“It’s a lot bigger than London”

The Guardian has audio up of David Smith interviewing Philip Rosedale:

“It’s a lot bigger than London”

Here are a few of the high points:

  • 462 square miles land mass of Second Life, 1,100 square kilometers
  • 100 terabytes of user created content
  • Land mass growing at 5% a month
  • 18,000 servers in USA in three data centers
  • 55% traffic in UK and Europe, some servers need to be there
  • 250 employees and profitable
  • Development scale is equal to that of an operating system
  • Theoretically the grid can hold 1,000,000 users but right now it’s only 60,000
  • Many of the central databases are constantly at their limit, 75%+ capacity
  • Hundreds of millions of user created objects

Philip believes that Second Life will become more pervasive than the web if they open it up and standardize it. What they are working on now (independent servers?) will become a more common way of using the Internet to retrieve information. There are no language dependencies, and there are always other people there.

What’s the most exciting development in virtual worlds? The Mitch Kapor video on 3D video capture and avatar control via gestures. You could use this new technology to convey body language in a virtual meeting. The ‘Minority Report Interface‘.

They talk about making meetings fun, eliminating the need to travel, and the collaborative nature of the platform could have a substantial impact on travel, especially for short haul travel for business.

Some observations:

Let’s do some math.

One square mile = 640 acres.

In this interview it is stated that the grid is currently 462 square miles. 462 x 640 = 295,680 acres.

A server (or island) is equal to 16 acres. 295,680 / 16 = 18,480 servers on the grid (there’s that 18,000 number quoted above).

Given these calculations, and the statement made in this interview that the grid currently can only support 60,000 users concurrently, if you evenly distribute them across the entire grid of Second Life, you will have 60,000 users divided by 18,480 servers = 3.27 avatars per server.

At 3.27 avatars per sever at max concurrent usage for the grid, that’s a lot of empty space at max capacity on the grid. And that definitely plays out when wandering the grid. There are areas that are dense with green dots on the map, but large areas of emptiness between them.

Philip states that the grid is as dense as London. This may be true of objects and buildings, but it definitely is not true when it comes to residents.

London has a population of 7,512,400 (2006 statistics).

The area of Greater London is 609 square miles.

609 (square miles) x 640 (acres per square mile) = 389,760 acres. Divide this by 16 acres (a server) and you get 24,360 servers to represent the real world of Greater London.

Now, to figure out the concurrent user limit of the real life London you simply divide 7,512,400 (population) by 24,360 (servers needed for landmass) to get 308.39 real people per 16 acres of land in Greater London (or an average of 19.27 residents per acre).

That’s a delta of 305 real life people over virtual avatars in Second Life for every 16 square acres in Greater London.

To put it another way, Second Life user density to land mass is 1% of the real life Greater London
for the same geographic area at max concurrent user capacity.

The virtual world of Second Life is currently a pale shadow of the real world when it comes to supporting large numbers of residents in their virtual space. To actually evolve into the next iteration of the Internet one of two things will have to occur:

  • The max concurrent user count will need to move closer to the theoretical limit of 1,000,000 stated in this interview
  • The model of a single land mass with all the computing power required to move avatars and objects across server boundaries will need to be broken up and distributed in the same way that the Internet was in the early 1990’s with web servers.

Which is a more likely scenario? I know which one I am putting my money on. There are some really large engineering issues here that need to be addressed (maxed out core databases being only one) before we can get from here to there. The virtual world game is still wide open. It is almost certain that we will move into a 3D model sometime in the next 10 years for what is now the Internet. What is not known, and what is open to debate, is what model (or combination of models) will make that possible.

We have such a long ways to go before our virtual spaces truly mirror our real life spaces. As my oldest children are only four years away from possibly going off to distant colleges, I rather like Philip’s vision of a family getting together virtually to laugh at YouTube videos together. In our house the weekends are gaming nights. I explore MMO’s and virtual worlds with my kids on the weekends. I can only hope that the future provides us with technologies to continue these traditions after my kids go off to college and into their adult lives (assuming they are distant enough to limit frequent physical visits).

Too many people denounce these virtual worlds as the gathering places for anti-social types. I believe that it will be the opposite of this in the future, we will use these spaces to be social and to keep in touch with friends and loved ones over distances. And as the technologies improve, so will the sense of being there. This will also be important to business, and it is this technology that will open the globe to collaborative teams and projects that cross cultural boundaries.

To wrap this up, compare Pong in the 1970’s to World of Warcraft today. The imagination strains to envision what virtual worlds may look like in 30+ years. I’m excited about the next 10 years myself, as this will be the period of the greatest changes. It’s a great time to be alive and living through this time of change in what is real and what is virtual.

Update: This city boy had ‘square’ acres, instead of acres in the above text.  Thank you to Troy for commenting that there’s no such thing as a ‘square’ acre.  I’ve since removed the word from the article. 


2 responses to ““It’s a lot bigger than London”

  1. This is a minor quibble, but I grew up on a farm and I’m pretty sure there’s no such unit as a “square acre.”

    On second thought, I suppose there is, but it would have the dimensions of area squared, or length to the power of four – not very meaningful.

    Another potential meaning of “square acre” would be a space with an area of 1 acre that happens to be square (i.e. equal length and width). I’m pretty sure that’s not what you meant.

  2. Pingback: Philip Rosedale’s 7 Year Birthday Speech « Virtual Education

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