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Hardware hacking and the meaning of (Second) Life

Andrew Hendry | Feb. 13, 2008
<i>Computerworld</i> recently spoke to Oxer about how he is knocking down the boundaries between the real and virtual world.

The clever approach of Second Life is that they built a tool kit, and they seeded the environment by building some things, but then they have relied on end users to do all of the creation. So it allows people to be very creative. If you download the Second Life viewer and you are logged in as a Second Life user all the tools are built right into the software that you are using already. There is no extra step to take, all you have to do is use it, and that is a very deliberate move. What that means is that the Second Life environment is almost entirely managed by end users, not by Linden Labs who create the tools, and that has brought out a lot of creativity in people.

What are some other examples of out of the ordinary communities or projects that Linden Labs may never have expected Second Life to be used for?

There are historical re-creationists, there are science fiction enthusiasts, there are people doing modeling of complex systems, for example there is one island in Second Life that is deliberately setup as an entire ecology with autonomous animals including predators and prey. There is a whole food chain and the system is basically just allowed to run and the various animal populations reach a state of equilibrium because they behave in a certain way, they follow certain rules. That sort of modeling has traditionally been quite hard to do.

There is another project that is really interesting, which is a friend of mine named Matt Biddulph who's a UK-based developer. A little while ago he was hired to create a system to represent molecular structures inside Second Life. Researchers who were working on molecular structures typically use proprietary software that runs on their local machine and it shows them what the particular chemical looks like and they can rotate it, for example. But there is not much collaboration involved, and what they wanted to do was have multiple researchers in different labs be able to look at a model simultaneously and discuss it, move it around. So what they did was setup a system that allows a molecule to be represented in an enormous size inside Second Life, and allows anybody to fly around it, look at it and manipulate it. So that is one application that I am sure Linden Labs never thought of when they were originally putting the tools together, but it's a really cool example of how, if you build these toolkits, people will use them in crazy and imaginative ways.

You have a lot of objects in your home that can be controlled through a software environment, what are some examples?


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