Wagner James Au’s blog has a story up now about a new virtual world named Cloud Party. It’s currently in beta, and requires a Facebook account to get the most out of it. It seems the ex-Linden Cory Ondrejka is involved, and boy does it ever show when you give it a whirl. Anyone who’s ever rezzed a prim in SL or OpenSim will recognize the prims you’ll see littered all over the area where new users arrive.
If you want to try it out without having to sign up for Facebook, you can do so by directly visiting the Cloud Party website. You won’t be able to build unless you sign in with Facebook, but you’ll get a good look at it the other features.
My personal impression is that this is a bit SL Lite. That’s not a criticism… this is extremely accessible for your average user. The client appears to be completely HTML5 and WebGL driven, meaning that you need only use a browser to access it. (I used Chrome.) They had a pretty nice tutorial available to get you started and up to speed on the basics. There’s a “cell phone” in the upper right hand corner of the screen that gives you access to various options like your appearance, building, navigation, etc. Moving around is pretty point and click. Left click on the ground, and you go there. Right click on the ground far away, and a menu will pop-up that lets you teleport to that location. Chat is easy enough to use, and even let’s you emote with the “/me” command. When you look up into the sky you’ll see some floating spheres containing islands. These appear to be the equivalent of the regions we’re so used to. Click on one, and some info will appear, along with the option to visit that island. It will be interesting to see how well this metaphor works when there are thousands of islands available. I suspect only “featured” islands will retain such prominence at some point.
The name of the service, Cloud Party, kinda makes me want to groan… the cloud is a term that’s been abused so badly at this point that it is hard not to shake my head a tad. For some people the Facebook requirement is going to be a very big turnoff as well, temporary as it may be.
I also can’t help but note that the service appeared to crash during my visit. I was told via a red pop-up message that the connection to the service had been lost, and to wait until it was restarted. I dutifully did just that, and the world reloaded. Other visitors confirmed that the same thing had happened to them at the same time.
Should SL be worried? Probably. Even if the feature set isn’t as advanced, the immediacy of being able to click a link and use this world is a pretty big deal. I think this is likely to give LL a kick in the pants. The fact that it relies so heavily on things like HTML5 and WebGL also means that this is a real contender in the mobile and tablet space. Not only do you not need to download a client in the first place, but any updates will be completely transparent and automatic. On the other hand this feels so much like SL in many ways. It’ll be interesting to see how Cloud party makes choices for its service that are more than superficial things like islands rather than regions, or reacts to content creators who want to take their prim creations with them to other places. I’ve already seen one user wonder aloud whether they would be able to take their SL stuff with them. It is also hard to determine what the maximum quality of the graphics will be yet, and how quickly browsers will enable bigger, better, and more. LL’s dedicated viewer has the advantage of being capable of a lot more in the eye-candy department right now, and could do even more if LL chose to make the effort. It can also handle colossal amounts of objects in a scene, as evidenced by Nebadon Izumi’s recent success to populate a region with a million objects.
Should OpenSimulator be worried? I’d say no, not as long as Cloud Party remains proprietary and tightly tied to large social networks. OpenSim offers cost, extensiblity , and freedom advantages that you can’t get anywhere else. But being free of LL’s viewer wouldn’t be a bad thing, and so long as it offers the same abilities as a viewer, a web based client would be a pretty welcome addition to OpenSim’s toolbox. There have been some stabs at this in the past already, but I don’t think any of them used HTML5 and WebGL.