by Mal Burns
My thanks to HG VISIONZ for inviting me to contribute this guest article. Drawing a blank on a specific subject, I’ll simply talk about what I and collaborators are up to in the open Metaverse.
“Open Metaverse” is an expression that suits. Open Simulator based worlds are all scattered, small and large, on myriad servers around the planet. They, by and large, connect to each other via the “Hypergrid” – a universal transport system that bypasses the “walled garden” approach of certain platforms. Conceptually, this Hypergrid is the foundation for a collaborative, creative and social infrastructure essential to a thriving culture of interactive 3D spaces in the online world. It has a decade’s worth of content and community and remains growing. The drawback is that connectivity only works with platforms built with the open-source Open Simulator code-base. There are no protocols yet in existence that allow this system to expand to vastly different virtual world platforms, even those that would share the ideal of an “open” virtual universe.
Consider all the wonderful places and things you read about in this magazine – regions we can actively visit and engage with during events like the weekly “Safaris”. Your friends cannot simply jump in and join you unless they already have an avatar, a “home” grid and one of the “viewers” installed on their device. All our social networks and online tools operate using the protocols devised for the “World Wide Web” and similar – however convoluted they have now become. They cannot understand or interpret virtual spaces, let alone display them.
An urgent need (and some are working on this) is some kind of “window” based on html5 (web) code that can at least “peek into” our worlds and let those not already in them experience a taste of what they are missing. In reality, I suspect, a taste of the future.
So along comes the current, almost viral, noise about VR, AR and MR. (Have I missed any?) VR, of course is “Virtual Reality” and resonates with us in particular. The term now embraces all manner of experiences from simple surround vision to elaborate interactive environments, not to mention the profusion of new input and output devices which profess their future ubiquity. To date, little of this is “social VR” and what there is remains far behind Open Simulator and the Hypergrid. Content is contrived or archaic and experimentally one of consumption rather than any really compelling interactivity with others. More to the point, it is the environments themselves and what they facilitate that is important – not the different ways we can engage with them through new hardware toys.
For me, it is also a decade since I engaged in the idea of broadcasting activity (InWorld Review, Metaverse Broadcasting Company) in our worlds to viewers on the web. Some would listen and watch, if not already involved maybe find out more and come in-world themselves. We could also use the web to chat with the audience and build a community while streaming live. I always longed for a “button” that instead of simply relaying video would say “join us in world now”. But during the last 10 years, live-stream traction has declined – the world has embraced and changed to the idea of “Video on Demand”, which is how we maintain our viewers. So much for my “live” button!
It is another year and time for more change, including our weekly flagship show, the “Inworld Review”. We are reviving (the once daily) “Metaworld News” as a weekly companion show, decanting our news coverage into it and using short format segments. “Inworld Review” will remain, but as an open-ended talk show. We can serve both those who want shorter news bites and also those who like to engage with longer discussion. The start of the news show will address impotant “VR” but also other “Social VR”, the second half focusing on our existing hypergrid. It will still be streamed, but now via YouTube.
A couple of years back, Metaworld finally moved its main HQ to the Hypergrid – we have a dozen regions which form a large island in the northwest ocean on the Great Canadian Grid. We are happy there even if “hyper-jumping” elsewhere a lot of the time. Being something of the “newshound” I had never built in a virtual world myself before. An added bonus in having all the new land was the opportunity to do so – a fun but also learning experience. I have probably broken every rule in the book but am generally happy with what I have done. It includes a vast storytelling project (I want collaborators please!!!) and more. I feel like it is barely started. But that is the beauty of open-world empowerment – the freedom to evolve and change like organic life itself.
I don’t just believe in and advocate the use of social spaces/social VR – looking at the way people use social networks and other tools on the web – it is a clear indication of what people themselves respond to.