Cory Ondrejka on Re-Architecting Second Life

I was chatting to Linden Lab‘s chief technology officer Cory Ondrejka last night and thought to ask him about moving Second Life‘s back-end architecture “away from custom C++/messaging and into Web services” (as blogged by Tim O’Reilly and linked here by me). After all, I have only a vague idea of exactly what that means, though it sounds quite cool. So for readers like me, who may not have an immediate grasp of all the implications, a bit of clarification from Cory. And yes, it’s very cool.

What it means, essentially, is that users will eventually have the ability to pass more data back and forth between LL’s databases and their own Web-based application, with parameters and such passed in a long URI (or a short one, if you’re not passing many variables). To make this at all useful, LL will have to open up some data about the world, which is exactly what’s planned. What this will be has yet to be determined, but it could include things like avatar locations, account balances, property owners, etc. Cory didn’t name any of these things specifically, that’s just off the top of my own head. And presumably, I wouldn’t be able to look into anyone else’s account balance other than my own. What he did say is that the information that would be available to users would be drawn from the same databases that LL will be looking at, by virtue of the new back-end.

The implications are enormous, and I don’t think that’s too strong a word. Especially when you combine this with Web-on-a-prim or -in-a-HUD (whenever that actually gets here), it will make possible the development of a powerful new class of applications and services that will kick Second Life up to the next level of usefulness. Want to write a Digg.com for Second Life? No problem. (Well, maybe a slight problem, but a lot easier than the near-impossibility it is today.) Want to manage your account, buy things and pay other avatars directly while you’re browsing the Web on your PDA? Go right ahead. If you’re really ambitious, write the MySpace that will run on a HUD inside the world and be accessible in 2D on a Web page. Or hire someone to write your own group tools that will help you manage your land-rental business better.

As I understand it, the new http calls that are being made available provide a limited subset of this functionality, but they don’t provide the kind of access to data and open window into and out of the world that the Web services architecture implies. Much of this is probably academic and obvious to the SL developer community, but it should be of interest to a lot of 3pointD readers who aren’t already mucking about in SL’s code. What’s interesting about the move — which, it should be noted, doesn’t have any kind of even ballpark time frame associated with it — is that it will not only generate a lot more development activity among SL’s hardcore coders, but it will probably attract Web-based application developers who will start writing things for SL even though they don’t spend much time in-world. This is a good and a bad thing. Either way, it should make the world a far more robust place than it is at the moment.

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  • Comments (1)
    • Prokofy Neva
    • May 9th, 2006

    >it will make possible the development of a powerful new class of applications and services that will kick Second Life up to the next level of usefulness.

    Another thing it will continue to make possible is a powerful new class of people who harvest all this data that we’ll have to reluctantly part with as avatars just to access their third-party sites with their rentals/shopping/picture albums/whatever — and what they will do with this harvested data, that they’ve culled without signing or feeling any obligation under the LL TOS, is anyone’s guess. Yes, I realize it’s not popular to ask this question. Yes, I realize that they can’t track me to my home on teh interwebs. But no, I have never received any assurances that third-party site owners scraping and harvesting us all (as we’re ripe for the plucking) — studying our purchasing patterns, movements, contacts, alts, land ownership leevls, etc. etc. — will use all of this for the public good, and not just for their own interests. They’re most likely just to use it to make money. But they may increasingly, with more sophisticated tools for mass banning on private island continents, etc. — lock out people they don’t like just for their views.

    I’m glad you’re willing to investigate and think about how attracting Web-based application developers might be a bad thing if they aren’t inworld. Third-party site operators already don’t really have to touch ground and actually fly around laggy SL much — they can get all their commissions from shopping, their blogging, their podcasting, etc. all done from outside. It would be interesting to think what other kinds of non-world-related (or non “indigenous”) sites could be integrated with SL. ebay? amazon? (“Meet the author inworld!”)

    I wonder if they will so network throughout SL and with each other and other gaming worlds that at some point they’ll just realize they don’t even need the cul-de-sac of SL and they’re just back on the Internet highway again lol.

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