Friday, January 1, 2010
Better Cover Your Assets
The closing down of Metaplace during this holiday season should serve as a clear reminder of how exposed you are to losing your virtual world assets when relying on a third party to host those assets. With Metaplace CEO Raph Koster's announcement on December 21st that his virtual world service would shut down on January 1st, it became clear that users would only have a few days during the holiday season to attempt recovery of their virtual assets from Metaplace. With tens of thousands of Metaplace worlds already constructed, thats going to sting a lot of people who didn't quite get to their email over the holiday.
I really liked Metaplace and used it as part of my virtual worlds course here at Duke last semester. I'm so relieved that the shutdown happened between semesters! I'm also relieved that I didn't invest much time in building Metaplace-based educational environments for my students (which I was seriously considering). The rapid fall of Metaplace really underscores that any effort to invest in a platform where content (or the organization of content) is stored on a third party's servers is a very risky proposition.
The same risk is there for the many educational institutions have invested heavily in the development of Second Life grid-based virtual worlds for education. The problem is not unique to Second Life though. Virtually all of the vendors out there offer such worlds. When assets are created within such worlds (as a lot of them are), then those assets tend to fall under the vendor's exclusive control. In the case of the Second Life grid, consider that educational institutions are not even permitted to back up the assets they create! When was the last time you relied on anything for your livelihood that was NOT backed up in some way that you could restore in relatively short order? Lets hope Second Life doesn't end up shutting down in the middle of an academic semester - or worse yet, the week before classes begin. Can you imagine the carnage?
On the other hand, some vendors (Linden Labs included) are now offering products for the enterprise that allow an organization to host virtual environments on its own servers. This way, even if the vendor does go out of business, an organization would - at least for a limited time - be able to deliver an unsupported version of the platform and content until a suitable alternative could be identified and implemented. Even then, intellectual property concerns around proprietary code in the defunct platform could make it difficult, if not impossible, to legally migrate content to the new platform - especially if open standards aren't fully supported.