Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The one thing Google Lively has over Second Life...

The number of blog posts about Lively seems to be increasing at a healthy rate, and some common themes are emerging.

A significant number (and you can count me in this group) are disappointed with Lively and what it offers. Some are glad to see Google enter this sector of internet communications and others are picking up on distinct aspects of Lively and it's emerging user base.

One of the themes that I've seen picked up in a number of places is the rate with which the sex/porn industry and it's fan base has jumped into Lively. There's no doubt that within the first 24 hours the first Lively cybersex rooms had been set up.

It's a bit of a sorry state of affairs, but lets face some facts about the history of the internet here: without pornography, games and file-sharing the internet that we use today wouldn't be anywhere near as developed and mature as it now is.

The same is true for virtual worlds as a whole, but one key factor is the relative youth of the virtual worlds market compared to the internet / world wide web as a whole. I think of virtual worlds in the same way I remember the internet about 7 years ago - more chaotic, more randomly mixed (with pornography popping up in the most unlikely of places and seeming to be 50% of the results from any web search). Second Life is a good example of this. Wonderfully creative content designed by all sorts of people and leading to some amazing experiences. Scattered in between is the virtual world equivalent of all those random sites I used to bump into on the web.

Something I noticed recently was that they seem to largely have vanished. The web seems like a much cleaner, nicer place to explore now. This is a change I'm waiting to see happen with the virtual worlds. Just to be clear, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for sex in virtual environments if that's your thing, but what I don't want to have to worry about is who's going to buy the plot of land next to my Second Life office and if they are going to build a brothel on it.

A suggestion for Linden Labs: wouldn't it be nice if anyone running an adult site in Second Life (was required to) set a flag on their land specifying that their site fell into that category. Then in my client application, I can set an option that says "don't show me adult content" and then my client simply doesn't render any avatars or objects that are within that piece of land? Seems like a simple process and would certainly make it much easier to promote Second Life as a business and educational tool. The only problem I can see with this approach is that it lessens that need to buy an island in order to get some control over what is around you, thereby reducing Linden Labs land revenues.

This is the one thing that Lively has over Second Life. No neighbors. My Lively room is a component on the homepage of my website. If I want to direct people to it, I can send them straight to my website, straight into the room. This is a branded experience and I have control over all the elements of it.

Second Life, until something changes, will always have the risk of someone erecting a 50m tall photo-textured penis right next to my office. Oh, and that isn't a challenge by the way. My current preference is still definitely for Second Life - just or the amazing scope of what you can do and (all things considered) how well it all works. But if Lively's artist tools are as good as they *could* be, and the rumor that they are they are only 20% through their development turns out to be true...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Installing OpenSUSE 11 on an EeePC 900

I've made a few posts over the few weeks about my EeePC 900 and my experiences choosing an OS to run on it.

Xandros didn't last more than a few days, and after a fair amount of trying various things out, I've settled (and been running for a few weeks now) OpenSUSE 11.0.

This is the process that I used to install it.

Before you get started, you need to download and burn to disk the OpenSUSE 11 live CD from here

You also need to put two installers required to make the Wireless networking operate on to a USB memory stick. The files you need are:
which can be downloaded from the Appleonkel repository here

1. Install from the OpenSUSE 11 live CD (using a USB external CD-ROM drive). The installer is very easy to use and the only things that I specifically did was to set the partitions up so that there was only a system partition on the 4GB SSD and to mount the 16GB SSD into /home. All relatively easy to do with the partitioning tool that's built into the OpenSUSE installer. Make sure you remove the swap partition - it'll help your SSD last longer (although how much longer no-one really knows).

2. Modify xorg.conf in line with the changes listed in OpenSUSE on the EeePC - openSUSE

If you (like me) have a 900, you'll need to modify the 1024x768 entries in xorg.conf to read 1024x600. You will also need to run yast from a root commandline and modify the system >> sysconfig editor >> desktop >> display manager >> displaymanager_randr_mode_auto value and change it to:
1024X600_60 48.96 1024 1064 1168 1312 600 601 604 622 -hsync -vsync

There may be another way to change this value but this is the only method I have found that works.

If you're planning to use Second Life on your EeePC, remember to turn 3D acceleration on and set to 24bit colour depth.

3. Use the USB stick with the Madwifi / Drivers RPMs and install them with the package installer. You should then be able to configure your wireless and things get easier at this point. I have to make one point here though: lock these two packages in the installer and stop them being updated. For some reason the updates break the wireless and you'll need to uninstall / reinstall with the original Appleonkel versions. Anyone knows why, then please let me know!

4. Add the Appleonkel, Seife, Schmolle 1980 and Rusjako repositories as detailed in the 10.3 wiki entry (linked above - see step 2). I also added a few others at this point: packman, vlc, mozilla, gnome stable, wine - but that's personal preference.

5. Add the eeepc packages and you should find you have a working system after the reboot.

I think a full install takes about 1.5 hours to get to this point and worked quite well. The only thing I don't have working yet is the webcam, but I'll keep you posted if I find an answer.

