There's been a fair amount written on Kitely, another world, or rather, another virtual world program.
It's supposed to be better, cheaper, faster, and I suppose it is, although that isn't everything, as we may come to see.
But it's not all there, so to speak. That is, it's "on demand" -- not there 24/7 and contiguous and that's suppose to be its advantage.
I'm well aware that when you undertake to criticize the technically-experimental niche alternatives to SL, you open yourself up to fierce attacks by the devs who tell you that you can "never understand enough," and the fanboyz who tell you that you missed this or that obvious positive feature. I don't care. The point is to get beyond these clutching cliques and see if there is a there there.
Some think so. Rivers Run Red, one of the former "Big Six" metaversal developers of Second Life, has left SL and moved to Kitely. There's a reason for this: it now pays $600 instead of $100,000 a year to maintain its sims for clients. Long-time readers might recall my original friendliness to RRR and its CEO Justin Bovington, who I originally thought of as one of the more friendly and "democratic" developers in the FIC, if you will.
But I should have remembered my very, very first impression of an RRR sim in 2004, when Barnesworth Anubis, who had been quickly befriended by Justin who had an eye out for (then) new talent, tried to TP me to Justin's sim Avalon, which was mainland, yet just off the coast on an island, like a kind of proximate private island. I couldn't get there -- it was a sim with an access list or a group-only or something.
Eventually I got there to see the sneakers that I believe Barnubis was involved in designing, Sonic Kicks or something like that, I still have them. That kind of closed sim issue was exactly what then years later proved the grounds for a quarrel with Justin, when he advocated having closed, special stores for the enterprises who would be using the Nebrasks sims, and expressed that he felt the content of Second Life's marketplace was generally tacky. We argued and argued about that, with him and his defenders constantly claiming he never said this or never met it, but I didn't buy it. There was no question he wanted to big buyers of Nebraska to have special stores. And I felt that was wrong. Well, wrong or right, now Justin has simply left SL as too great a business cost in the era of declining virtual world work, and that's that.
Kitely's CEO Ilan Tochner is obsessed with the push to the web and "being in the browser". Hamlet ne Linden Au also obssesses about this all the time. They believe they have to get virtual worlds into the browsers, and not have downloads that they run from their machines and only navigate with browsers. They think that the user doesn't like downloads and that eventually worlds will be better and load faster if they are all in a browser.
The dirty little secret of the browser worlds, however, even some silly Facebook game, is that the load time is merely displaced to sessions in-game. Maybe you don't have some download to wait and install and try to trouble-shoot, but the wait time then comes elsewhere, within the game itself when you lag out or wait for things to happen, for scenes to load or when you teleport to some other scene or whatever. The load time has to go somewhere -- if it isn't in the front end for 20 minutes or something, it comes later if in the browser in wait times or load times or 'grey squares' elsewhere.
The funny thing is, to use Kitely and go to the worlds "on demand," you will still need to load another piece of software that enables it anyway. And I honestly don't care. Load times aren't the issue for me and lots of people. It's more about the world you get after the download, and whether you keep having to have wait issues and grey issues. Once you load the Kitely software and the Imprudence or other third-party browser to view its worlds, there don't seem to be any scene-loading issues (you can no longer use the SL standard view for viewing alternative world ostensibly because 1.23, which they are all based on, is now being deprecated --a story that nobody buys as the 1.23 knockoff browsers don't seem to have had trouble adding mesh, unless I missed something.
But the hidden "load time" for Kitely is in having to go back to the website to find other worlds.
I went to the Kitely web page, that still has that bare bones look of geek non-design, and browserd around the worlds. There are a bunch of them that people have made and posted with public access for free. There's a billing system with different options that puts the price for us on the maker of the world -- he can evidently be charged per visit or number of avatars instead of having to charge those avatars (although he could likely displace the cost to them if he liked but I didn't see how that might be done).
