy, in which case proceed to step 2.
  2. An inactive server is activated, as soon as possible, player is moved to the server. Items are loaded from archive file while simultaneously “data” is streamed to player’s client. If this is an “instance” copy, player may be prompted to move to original once room is available.
  3. When the last person leaves a region, temp items are deleted, foreign items are returned to owners, the region data is backed up (if changed by an authorized person), and sever is freed for later use.

Such a system would eliminate the need for so many servers, and would make expansion easier and less expensive, and also allow events to run across multiple servers with potentially thousands of players.

There is also the potential of people to run their own private servers on their own hard drives. People could build their region privately without needing to use web resources. People could share region archive files with one another allowing another method of group cooperation. Maybe people could even participate in certain events (concerts, lectures) on private sims by downloading copies of event venues and NPC data.

The Paradigm: The Multi Grid Marketplace

Under the Open Sim paradigm, there are multiple networks acting independently. Second Life could be like AOL of the early 90’s, and all the other networks like other web sites.

Under such a scheme there needs to be trade channels set up between networks, so stuff I make can be sold for use in any other network. In the 3D market place today there are web sites that sell 3D models for use in various 3D programs. Daz3d and Renderosity are ones I have used for my Poser work, but there are other big ones used by 3D artists using more professional programs (3DMax, Maya,  etc.). Artists can sell their original works for commercial and/or non-commercial use, via “brokering” arrangements. It wouldn’t be difficult to change XStreetSL into a multiple network market site.

Moving the SL model into the wider Open Sim model requires a lot of work, and involves a lot of hammering out of issues, chief among them being copyrights.

In future posts, I’ll discuss some of these issues, as well as an even broader 3D web paradigms (who says there has to be only one standard?).

I Have Seen the Future, and it is Open Sim!

There is a lot to say about the Open Sim paradigm, and I’ll be covering it in future posts. For now, I’ll just say it is very early and there is a lot of work still to be done. Right now all it is is a poor substitute for Second Life, but I think it has huge future potential as long as they diverge from the SL model at the right point and go their own way.

I just felt the need to introduce the topic in a clever way, because it will be an important topic for the future.

Links to stuff mentioned in the comic:
Second Inventory
OpenSimulator
NuAthens archive by Lordfly Digeridoo

Previous Related Posts:
Dark Times for 3DVWs Part 3: Second Life’s Fatal Design Flaw
SL Open Source Update!

Memo to 3DVW Devs: "It’s the AVATARS Stupid!"

I’m following up my 3 part problems with 3D Virtual Worlds (3DVWs) with a series of at least three observations on what REALLY makes a good 3DVW. There is a surprising amount of myths in this regard. It seems most builders of 3DVWs do not understand their own potential audience.

Lets start with something that most all players understand, but as far as I can tell most game developers do not: “It’s the AVATARS Stupid!”

I have listed on my website something like 25 active 3D virtual worlds. Of these 25, how many have really great avatars?

The answer is zero.   I counted … twice.

I’ll tell you what a really great avatar is. Its an avatar that looks like PS3 Home’s avatars, behave like There.com’s avatars, and is as versatile and adaptable as Second Life’s avatars. Not one 3D Virtual world fits all 3 bills, especially Home, There, and SL.

People define who they are in virtual worlds by their avatar.  It is important for most players to have the means to create an avatar that is unique and at the same time beautiful.

Most 3DVW devs don’t get this. They are more focused on building a world to explore, or building the tools to let players build a world to explore. This is also important, no doubt, but no matter how nice your world is or how great the tools you develop, people will not stay very long if the avatars suck. I’ve seen it happen, heck I have done it myself.

Now I could spend the rest of this post trashing all the bad avatars, but that would not be helpful. Instead I am going to go over the almost good 3DVW avatars that are out there and tell you whats good about them and what needs to be in any future 3DVWs, if you want any chance to be successful.

Playstation 3 Home Avatars

I do not own a Playstation 3, so I am not an expert, but there are enough videos online to get the gist of the program. Basically the avatars in Home are realistic looking humans like any of the modern video games out there. They use morphing to make realistic looking joints and motion (failure of SL and There), high resolution textures and bump maps, clothing that actually has a thickness and folds and does not look painted on (another failure of others), lighting shading and highlights that looks more like real skin, real hair, real cloth, etc.

