Media-on-a-prim coming to OpenSim in two months

Earlier this year, Linden Lab released Second Life Viewer 2 which, though it had a large number of usability problems, also offered one huge advantage for business and education users: the ability to put a live webpage or any other media onto any in-world surface.

This means that a group of employees can sit around one common screen and browse the Web — just as if they were gathered around a single computer. They can even enter data into a Web page, or collaborate on Google spreadsheets or text documents or presentations.

Business travelers will no longer need to upload the graphics for individual slides into virtual slide projectors — all they would need to do is  just point any in-world display screen to the presentation’s Web address.  OpenSim designers will be able to replace their clunky in-world interfaces with functional and attractive Web pages. (Or dysfunctional and ugly Web pages, if they prefer.)

This feature is called media-on-a-prim and, for the first time ever, I wanted an office in Second Life. (We have one now, on Troppo Island, thanks to Per Erickson of Troppo Design, who also has a very impressive OpenSim grid that’s well worth visiting if you’re touring the hypergrid, at Troppogrid.com:9000.) We’ve used the office to on-board new interns, showing them around company websites and our online workflow platform.

A Google spreadsheet on a screen in Second Life.

And we asked OpenSim core developers when OpenSim would be compatible with the new viewer. The answer was: someday soon, but a major re-architecting effort has to be finished first. (See full article here.) That project is now complete — and developers have time for Second Life Viewer 2 support and media-on-a-prim.

Justin Clark-Casey

“It’s actually proving surprisingly easy,” said OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey. “I estimate that I’ll have it finished in a couple of months. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t make it into OpenSim 0.7.1.”

In fact, the main challenge isn’t media-on-a-prim at all.

“Second Life Viewer 2 does work to a large extent with OpenSim today,” Clark-Casey said. “The main issue is actually with avatar appearance.  Avatars which appear fine in viewers based on verson 1 code remain as clouds or completely grey with viewer 2.”

The one limitation of media-on-a-prim for business use is that it’s currently impossible to share logins.

For example, if the boss is looking over the shoulder of his employees in real life, he can see what they’re working on. But if he looks over their shoulders in Second Life, and the online application they’re using requires a login, he will only see the welcome login screen. Even if he then logs in, he will be in his own session of the application, not sharing a session with the employee.

Obviously, someone giving a sensitive financial presentation doesn’t want strangers to zoom in with their virtual cameras and find out company secrets.

One possible solution would be to create a way to give meeting attendees temporary view-only or full-edit access to shared media while they are in the same region as the avatar giving the presentation. As soon as either of the two leaves, the one-time access rights would end. This is the way that the business-friendly Teleplace virtual world platform currently handles shared document permissions.

Today, shared collaboration is only possible in Second Life with publicly-accessible documents — no logins required. This would still be a step in a good direction, but shared login sessions would be even better. Unfortunately, this part isn’t up to the OpenSim developers, since most of this functionality would reside in the viewer.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • sseraph

    A few things to note need to be said. You can't just throw any old url on a prim and click through it and have other avatars see what you see. The media is rendered client side. This means that each client will see the original url but not what you saw when you scrolled or moved to your next slide or whatever. For that to happen the url must be to a side that supports shared viewing or shared presentation. Some google docs do. More advertise they do but don't always work in SL as expected. However I discovered SlideRocket as a good alternative for presentations via media on prim in SL. Happily I see it is now being integrated into Google docs. Unhappily, unless Google buys it, it costs $$.

    The log on thing is not a problem with many sites. Many sites are designed for multiple viewing without having to log in. What would really be cool is if instead of Facebook credentials being used in virtual worlds a virtual world login could be mapped to external sites wanting credentials fairly automagically. Single sign on from SL or other virtual worlds to the web at large.

  • Seraph —

    The problem — as I mentioned in the article — is security. Second Life and OpenSim both allow the use of long-distance camera pans. So you think you might be showing something to just a couple of people, but anyone else can zoom in and watch as well. Say you're sitting in a virtual cafe outside the Eiffel Tower (on, say, FrancoGrid) and you want to show a quick set of slides to your colleagues. In the real world, you'd notice (hopefully) if someone suspicious was leaning over your shoulder looking at your laptop screen. In the virtual worlds — not so much. (Which is, by the way, an excellent reason to always wear underwear with skirts.)

    If I'm a company's financial director, and I give you access to this set of slides, I have to be sure that you're using them responsibly. Are you showing them only in private regions, where nobody but authorized people can see them? Or are you showing them in a public venue?

    These kinds of controls will have to be built in before we have full shared access for media.

    One type of control is geographical-based control, like what Teleplace uses. But they are able to do it because the entire world is a trusted world, run by the company, and each area of the world has its own access controls. That's not true for public grids.

    The other type of control are based on individual permissions — where one person explicitly gives another the right to look over their shoulder. I think this is what will work best in a heterogeneous environment like the hypergrid.

    I don't know if this is something that can be done on the websites, with the same exact content being sent to multiple viewers. Or on the OpenSim server side. Most likely, this will have to be done in the viewer, by Second Life, allowing people to see scrolling of webpages for long documents, for example.

    — Maria