This week, Jon and I — along with Karl Haberl from Project Darkstar and Kevin Roebuck from Sun’s education group — traveled to Princeton, NJ for the 3-day summer conference of the New Media Consortium (NMC). Sun is deeply involved with NMC, and in the context of our joint Open Virtual Worlds project (read more here), Project Wonderland (along with Project Darkstar) held three events. The first was a 3-hour "pre-conference" workshop on Wednesday, June 11 and the second was a 1-hour 15-minute lecture on Thursday, June 12. In both we were also joined by our partner, CommonNeed, who offers Wonderland hosting services (read me more). The final event, on Friday, was hosted by Kevin and NMC to talk about possibilities for the Open Virtual World project itself.
In both the Wednesday and Thursday events, we went over the basics of Wonderland, and spent alot of time in-world. Everything worked great — even on Wednesday when I was running over a wireless connection. I was connected to a server located in California (I think, but honestly, I’m not really sure where it was physically located) and Nicole and Joe joined us in-world from Sun in Burlington, MA. I showed off brand new features that will appear in the upcoming v0.4 release (but are available via our source and nightly builds now), such as the enhanced applications (e.g. PDF Viewer) and telephone integration. (Favorite parts of the demo included our Cone of Silence and telephone support: I placed a call to Kevin’s cell phone from in-world, and we heard his phone ring in the audience and joined him to the world. Everyone liked how I could grab hold of the telephone orb and then drop it anywhere I like!)
The audience was composed mostly, if not entirely, of folks from education. I spoke with quite a few teachers and students; the rest of the folks are involved in technology in education.
These sorts of events are great for gathering informal feedback–and what I hear is always a surprise! (at least to me). Everyone asked about security, particularly those teachers who want to make use of virtual worlds but not expose their students to others using the virtual world for less-savory purposes. We told them, of course, with Wonderland they can set up their own instances of the server and control access by using an LDAP server for authentication. I then told them about the fine-grained security work being done by Tim Wright at Notre Dame (Note to Tim: LOTS of folks are really interested in your work!).
We fielded several questions about our switch from Java 3D to JMonkeyEngine in the v0.5 release–certainly folks were wondering what sort of porting effort would be required. We answered this question in two parts: one, for all of your artwork created in Maya/Blender, we expect that you could just re-export them as COLLADA and re-import into Wonderland. Second, for all of the custom cell types, there will be a port from Java 3D to JMonkeyEngine, but since both are based upon scene graphs, we hope that most of the porting effort will be, for example, using JME’s Sphere object instead of Java 3D’s Sphere object. I think everyone understood that the move was a good one–and its best to do it early in the stage of development of Wonderland rather than later.
Folks are starting to think about how to develop assets for Wonderland–artwork and custom cell types–and how to share and distribute them with the larger community (which we encourage, of course!). For my part, I’ve been working on a module system for the v0.5 release. (In fact, I had a great 4 hours of uninterrupted coding on the Amtrak Acela train on the way down). I’m hoping to release far more technical details in the next month or two–complete with full API documentation–but the idea is to allow folks to bundle up artwork and code (plugins) into Wonderland modules (which according to our design philosophies, the structure of the module, which is just a zip/jar file, will be entirely open) and install them on Wonderland servers. I’m planning on some basic versioning and dependency checking, simple management, and the ability to specify "master" and "mirror" repositories of artwork. Details, of course, to be worked out, with feedback from the community.
I’m blogging from a Starbucks in New York-Penn Station, so I’m gonna head to board my train back to Boston soon. I wanted to thank all of the folks who attended our sessions at the NMC Summer conference in Princeton, NJ–it was great interacting with you and gathering tremendously useful feedback.