On the web page are various worlds, you pick them, you install the other module, you wait for it to load, and then you go there -- and for this, I had to go download a third-party browser -- I ended up getting Imprudence, even though I don't like the developers' philosophy (forcing features on the public in the believe that they are backward) and the idea that "revolutions" are needed to be imposed on users.
I expected the lonely planet I visited on Kiteley to have some completely different feel to it -- different as in the way There or Tale of the Desert. But it was exactly like Second Life -- with the only difference between something like 100,000 prims on the sim. The reality is that the worlds I saw made with this product in fact didn't seem to use up their prims. Maybe you just can only have so many prims!
For example on the NEW Anacortes Harbor (John Ledden), you find our old friend the Eric Linden Pine, here named the Ponderosa Pine without attribution to Eric Linden -- a common problem in these knock-off worlds -- and we also find our old very much missed Viewer 1.23 interface with things "where they're supposed to be".
Kitely's use cases are probably things like educational sims, where closed classes of students and professors need a sim, or perhaps some kind of other closed project for work, and then art sims, where people want to put up an installation, but then not have to pay an arm and a leg for it. And maybe Kitely is the place where big Second Life builds should go to die, as they are too expensive to keep going forever at $295 a month and $1000 set-up fee in SL.
I personally just can't get used to the idea of the "on demand" sim that isn't asychronously "there" all the time. That is, obviously somebody could go asychronously access it and travel to it and see it while I don't happen to be online. But it wouldn't be "always on". And of course, it wouldn't be next to anything.
Heresy of the Intimate
Karima Hoisan is one of the people using Kitely for creative endeavours; one of the sims is called Heresy of the Intimate. I winced at the title and the clutter of bright spinning balls and such that make up the typical SL art sim. Don't get me wrong -- I have a high tolerance for SL amateur-to-professional art, as a low amateur myself. But sometimes it takes some endurance.
But despite the traffic jam of the bright orbs, Hoison was able to create the sense of atmosphere that I always value in a sim, taking the usual assortment of SL exotica Arab/Asian kitsch and putting together a nice place. It was enough to go check out her other works, and find that she is a competent machinamist with films like Tar Pit, although for me, dramatically-read poetry that runs like this: "Another day without you, just more tar pits, where before, there was a dinosaur" -- well, doesn't work. Hoison and her film partner Natascha Randt won 2nd prize for a film Seek Wisdom in the University of Western Australia machinima contest. Maybe my problem is simply that I"ve been seeing ethno art beat stuff since the 1960s and have grown jaded.
OK, you might ask, just what does it mean to win a prize in an art contest sponsored by...the University of Western Australia? (If I'm not mistaken, these are the same folks that sponsored the doodle art contest of M Linden during his tenure of CEO of Linden Lab).
For a person in New York City, the University of Western Australia is not going to seem to be the center of the art world, even for one who might be inclined to find, oh, the University of Rochester the center of the art world. But it doesn't matter because this is the Metaverse, that great leveller. UWA, first of all, gives out real money in the form of prizes in Lindens -- a second-place prize was the equivalent of US $740. Secondly, they go to the time and trouble to work with artists and create the events and try to highlight such talent there is in SL, which is something that, oh, the Chicago Art Institute isn't doing. Obviously virtual worlds and their machinima is a pioneer area.
In another contest, another prize winner (it took several readings of the self-consciously arty article to figure out that it was first prize) was The Last Syllable of Recorded Time, a technically brilliant piece by Tutsy Navarathna that also had all the cliche props of the SL oevre -- time pieces like clock hands, doll parts drowning in pools, dragonflies (a good stand-in for fairies), masks, and yes, even a black swan. All that was missing was a sad clown. (But don't worry, pick them up in the third-prize entry). The machinima artiness again works better than the piously-intoned poetry/text, "Every day/every breath/is an opportunity/to express/the deepest thing in our heart...It's important when we are involved in some sort of spirtuality/that we not become some sort of consumer item."