A little more Lively?

You may have seen my previous (and somewhat disappointed) post about Google's new web-based virtual world, Lively.

I was bemoaning the lack of an apparent strategy or any solid information about the future of Lively or the kind of service into which it may grow.

Not being one to give up on new technologies straight away, I emailed Google about becoming one of the content developers for Lively and tagged a couple of additional questions on to the end of the email.

The reply that I received from Danny on the Lively team at Google did provide a little more detail (I'm omitting Danny's surname so that he doesn't get a surge of emails from people guessing his email address).

On the subject of content development for Lively Danny replied "Content creation for Lively is in closed beta right now, but I put your name on the list of future developers. We are planning to release the artist tools soon and we'll let you know when we do."

Now this is promising. Comprehensive content development tools for Lively would make it much more interesting as a virtual worlds tool.

I also asked about plans for a Linux version of the Lively client. Danny responded with "We're trying to bring Lively to as many different operating systems and browsers as we can, but I don't have any details on when they'll be available."

That sounds even more interesting. Following a less-than-harmonious experience with my previous laptop, I'm very happy with my EeePC 900. This of course is running Linux (OpenSUSE 11 to be exact) and I'd much prefer to be using Lively on this, rather than resorting to a PC.

I hope that this information is the start of more detail being provided by Google about lively and it's place in their online strategy. I hope to continue my dialogue with Danny and will let you know any information as I get it.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

How do I look in this?

One feature common to many Virtual Worlds is the ability to change your virtual self (your avatar's) appearance at will. But your options probably go further than that: you have the scope to change your face, shape, gender, even species, and to do so with relatively little fuss. I can't think of another environment where re-inveting yourself has quite such broad possibilities.

So, the questions that spring to my mind are: what's wrong with experimenting? what will everyone else think?

Firstly, there's nothing wrong with experimenting. Try everything out. It's an interesting experience.

More issues surround the second question, and the answers will differ depending on the environment and your relationship to the people with whom you are interacting.

I'm going to use Second Life as an example in this, but (to varying degrees) I have seen parallels in a number of online game environments.

One of the simplest ways that people will identify you as new to Second Life is your appearance. Looking like one of the default characters usually means that you simply haven't yet discovered the options to change your appearance or the ability to change your clothes. Looking new in SL seems to have a couple of effects - people (especially other new residents) will be more likely to talk to you, where as more established residents may be less likely to spontaneously engage you in conversation.

The converse, is also true. If you look like you are an experienced long-term resident, you will seem to be one of the elite to a newly registered user and they will be more likely to address a question to one of their peers. Ironically, appearing to be non-human (if your chosen appearance isn't scary and doesn't have negative associations) may actually make you seem more approachable. Wearing a cartoon chicken suit certainly stops anyone seeming threatening.

When choosing your appearance, whilst the freedom to express one's self is great, it is worth remembering that the medium is jut as important as the message ... and in this context - that of a dialogue taking place, your avatar IS the medium. Sounds like stating the obvious, but given the number of people I have recently seen pitching Second Life, in-world, to a group of very new users whilst dressed as something very obscure / disturbing / inappropriate I think it's well worth pointing out. And the best bit? This is Second Life. You can change your whole appearance as easily as you would change your clothes. Choose a suitable appearance for the people you need to address. You can always change back into the avatar of your choice as soon as the meeting is over.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Google's Lively ... a missed opportunity?

A couple of days ago I started spotting the press-releases about Google's new virtual world offering called Lively.

I have to point out that this is a Beta and so we can expect some fairly major changes before the final version.

Lively, however, seems to fall somewhat short of the expectation put upon it by headlines like "Google's challenge to Second Life" which appeared on the BBC news website. Linden Labs really don't have much to fear from what is very much inline with my expectations of Virtual Worlds a few years ago and reminds me a lot of Adobe Atmosphere.

Coming from the company that brought us Google Earth, this seems miss-targeted and limited in it's conception. The concept of a 'virtual island on your webpage' is quite interesting as a nice extension to your website or blog, but the execution of it will I think type-cast it into a younger / teen market.

The other omission is the lack of any apparent developer or content creator support, or a roadmap for the plans associated with this. Given that Second Life has somewhat set the bar in this I would have expected Google to have attempted to address the developer community about what they can expect to get from Lively over the next year.

One final point is platforms. C'mon Google. Asus launch the EeePC and cannot make them fast enough to satisfy demand. Acer, HP and MSI (and possibly others) are all producing similar platforms. What do these all have in common? They all run on a Linux based OS (although a few do offer more expensive / less well spec'ed MS Windows versions). Launching a plugin like Lively and not thinking about a Linux version (the Lively site only mentions a Mac version in the future) seems to be cutting off a significant part of your target market. To make the example - I can easily run Linux Second Life on this EeePC 900. Lively? No.

So, Lively is on my things to watch list, but is something I hope will grow into something that I can use, because it falls short of my expectations at the moment.