I made a very brief comment on a previous post that said "X3D + AJAX = ...I wonder".
This was a simplistic first thought about a converged online 3D world, a 3D extension of the web. A website, but with X3D instead of XHTML. In fact, I think that a single web "site" should be available in both, but that's a different discussion about sick uses of XSLT.
I first got interested in Second Life when I heard about the open source side of their development on LUGRadio. I set up an account but couldn't play it because my hardware wasn't good enough. Now I've just been watching a Google Techtalk Video on SecondLife and I'm even more interested. It really is an amazingly complex online world where people "write" objects in code and even make real money. I can't help but make a parallel here with The Matrix. This is voluntary habitation of a world which is purely virtual but shares an awful lot of properties of the real world with a complex physics engine and social organisations, currency etc. And it's huge!
I also know about another project called Open Croquet and it all got me thinking. Why are all these online worlds separate? Shouldn't the online world be as much a unified thing as the web? Why can't you just pop your WoW avatar into SecondLife? Not that I currently have either.
When I first heard about people buying "Real Estate" in SecondLife I couldn't believe people were actually paying *real* money for *virtual* land which can be copied for virtually no cost, I really couldn't comprehend why anyone would do that. But watching the Tech Talk I've realised that isn't actually that insane. The entire simulation of SecondLife exists on servers, the client is very thin indeed. What you're actually paying is a hosting fee, you're paying for them to rack mount and maintain a server!
When they add land to the SecondLife world they literally just add a new server and have code which connects the edges together. Lindon Labs who make SecondLife have talked about Open Sourcing their code. What if *anyone* could host their own land on their own server in a unified 3D online world and registering it's location in that world was just like registering a domain name with DNS? What if the web was 3D?
After thinking this, an article popped up on Wired suggesting that perhaps all of these separate worlds are just a transitional stage and eventually we will have a unified 3D world on the Internet. Exactly what I'm thinking :)
Of course there are massive technical challenges here in allowing the distributed and decentralised hosting of an online world and lots of open standards to work on. The SecondLife online world is transferred to the client by a complex combination of vectors, textures, sound etc. and all of these need to seamlessly interoperate. There are huge social and legal issues touched upon in the Techtalk to think about too.
I'm just pleased that the people in SecondLife and the people in OpenCroquet are the right kind of people to be building this unified online world, I just hope that they don't keep SecondLife tucked away on their own servers forever as a propriatory solution. We don't want one company playing God in the virtual world.