Well, why not? Isn't the whole idea of Second Life to commodify oneself and offer it for sale in the marketplace, if not for Lindens, then for fame in contests or on Hamlet's blog? By the time I see the absolutely mandatory chess pieces and skeletons -- I think they must have unions and demand that they be present in every SL film -- I'm almost ready to shut this stuff off, yet I do recognize this is the best within its genre.
(And would I commit blasphemy if I mentioned that the Hamlet favourite blog Whiskey Monday with the stunning SL art screenshots might do well to shed the skeletons, even if flying like fairies, and the sad clowns, too, even if the sad clowns are posed with that other mandatory SL prop, the broken umbrella? The Sims Online fans will see the scene with the dishes as a contest where you try to see how many dishes your sim might automatically pick up...)
Making this world-within-a-world of art valuation and assessment -- a world in which the celebrated Bryn Oh can come in third place -- takes time and effort and dedication, given the vicissitudes of the grid. The big time, I suppose, means when Hamlet ne Linden Au covers some of the work (as he often does for Bryn Oh). But could I issue an art challenge to the cliche machine-tool machinimists of Second Life? Can you make a film without time pieces, doll parts, circus motifs, black swans or vistas from Anderw Wyeth's Christine's World?
All of this raises the question of whether if you make a lot of cheap sims available for $40 a month or whatever, and make them even "on demand" to save the grid provider on costs, I suppose, do you encourage art or do you encourage more of the miasma of kitsch and amateur junk spreading across the Metaverse? (See Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur).
On the one hand, the low entry cost ensures more access from that beloved third world of the left or even the poor retired postman in Ohio. Who could be opposed? On the other hand, well, it is lots of dreck. And it's the sort of dreck that is very hard to criticize without "drama" and "hurting people's feelings" -- just like the world of SL live music.
I had a sort of epiphany of sorts thinking about Kiteley and Second Life -- what you pay for in the Second Life sim isn't really a sim, and you can't really bring its cost down by thinking of it only in terms of how you can bring down the costs of a server farm, which anyone with skills and OS software can do. What you're paying for is attention in the attention economy and a boost in the world of Serendipity.
I used to think of the "value add" of the SL sim as being the Lindens providing the sims and their connections so you don't have to, and of course, what M Linden called "the killer app, each other". That doesn't seem like much of a killer app -- audiences or customers -- but it's an awful lot when you have to wait to get noticed not in a contiguous and connected world, but on your sim-on-a-stick or sim-on-demand on a website somewhere or maybe a blog review.
The real cost of a sim, I've been thinking, is Serendipity -- or what someone could represent mathematically as "Serendipity Boost", in other words, not just potential audiences or theoretical customers, but actual, meaningful access to them as they fly around. Serendipity is priceless -- when you can fly around the world and suddenly stumble on a little gem or unexpectedly run into your neighbour, Ludo Merit. Serendipity isn't just fly-by discoveries and sales but it's the anchor of word-of-mouth. Somebody in the chain has to have the first "stumble upon". Naturally, the Lindens could sell their unwitting product of Serendipity a lot better, if search worked better and if there were lots of other things (like the ad network in welcome areas and along roads that I've always advocated). Still, it works "good enough," with the existing inworld features of events lists and classifieds and the external web-site world of Picture of the Day, forums, and the ecosphere of blogs.
Or does it? That's why it's good that there's competition to the expensive Second Life Serendipity, but what's interesting if you read the blogs (and Treasure Ballinger's comment below this post about helping small business) is that these other worlds are merely making a more densely threaded skein of connections between SL and their knockoffs, not establishing some Brave New World elsewhere. People find things in the cheaper (or even better-run) spaces outside of SL, then fly back to SL to re-discover them and incorporate them in the SL life they still want to keep. Or rather not fly back, but log out and re-log to SL.
