Second Life in a Web Browser, Maybe in Facebook?

Robin Harper, formerly a Vice President at Linden Lab, recently gave a talk where she said:

Metaplace the virtual world had roughly 19,000 active users when it closed early in 2010. Metaplace then introduced “Island Life” on the Facebook platform, and eclipsed that number in the first week. ” Island Life” now boasts over seven hundred thousand users. Same art, similar perspective, tried and true game format. (Source: Sitearm Madonna’s blog)

When I read that, I was amazed. Metaplace the virtual world was around from mid-May 2009 (public beta) to January 1, 2010, or about seven solid months, but never really got much traction (even though they were “on the Web”). Then they launched a single game on Facebook and BOOM, a gazillion users!

I’m betting the executives at Linden Lab heard that story.

Today Linden Lab put out a press release. Most people are focusing on the layoffs (despite having a “strong balance sheet”), but I was caught off guard by this:

“…enable us to invest in bringing 3D to the web…”

and this:

According to Kingdon [the CEO of Linden Lab], the restructuring also better aligns Linden Lab with its two longer-term goals.  First, the company aims to create a browser-based virtual world experience, eliminating the need to download software.

I’d often wondered if Linden Lab had any real plans to do rendering of the Second Life world inside web browsers. I guess I can stop wondering.

I do wonder what they’re looking at for doing the real-time 3D rendering. They say they want to eliminate the need to download software, so that rules out Unity or other plugins. Most computers have Flash installed, so that presents some options. There’s also the possibility of doing the rendering on the server and sending the renderings to the user as streaming video (like what OnLive does). (Linden Lab tested that idea internally, but hasn’t said if they dropped it or decided to pursue it further.) Another option is to use WebGL, which is currently a work in progress.

Also, at the end of the press release:

Secondly, Linden Lab will look to extend the Second Life experience into popular social networks. “Ultimately, we want to make Second Life more accessible and relevant to a wider population,” he said.

Is that code for “Facebook users will be able to use Second Life inside Facebook, just like they can use Island Life today”? If the Metaplace experience is any indication, such a move could cause a big increase in the number of SL residents. It’s a nice idea. I’m not sure it’s true. The hard part is getting SL to render (reliably) in web browsers. Once Linden Lab has that working, they can try it on many websites (including Facebook) with little extra effort.

It was odd to learn about Linden Lab’s two longer-term goals at the end of a press release about restructuring and layoffs. I don’t remember reading those goals anywhere else before (and I follow SL quite closely). Linden Lab is a strange company. They’re transparent about a lot of things, more so than most companies, yet they bury the Big Picture in a press release?

4 thoughts on “Second Life in a Web Browser, Maybe in Facebook?

  1. there is actually already one pretty good world viewer that is web based i ran into it last week, but don’t have the url right now, but it is on the list of virtual words at worlds.ruc.dk being made by one of the opensim based companies. the thing it doesn’t do yet… is render the avatar.

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  2. My money’s on Unity: it runs plugin-free on Chrome. I think Rezzable have plans in that direction for Heritage Key — I wonder if they’re talking to LL?The social aspect was prefigured by the Avatars United acquisition and the web-based dashboard. Like you, I remain to be convinced of the wisdom of it but I can see the FarmVille-esque allure. You could imagine a situation in which LL basically operates an app store containing resident-built and -run experiences but with constraints in order to ensure adequate lag-free performance. If any of that’s right, the question for me is where does that leave SL with regard to the wider metaverse and edu in particular if LL become more introspective?

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  3. I think when they say you don’t need to have a download they are talking about the traditional windows install. I expect they would use browser based plug-in like Unity3D. Or they will write their own plug-in.

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  4. It’s my understanding they got Unity working in Google Native Client. Native Client is a secure sandbox currently in development for Chromium (related to Chrome) which allows "the secure execution of native code." You’d still have to download Unity software so it can run on your local computer, you just don’t have to "install" it. It downloads straight to the sandbox and runs there.It seems to me you wouldn’t need Unity to run Second Life in Google Native Client. You could just load Second Life directly into Native Client and forget about Unity.

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