Virtual worlds can seem walled off from the rest of the Internet. Many, including Linden Lab’s popular virtual world Second Life, can’t be accessed through ordinary Web browsers: they require separately downloaded software. A Web link embedded in Second Life will open an outside browser window, pulling a user out of the immersive experience that is one of the virtual world’s main draws. But Linden Lab is now adjusting its technology to make it easier to bring data into its virtual world from the larger Web and from users’ desktops.
“What we’re trying to do is create a capability to create a rich way to experience a variety of media types that typically have to be seen or read or processed on the Web in 2-D,” says Joe Miller, vice president of platform and technology development for Second Life. With Linden Lab’s new system, for example, Second Life users could create business cards linked to external Web pages, so that they’re updated when the pages are, or virtual MP3 players connected to Web radio services. The company is also working to make it easy for users to share 2-D data such as Microsoft Word files or PowerPoint presentations with other users inside the virtual world. Miller says that Linden Lab plans to deliver these new technologies by the end of this year, as part of its Web Media Initiative.
“Virtual worlds are only as good as the content you bring into them,” says Justin Bovington, CEO of Rivers Run Red, a company that builds places and content for virtual worlds, including Second Life. Bovington believes that users’ level of immersion in 3-D virtual worlds can make online collaboration easier.
Earlier attempts to integrate the Web into Second Life had limitations. Clicking a link within Second Life launched a Web browser and opened a typical 2-D page. Linden Lab also allowed people to pull content in from the Web and associate it with a spot of land inside the world. More recently, Miller says, an open-source project called uBrowser created a system that can superimpose any Web content that Mozilla can display on a 3-D surface that can be embedded in Second Life. For example, a resident of the virtual world could use the system to build a pillar that was constantly updated with her posts on Twitter, which would wind around the pillar in three dimensions.