Importing and Exporting in Second Life: Oh, How I Pine

By Ryan Schultz (Theory Shaw in SL), cross-posted from Studio Wikitecture blog

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I’ve been using Second Life for a number of years now to run experiments, through our ‘Studio Wikitecture’ group, to see if a Metaverse, such as SL might one day act as the platform for collective intelligence in architecture and urban planning. I’m also an active member of the ‘RL Architects in SL’ group. As you can imagine, most of the members that compose these two groups are architects. What I have found, participating in these groups over the last year or so is that new members are always excited about using Second Life as either a collaborative tool or as a platform to exhibit their work. Unfortunately, however, their interest soon wanes when they find out there’s no easy way to import in models from third party programs. I realize there’s a number of grass-roots initiatives out there that have developed rough and crude ways to import from the following:

Blender
Sketchup
Max
Maya

Although, I give my utmost respect to the programmers that have developed these projects, to say they are crude, is to pay them a compliment. What invariably happens is that after sharing these links with the many people that ask, they come back (if they come back at all) even more confused and frustrated having labored through the elaborate and evolved process of copying and pasting pieces of code back and forth between one program and the other. The process is about as easy as painting with rice grains.

Having had a number of conversations over the year with people about this, I can say with confidence, that SL’s lack of portability is the number one hurdle for our demographic and the main reason why many people never come back. Although speculation, I would imagine this is a major hurdle for other groups as well.

What I don’t really understand is why this issue is not pushed more by the SL community at large. I have noticed there were a number of issues posted on SL’s Issue Tracker that call for portability of a number of various file types, such as .OBJ, .3DM, .3DS, .DXF, & .DAE.

What I don’t really understand is why, firstly, the overall SL community is not voting on this en masse and secondly, why have some of these grass-roots initiatives outlined above, just withered on the vine? Some of these projects are over two years old, with no sign of life or continued evolution since they were first posted.

Having been in the middle of this conversation for awhile, it seems the standard responses usually involve two factors: technology and/or SL’s economy—Technology, from the aspect that it’s currently still too difficult to do and economically, from the aspect that the sudden influx of new models would dilute the value of existing in-world creations, resulting in a negative impact on SL’s economy. Although I’m sure there are more reasons, these seem to be at the forefront of the discussion.

What confuses me, from my perspective anyways, is that these reasons still don’t seem plausible to me and I’m found wondering if I’m missing a valuable part of the equation.

First, although I have a limited background in programming, it appears from the existence of these grass roots projects, that portability is indeed obtainable. Having dabbled a little with each project above, I realize the process is laborious—cutting and pasting code from one program to the other.

I also realize that most of these conversion programs drastically simplify the form when imported into SL, such as textures being stripped off, and meshes and certain objects such as cylinders and sphere’s being simplified down to plain ‘box’ prims in SL. Although these are indeed hurdles, the technology is currently there to do this on a very limited basis.

What I don’t understand, is why these projects haven’t evolved into a more user-friendly format after the years they have been in place. This is just a lack of user-interface design verses a lack of back-end programming. Even though they are crude and might only import texture striped SL boxes in some cases, i know that I, as well has a horde of others, would still jump at the chance to have access to a tool like this and in most cases would actually pay good money for such a thing.

On to the economic end of the argument. I guess I can see on the surface, why a number of residences might be fearful of a world where seamless importing and exporting becomes the norm. I would imagine their argument springs from the fear that they either think their creations would be diluted by all these new models or that their creations could easily be exported and in turn imported, further diluting their value. I think these are legitimate concerns, but are there not ways of regulating this? Could you not add an additional layer of modifications rights that would give the owner of the in-world object the choice on whether they allowed subsequent owners to export out their creations?

From the importing perspective, yes, I’m sure such functionality would initially effect the market. The problem is however, that in the long run, the longer SL holds out on this functionality, the more negatively it will impact the economy, that is, when they finally do implement it. I’m not an economist, but I would imagine this is the same phenomenon you see when age old tariffs are removed and the economy in which they were trying to protect in the first place, finds itself unprepared to compete in the more innovative and efficient economy that was growing up all around them the whole time.

The assumption here, of course, is that they will do this eventually. The reason being, I believe, is that they will be forced to from market pressures from other virtual worlds offering portability as standard service and perhaps. In the end, perhaps this is exactly the reason why SL hasn’t offered this service yet. There’s no real viable competitor yet.

Although part of the reason for writing this post is to rant a little, my main objective is to start a conversation around why you don’t think portability has become common place for the end-user by now. I just wanted to share my confusion with everyone and see if there are others that are either just as confused, or perhaps have a more nuanced answer to this problem.

And by all means, if this too is a thorn in your side, please place your vote on Second Life’s Issue Tracker. Pick your poison. .OBJ, .3DM, .3DS, .DXF, & .DAE. Voting is easy, just login in first.

And if you’re a developer, just know that I’ll be the first to put my order in and I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone. The market seems to be begging for it.