And that's another question -- with Kiteley's worlds, you have to log out, go back to the Kiteley website with the directory, and then log back in to find the other stand-alone, on-demand worlds. I don't know if that's a deal-breaker, and I also wonder how long these Kitely works of art can attract attention as the world gets bigger and the directory "real estate" shrinks to the web site's front page. If you think SL search is bad, wait til you see it clunky or non-existent in other SL cloned worlds.
I don't know how the makers of Kitely plan to solve this problem. The Transfer Stations idea don't seem to solve this problem completely, but maybe they are a start. Wouldn't it be funny if Kitely ended up having to retain a Mainland welcome area model in order to sustain the transfers of all their on-demand worlds.
One arty Kitely sim, Devokan by Dot Macci seems to have this transfer model working (or maybe not exactly, I don't know the underlying mechanics). As the site notes, "Devokan Hub is where you enter the world: a central collection of "linking books". Click the image on each book to teleport to the places shown. Some will work instantly; others will take a moment or two as the corresponding world loads".
This has a "Woods Between the Worlds" feel to it, where you come to a twilight forest and click on books to go to other planets.
Note that you can't click on the books to first see some kind of chat or notecard describing the world before you are hauled off to it on an instant teleport -- but hover your mouse over it to get its name first if you like.
The flight feeling in the Kitely worlds has that zippy stiffness that old Second Life sims circa 2005 had back when they used to measure the FPS as 40,000 or 20,000 and a brand-new sim without anything on it yet but Linden trees would be a heady experience. Yet there still is that stiffness of something actually working too well, that is, there isn't the "drag of gravity" that you get used to in SL and becomes second nature -- lag. How can you complain of absence of lag?! Well, it's like too much oxygen or the bends, you zip around too fast and make sharp turns and don't have the world loading to take time to see it. Well, "first world problems," as they say...
Waysmeet, one of the book-worlds, was devoid of black swans and sad clowns and doll parts artfully arranged around time pieces, but it did have another sort of SL staple -- a credible cow and even some (non-moving) chickens! On this sim, 17000 prims were being used on a sim supporting 15,000 with the notice that 2000 "would be deleted" -- an interesting concept!
You have a feeling there are complex stories told here in the fishing machine and the steam-punk contraption, but will you have the patience and attention-span to learn them?
When M talked about the "each other app," he meant, well, people. He was all for art sims and people on art sims that he boosted (and whom the Lindens continue to boost, one of the value-adds of the more expensive SL sim). But flying around even briskly without lag, and even in very, very prim-high worlds, you begin to miss the people. The on-demand worlds by their nature have no people -- they are 3D interactive postcards. Occasionally, I saw one or two green dots, but they were inside houses so I thought not to disturb them. Unless you have some other really lively social media platform like Plurk, which so helps the drama of the Grace O-clockers and Crap fanbase, how can you have a world? Remember Prok's Definition of a Virtual World: a) has a sense of place b) has drama. You don't need prims, truly!
The on-demand worlds can have their arty sense of place, but without people to give them dramatic tension, they are are "all the world is, is a stage". People already in a self-reinforcing self-adulatory network might not have that sense that they are making a lot of empty stages with obscure story lines, but outsiders will surely sense this.
One advantage to this set-up is that if you log in to the Kitely site, and have Imprudence loaded on to your computer, clicking on one of the Kitely worlds automatically loads up Imprudence and skips the log-in page to deliver you right to the world. That is, you might wait for a bit for that world to load, longer than you would SL from your SL official browser, but then the combo of the Kitely page and the browser are working together ultimately to put you right in the world. This seems like a nice thing, until you wonder about whether the absence of a double log-on might be a security problem.
As for user-friendliness, Kitely has adopted that most annoying of the log-in loops -- the seeming ability to log in with Twitter and Facebook, and bypass new sign-up regimes, but then the forced-loop back to having to sign up with the service again after you've logged in with Twitter or Facebook. I know I first went there making an account with Prokofy as the name and a male avatar and my RL email, but when I couldn't remember the password, I got eternally stuck in that silly fake loop. I ended up having to register another account that turned out to be female and dressed in purple. Sigh.