1994 all over again

This morning, I started up Second Life, connected to the Deep Grid and it felt like 1994 all over again. Let me explain.

I’ve always been a technology early adopter. Some technology I play with for a little while and leave it littering up my hard disk. Other technology I start using and find that I use it extensively in my regular life. Still other technology, I start using, don’t have an immediate need for, but keep in the back of my mind as some of the disruptive technology that is worth keeping an eye on.

I first connected to the Internet in the early eighties at Bell Laboratories. Then around 1994, I got my first Internet account and home and started building web pages. I had little idea then what the web would look like today, but it seemed like one of those disruptive technologies worth keeping an eye on.

Another technology that I got involved with around the same time were text based programmable chat rooms. They were fun yet didn’t seem like they would have as much of an impact as websites.

Over the years, I looked at various systems for handling micropayments online. They seemed important but none of them really took off. I played with the Virtual Reality Modeling Language, (VRML), which seemed really cool, but also didn’t ever particularly take off.

Various three-dimensional virtual worlds came along, and I played with them, but it was Second Life that seemed to break through where the others failed. It had the immersive elements of VRML. It had the synchronicity and programmability of text based programmable chat rooms, and it even had a currency that enables micropayments.

It’s biggest problem was that it was a fairly closed system. You needed to use their clients and their servers. SecondLife has made its client open source and they have been talking about providing an open source version of their server software. However, yesterday Reuters ran a story about Rival grids that threaten Linden’s monopoly on SL technology.

The grid was Deep Grid. As I logged in, I found that it had all the feel of some of the 1994 websites that I visited way back then. It was barebones and incomplete. There was nothing really notable to see there. But there was that feeling of a disruptive technology. I set up a server in my office running OpenSim, the Open Source simulator which Deep Grid runs on. It isn’t fully functional yet, but its getting there.

Now, anyone can set up their own ‘Sim’ which they can add to some existing grid or create their own grid. This will bring up all kinds of different issues. How can I take my inventory with me from one grid to another? How about my currency? Will someone set up a currency exchange between Second Life, Deep Grid, and whatever other grids get set up? Will interworld IMing be added? How about teleporting between worlds?

These are all issues that the text based programmable chat rooms faced a decade ago and I imagine with some innovative programming, there may be some interesting solutions for the three dimensional virtual worlds.

Beyond that, there are all the other tools that have grown up around the web. Right now, using my Second Life client, I can find things in whichever grid I’m in. Yet who will be the Google and the Yahoo for cataloging and finding things across multiple grids? Who will make the grids more accessible to the less geeky? Who will come up with applications in the grids that will make them ubiquitous?

It may well be another decade before grids of programmable immersive synchronous sims with functioning micropayment systems become a standard way of accessing information. These grids may be very different from what people used to using Second Life are accustomed to today, but my brief exploration of the Deep Grid sure felt a lot like 1994 to me.

(Categories: )