The primary negatives of the PS3 Home avatars is the quality and variety skin textures. Not just skin textures, everything. The lack of user customization means that everything about the avatars seems generic. They are also not very expressive, seems like a zombie world in PS3 Home.

Now I know what some of you are going to say. Why is realism so important? Many popular virtual worlds. both 2D and 3D have succeeded with unrealistic, almost cartoon looking avatars. I have even pointed out that there is such a thing as avatars that look too real. But, that’s not the case with any 3DVW I have seen. The truth is players prefer realism. In games that have custom texture markets (a subject for another memo post) the best sellers are almost always the most realistic ones. This is true in Second Life where realism is standard, and There and IMVU where avatars usually start with a cartoon look. Realism is an aesthetic people like in an avatar regardless of the environment.

There.com avatars

There has been around for six years now and is started to become dated. Despite this, there are aspects of There that are way ahead of their time. One is the behavior of the There avatars. First, the built in animations are first rate, better than Home even. They walk, run, sit, and stand very naturally. Their stances are constantly changing the way a real person standing for a long time would change.

Secondly, There avatars are great in the art of conversation. If you are using voice, the avatars look like they are lip syncing, and even gesture as they talk. If you are using text, it takes clues from the text to express mood. Use words like “happy”, “joy”, “fun”, etc, the avatar starts smiling. “sad”, “bad”, “bored”, and they start frowning. LOL or ROFL or ROFLMAO get increasingly expressive laughter. Thirdly, the There avatars seem aware of their environment. If someone is talking, or doing some kind of action, they turn and look at that person, and nod or maybe even smile with approval.  They act differently around dogs, and with most vehicles they act like they are really interacting with them. If they are standing alone, they start to look bored even annoyed after a while. Yes, I am aware that this type of reaction is typical in single player video games since the 80’s, but surprisingly still uncommon in multiplayer games.

No other game comes close to this type of world interaction. IMVU can mirror some of it, but that is because Will Harvey is behind both programs. He is one of the few that gets it. Another one would be the short lived Google Lively, also created by a former There programmer. Lively handled two person interactions (handshake, hi-five, hug, kiss, synchronized dance, etc) far better than even There or IMVU.

Scripting in Second Life can mirror some of this action and interaction, but controlling facial expression via scripts in SL is very difficult, and turning a head to look at a speaker is damn near impossible. These simple actions make an avatar feel much more alive.

Second Life Avatars

It has been a complaint of Second Life since it opened almost six years ago that the default avatars are, well ugly. They look funny, they walk funny, the hands and face are damn near impossible to control. Those of us who came from There to Second life had to adjust to the lack of AI in these avatars. Suffice it to say that the strengths of Home and There avatars are precisely the weakness of Second Life avatars.

The one area where SL avatars are strong, which almost makes up for their weaknesses, is their customization. A good skin texture and shape makes them look a lot better, a script triggering animations makes them behave better. The “Appearance” options in SL has over 100 slide bars for customization, clothing and hair options number in the millions. Top and bottom halves of the avatar have 3 levels of clothing textures each, not including the base skin texture. You can attach objects to every part of the body, meaning if you want to look like another creature or “furry” you can. Attached objects can be scripted as well, so you can use particle effects to turn yourself into a human torch if you want. Customization is great for “role play”, easily the most popular activity in any 3D virtual world or MMORPG.

If you can imagine it, it can be done with SL avatars. No other 3DVW can even come close to this level of avatar customization.

Which leads to…

The ideal avatar is a combination of all three of the above, with the addition of the two person interactions like Google Lively had. I know the average Virtual World developer would balk at all the work it would take to pull off this much detail in looks, behavior, and customization, but it would make your world unique.

We have enough environments and building tools already, and these things can be upgraded as you go anyways. Avatars cannot be easily upgraded, especially if you allow future customization. If for example, Second Life fixed their avatars the way they should be fixed, all current clothing and prim attachments would basically become useless. The ensuing “restart” might ultimately be a good thing, but the aggrivation it would cause would be rather intense. It ain’t gonna happen.