New "Message Bridge" Enables IMs Between Open Source Virtual Worlds

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 04, 2009

By Wagner James Au              

What you're looking at in the screen captures here and below represents a small but significant milestone in open source metaverse technology.  If in the future, Orcs in a fantasy MMORPG are able to IM their friends flying starships in a sci-fi MMO, this may be remembered as one of the innovations which helped point the way.  It's called the Parallel Selves Message Bridge, a new addition to the code forge of OpenSimulator, the "Apache for virtual worlds" project featured on OStatic last year.  The Bridge makes it possible for users within one OpenSim world to send IMs to users currently logged into another Second Life-compatible world.  (OpenSim is reverse engineered from SL's viewer source code.)

This also means OpenSim users can send IMs to people currently logged into Second Life itself, which is what these screen captures depict: that's my avatar, Hamlet Au in SL, seen sending messages back and forth to Shenlei Winkler, who's currently in her Shengri La OpenSim, a metaverse-based development community she shares with IBM researchers and her Fashion Research Institute.

The Message Bridge module connects us to an intermediary OpenSim instance which then routes messages between the originating world and the destination world. It's the brainchild of OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey, who explains how it works in full detail on his blog.

"Justin developed it at my request," Winkler told me during our SL-to-OS chat, "specifically to ensure my productivity wasn't impinged by having to do ugly things like log in, log out or use one of the out of world IM systems."  In other words, while working in her OpenSim, she can continue messaging friends and colleagues in Second Life and other compatible OpenSimulator worlds without breaking immersion.

Creating an IM channel between separate worlds is an important step toward virtual world interoperability, a project that Linden Lab and IBM have also been developing for some time in their Architecture Working Group initiative.  In theory, it will ultimately allow people to move their avatars and virtual assets from one virtual world or MMO to another.  But in my opinion, instant communication is about as important from a practical and cultural standpoint.  To my knowledge (and Clark-Casey's), his Parallel Selves Message Bridge is the first working, publicly available application of that kind.

"I would say that interoperability is really too grand a word for it," Clark-Casey told me via e-mail.  "In many ways it's like using an entire OpenSim standalone server as an IM client for another grid (such as Second Life)."  He hopes the AWG team develops a more elegant process. "In the meantime, though, it could be quite useful to certain audiences (particularly content creators working offline in a standalone OpenSim instance)."

The Parallel Selves Message Bridge code is here, with the project page here.  It's described as still very much in Alpha stage, so caveat coder.

 Hat tip: SL blogger Chestnut Rau.