Joomla for the Metaverse

If Opensim is the Apache of the Metaverse, then what will be the Joomla of the Metaverse?  This isn’t a idle or rhetorical question, it’s something which has to be answered if Metaverse solutions like Opensim are ever going to truly become the next incarnation of the Web.

While it is true that the Web grew through its infancy without much in the way of content management software, it has become a essential ingredient to its continued growth.  Even in its early years, the growth of the web was spurred by programs and services like Geocities and Dreamweaver. These served to sufficiently lower the bar of entry into the world of web design to allow those with little or no technical knowledge to quickly create a web presence.  This created a primordial sea of amateur designers and content from which the committed and skilled graduated to create bigger and better things.
Alan Tupper.
Alan Tupper.

Right now the Metaverse scene is currently in the AOL stage, with a few centralized services offering walled garden experiences wherein they hold the monopoly on content and users. A few pioneers (OSGrid, ReactionGrid, Openlife) cling to the fringes, boldly attempting to create more open alternatives. However on their own they cannot compete on the scales of content and user population that the walled gardens offer. This is why the developments in cross grid transportation in OpenSim are so widely hailed, because in many ways they are the equivalent to the most powerful element of the Web: the hyperlink. Once a critical mass of grids become connected and standards arise for commerce and content sharing, this new web of grids will begin to eclipse the walled garden providers. But this critical mass must exist.

This is where the question of content management becomes so crucial. Without tools and services to lower the barrier of entry, the growth of the open Metaverse will be stunted. The open Metaverse will need its Geocities, its Dreamweaver, and its Joomla. The barrier of entry must be lowered, which means making the deployment and management of entire grids simple, pain-free, and dirt cheap. When the barrier of entry is lowered, it will open the gates to a stampede of amateur Metaverse creators seeking their slice of the pie. Now to be clear, most of these amateurs will not create great virtual environments. Just like the web now, most of the content will be mediocre.

A Metaverse Geocities will probably offer free hosting for simple one-sim grids, with a simple template-based creation tools. Revenue will most likely be provided in much the same way Geocities provided it, embedded ads for free accounts, or a monthly cost for those who chose to upgrade. An astute observer will note some similarities between this and grid services currently provided, sans the advertising. One of the primary differences will again be in the linking, as users of such a service will occupy a grid of their own, populated only with their own sims and any hypergrid sims that they should choose to link to.

A Metaverse Dreamweaver will most likely provide a world creation tool set based heavily off of the tool sets currently used by MMOG developers to layout large environments. When augmented with a marketplace function (much like a pan-grid XStreetSL perhaps), it will facilitate a drag-and-drop style of world creation. Much in the same way Dreamweaver simplified complex web functionality into a WYSIWYG interface, its Metaverse cousin must do as well. Commonly occurring complex scripted objects would be abstracted into click-and-place entities. Any fine tuning of these worlds would most likely be performed in-world, the Metaverse equivalent to hand-rolling HTML and Javascript.

Finally, a Metaverse Joomla would abstract and simplify the maintenance of large, complex grids in much the same way Joomla simplifies and abstracts the maintenance of large complex websites: by providing high-level editorial, publishing, and management tools. In the case of the Metaverse variant, this would entail on-the-fly creation of template based sims, the ability to monitor real-time activity, permissions based administrative controls, and the ability to extend the grid to include third-party functionality and themes.

I cannot begin to stress how important these services will be to the growth of a open Metaverse. I’ve listed these three comparisons in this order for a reason. It is most likely the order in which they must occur. Right now the major battles of cross-grid content transfer loom just over the the horizon, as the first transfer mechanics are just now being created. While that battle rages, a Metaverse Geocities can be introducing the world at large to the idea of being a virtual world maker. Inevitably some compromise will be reached, and a Metaverse Dreamweaver would capitalize from whatever content marketplace system emerges. As these worlds grow and mature, and the need for simple dynamic management of large scale grids emerges, a Metaverse Joomla can fill the need.

So the question remains: if Opensim is the Apache of the Metaverse, what will be its Joomla?

Alan Tupper is an artist and virtual world evangelist currently living in Atlanta, Georgia. He posts in a regularly erratic schedule on topics ranging from virtual world business to art in the internet age on his blog.   Chief among his interests is how technology can empower new methods of expression and innovation, as well as the real world potential for open source innovation.'
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