Differing definitions of ‘crowded’

I was at a concert for the wonderful Lisa Brune last night, and the sim was absolutely packed – my Firestorm ‘People’ list told me there were 66 people on the sim and it certainly felt like it – people were grey, the lag was insane like the air had turned to wallpaper paste, and people were crashing all over the place. In fact Lisa herself crashed and couldn’t get back in but valiantly carried on with the concert anyway. I myself gave up trying to get back in after the 3rd crash and was listening to the stream with an external media player.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about the perennial issue of what we think of as ‘crowded’ when we’re in Second Life. It seems to me that a concert in real life where the performer only had 66 attendees would be considered ‘intimate’, ‘tiny’ or ‘woefully under-attended’ depending on the size of venue and the expectations of the performer or their management. Yet in Second Life it’s considered a massively popular attendance.

Back in the early days of Second Life, much was made of the educational and media event possibilities, and many people dipped their toes in the water with such things as Virtual Embassies, learning centres, corporate presences and the now famous Suzanne Vega concert, but interest very quickly waned as it became abundantly clear that the Second Life platform just simply cannot cope with a decent attendance.

My understanding is that the fundamental limitation is that each full sim in Second Life is hosted on a single core of a multi-core processor (for Homestead sims it is 4 to a core) and it’s simply not possible to throw more processing power at a sim. The nearest that can be achieved is to use two or more adjacent sims playing the same stream so that people can get some sense of “being there”, but even then that’s not really ideal.

I am sure that this issue has had Linden Lab scratching their collective heads for years, and I would like to think that they have it on their roadmap to address it, but we’re in 2012 now. I joined SL in 2007 and we had the issue even then and we still have it now.

What Second Life needs is to somehow break free from these limitations and for the servers to be truly scalable. Once that is achieved, it could be monetarised with perhaps a graded tier for sim capability or a dynamic billing model not dissimilar to webserver bandwidth. I am sure that the owners of popular sims would be happy to pay for the ability to have a decent number of attendees to an event without the whole thing falling over in a horrible mess. At the moment there is simply no choice, no option; it’s a hard limit.

Second Life is a wonderful place to be, but this limitation is fundamental and if it isn’t addressed I can’t see how Second Life is ever going to progress beyond where it is today.


Footnote

After a little googling, it turns out the Suzanne Vega concert was in 2006 and in order to get 80 attendees people had to have not a single prim attachment on themselves, not even hair. So really not a lot has changed in 6 years.

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One thought on “Differing definitions of ‘crowded’

  1. Your comment about the crowd limitation being “fundamental” is very true and a keen observation. It restricts the uses to which Second Life can be applied. I’ve attended educational conferences in SL, and the crowd limitation is always a problem (although it does seem I’ve been to lectures with more than 100 avatars – and I’m not sure how they pulled this off). But if SL, or other grids, is to be efffective in getting people together from all parts of the world, without the expense and time that travel takes, ways of accomodating large crowds need to be developed. Imagine being able to attend world-class lectures and conferences without having to travel. But as you point out, if only 60 or so avatars can attend, that’s pretty poor attendence for an RL event and a hard sell to RL organizations trying to offer forums for conferences.

    It just seems that SL is a very very primitive world – and until the crowd barrier is broken, it never will live up to the potential of virtual words to enhance our lives in every dimension.

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