Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thin clients

An offhand comment in a NWN discussion thread - about how good it would be to be able to drop in to a sim via a web browser - got me to thinking about this.

It's not a new idea, of course - in fact, LL did trials on implementing it.  I forget who it was who visited Oxbridge using an in-browser viewer; he had to log in under a throwaway test ID, and he wasn't able to do complicated things like move... but, there he was in the Oxbridge plaza, chatting away neat as you please, via a web browser.

Then there was Basic Mode, and it is hard to think of a more complete misapplication of a potentially useful idea.  Basic Mode became the default for new sign-ups towards the end of V2 development; it was a viewer mode which deliberately made most of the menus and functions inaccessible - you couldn't change your look except by picking a different default avi, you couldn't TP except by going through the Destination Guide, you couldn't build or buy anything, period - and it was the bane of our lives at Oxbridge for a while, because new people kept on turning up, and they would want to know how to do things, and nine times out of ten whatever they wanted to do was something you couldn't do in Basic Mode.  We had to set up gestures that told people how to log out and log back in again in Advanced (i.e. normal) mode.  It was hellishly frustrating, and I'm sure it can't have been much of a welcome to SL for the new people.  "Welcome to SL!  Now get out, and don't come back until you can do it properly!"

Basic Mode was announced with much fanfare and hoopla in the SL official blogs; it died silently and unmourned a few months later... but.  If you knew what you were doing, and had set up an avatar look that suited you, and didn't immediately need to build or buy anything, and had friends who could offer you TPs to social events... if you just needed an SL presence for a bit... Basic Mode was something you could live with; certainly a big step up from running in a text-only viewer.  And, it always seemed to me, the reduced feature set of Basic Mode was something that might just squeeze into a browser plugin.  In short; as a starter for SL for beginners, it sucked mightily, but as the basis for a thin client that would allow access to SL through the web, it just might have been some use.

I have no idea if the Lab is thinking along those lines, or even if they should be.  Goodness knows there is plenty of stuff on their plates right now to keep them busy.  But... it always struck me as a possibility, and a potentially interesting one.  It'd do a fair bit to open up SL to the web-going public at large, I guess.  That might not be a bad thing; let people come inworld via browsers and see what it's like, rather than getting their ideas from CSI or vampire-themed advertising campaigns.

Then again, these casual visitors would probably end up at an infohub, so....


  1. Pelican Crossing, a small UK-based company had an SL-in-a-browser app back in 2007. Like most such approaches, it still required the Viewer itself to be installed. Could that be what you were thinking of?

    Unity3D offers an alternative, but when I last used it with SL, it was borderline usable - and I admit I've not been back since.

    The Basic mode of the Viewer is oft misunderstood. Rod Humble made it clear from the start that it was never intended as a "standalone" or "separate" Viewer - it was simply intended as a mean by which LL could attempt to better identify elements of the Viewer were most required by new users and look at ways and means of simplifying elements of the Viewer for new users without necessarily over-simplifying them for established users. Hence, it was always intended that Basic would eventually "vanish" - or more correctly, be re-absorbed into the "Advanced" Viewer. Hence why the current Viewer has elements in it such as the Destination Guide opening by default, the Avatar Picker and the How To options, all of which originated in the Basic mode. Other elements intended for the Basic mode never saw the light of day through it - such as a "simplified inventory" idea, which later became a Project Viewer in its own right (and does seem to have gone nowhere since).

    The problem here, of course, is that the intentions for the Basic Viewer were largely communicated via Twitter exchanges, rather than via blog posts, so it was easy for people to miss the intent (I was one of those who exchanged a goodly number of Tweets with Rod Humble on the Basic mode)

    1. '07 was before my time, I'm afraid! I am a wet-behind-the-ears newbie myself... No, I'm almost certain the viewer-in-browser test thing was an "official" LL one... perhaps I should go back over old logs and such, and see if I can dredge up more details.

      Some of the Basic Mode stuff was certainly useful, and I am glad to see it in V3 - I've always argued (as I do here) that it was not a bad idea in itself, just... misapplied. (And, really, do we have to find out everything important from Rod Humble's Twitter?)

      The problem seemed to me that the Basic Mode did, indeed, identify the elements of the viewer that new users most wanted... and left them out! I mean, the first things I did, when I arrived in SL, were: play with my appearance a bit, to try and create a distinctly individual look, and teleport around trying to see the sights and find interesting places. Both of which were severely circumscribed in Basic Mode!