The drawback of these approaches, Miller says, is that they’re still tied to particular pieces of virtual land. And since the outside content doesn’t pass through Linden Lab’s servers, it won’t necessarily appear exactly the same way and at exactly the same time to all viewers. The company is currently working on allowing people to associate live Web content with so-called prims, the geometric building blocks that Second Life denizens use when creating virtual objects. Web content could then be stored on a portable object that a user’s avatar can carry anywhere in the virtual world. “You can take it out and show it to someone without that land having to be yours,” Miller says.
Miller notes that Linden Lab is also working on allowing users to share various types of 2-D data within Second Life. A virtual whiteboard, for example, might display a document, which two users could work on at the same time. In addition, he says, the company is building a programming interface that will allow other developers to import different types of media–Flash, for example–into Second Life without any change to the virtual world’s underlying code. Miller says that companies or individuals will then have much more flexibility to use the types of media that suit their purposes within the world.
Other companies, such as Qwaq and Forterra, have also worked on integrating 2-D content into 3-D spaces, with a particular eye to business applications. Remy Malan, vice president for enterprise at Qwaq, says that the company has focused on making 3-D spaces that offer more security than Second Life does, and that require less customization from the user. Businesses can run Qwaq within their own firewalls, without having to place their data on a network that others can access.
However, Rivers Run Red’s Bovington says that Second Life tends to be the cheapest, most versatile way for a company or individual to try out Web integration. Although it has fewer security features, he says, it requires a smaller initial investment.
Miller adds that Second Life will include features that verify the integrity of content pulled in from the Web. He notes, however, that collaborating in a public space such as Second Life will always raise some security questions.