Tomorrow the Fall-Edition of the Virtual World Conference and Expo starts again, this time in Los Angeles. It's been a year since I visited the one in San Jose. At that time, there were a few buzzwords around, amongst which "Interoperability" was very hot.
Popular belief is that in order to become mainstream, virtual worlds need to have interoperability, i.e. the possibility to exchange information between various virtual worlds, like teleporting your avatar from say Habbo Hotel to World of Warcraft, or to put up the Wikipedia definition:
"With respect to software, the term interoperability is used to describe the capability of different programs to exchange data via a common set of exchange formats, to read and write the same file formats, and to use the same protocols.(The ability to execute the same binary code on different processor platforms is 'not' contemplated by the definition of interoperability.)
The lack of interoperability can be a consequence of a lack of attention to standardization during the design of a program. Indeed, interoperability is not taken for granted in the non-standards-based portion of the computing world."
A year ago, this was the gospel according to IBM and Linden Lab that would change the face of the virtual earth. And thus they made a deal to work together. Aside from this more or less official partnership, dozens of companies, like Philips and Cisco teamed up and the Interoperability Forum was opened, a wiki to discuss interoperability issues. This forum didn't really live up to my expectations, with barely 50 posts (50% of which deal with organisation proposals and quabbles) in a year and the last post more than 3 months ago.
So, what happened to interoperability, is it dead? Not yet. In June 2008 IBM officially announced they had succesfully teleported an avatar from the Second Life grid to OpenSim. The following account, posted by Zhaewry gives a little insight into the extent of interoperability:
"At about 11:00 AM, Linden, Ruth arrived on an OpenSim server, quite quietly, and to her surprise. We had been testing some code, and I’d asked Layla Linden to try to log on again, to see how the bug looked on the client side. But.. the latest fix, put on moments earlier, was, in fact, the last one we needed. I logged in as well, and several other folks from Linden lab joined us.
What’s so unusual about logging into OpenSim? Nothing. But.. this wasn’t a normal login. All three Avatars had been logged on via the Agent Domain in the Linden Lab Aditi test grid. The Agent Domain took a “place_avatar” request from the client, and issued a “rez_avatar” request to the OpenSim, which handed the Agent Domain the necessary details so it could relay it to the client, and permit a login. We’re all Ruth, because we’re not yet syncing the agents with openSim inventory yet. That’s just a small matter of programming… (Well, that’s what we programmers always say.) We have no inventory, and we’re stuck on the single region. But.. It’s a very nice first step."
It is not full interoperability yet, but it's a step. I'm wondering how big a step it actually is, as OpenSim is a reversed engineered Open Source Second Life thing in which both IBM and Linden Lab themselves highly participate. It actually is miles off interoperability between say OpenSim and Active Worlds. The question is, will it ever get there?
Dozens of worlds out there do not see the value of interoperability, right from the start, as I wrote in one of my reviews on the VW Conference last year:
"While talking to Craig Sherman on this he let me know that Gaia is pursuing its own target group and has no intention whatsoever to even start thinking about portability. pretty much the same goes for Habbo Hotel, as Timo Soininen doesn't see much chances to asses the value of goods for portability."
Tomorrow the fall edition of the Virtual World Conference 2008 kicks off. I am curious to see if Interoperability degrades into a purely Linden Lab - IBM project, which really would be a shame. Maybe the interoperability these two pursue isn't the one that will fit the market, but there will have to be standards in the end. We've tried Microsoft Passport, OpenID and a few others for the flat-web, and those were also disappointing.
It's going to be a long hard road. Don't stop walking it.