Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Well, don't I look stupid now?

No sooner do I finish pontificating about how Facebook doesn't do what SL does (and vice versa), then this NWN article pops up saying that yes, indeed, Facebook does do what SL does.  Kinda-sorta.  Well, is there egg on my face now or what?

Anyway.  The Facebook "CloudParty" looks, according to the good Mr Au, a lot like SL circa 2003.  Presumably, though, it's going to learn from the various mistakes SL has made, so will develop more quickly and surely, at least initially.  (One example: apparently this thing has mesh integration right from the get-go, so no mucking around with blind alleys like sculpts.)

Where it's going to go from here, well, who knows?  At the moment, it's bound to look a lot like early SL, with a limited amount of stuff-to-see and a crowd of early-adopter enthusiasts by way of population.... The question is how it's going to evolve, I suppose.  I'm inclined to be slightly pessimistic, for several reasons.  One is the demands this is going to place on Facebook's servers if this thing takes off; people don't always appreciate how far out on the cutting edge SL is, sometimes, balancing high levels of concurrency against a level of user freedom you simply don't get in MMORPGs.  It takes a lot of oomph to render all those sims and allow you to wander round with an unrestricted point of view.  Certainly, Facebook can provide enough oomph... for the moment... but one wonders, if their app takes off, whether they will regard it as the best (economic) use for the oomph at their disposal.  After their rather troubled IPO, the people at Facebook might feel an urge to retrench, and a speculative venture that might consume a lot of resources with no immediate economic return... well, it might not look so appealling to them.  (One possibility, therefore, is that it will develop into a reduced-features setup, a "spayed" SL like, say, IMVU.)

The second reason for my pessimism is that all the "barriers to engagement" I talked about are still there in this new app - if you are going to do anything with it, you are going to have to learn and work at it in a way which is outside the casual Facebook user's normal behaviour.  And, unless people do that work - in reasonably significant numbers - it's going to go nowhere.  You can't have user-generated content without a reasonable number of skilled users generating content.  SL has managed to bootstrap itself into a full-scale virtual environment that can attract, effectively, virtual tourists; it remains to be seen whether this thing can do the same.

Of course, there is a quick way to generate content, and that's to rip it from other grids and other sources... which is my next reason for pessimism; what happens when the trolls, griefers and copyright infringers get a hold on this one?  One must expect, I think, a degree of lawlessness on this new digital frontier to come....

Whatever happens, though, it seems likely that this will impact people's overall perception of virtual worlds - indeed, given the prevalence of Facebook, could become the default perception of them among the general public!  Which means - well, I rather hope Facebook gets it right.  Because if they don't, we'll all be tarnished by association.

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