Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Finally, a full web browser for Second Life that works

My technical expertise is puny at best, so I'm pleased to share this excellent news with you via the words of guest blogger Pavig Lok. While this Aussie is most often described as the lead creator of Greenies Home Rezzable (teleport directly from here), and a SecondLife Hobo, Pavig is also the artist who gave us quite an education on Intellectual Property via the Intellectual Property Garden. Pavig is a veteran of virtual world technologies and artificial intelligence.

By Pavig Lok

We've been waiting for a long time for web integration in Second Life. Sure, the applications are limited, and you can use an external browser, but hanging out with some folk and all viewing and chatting about something in world is really what Second Life® is all about. I've been working on something along these lines myself, but today I was happy to read in Virtual World News that a true browser had arrived in Second Life.

Up until now our options have been fairly limited. Back in March, the Lindens introduced web parcel media, which allows anyone with land rights to show web pages just like QuickTime movies were previously. Unfortunately, these pages are static, unscrollable, uninteractable lumps. (They can be animated or refreshed by JavaScript, but few folk notice because so few pages implement this, and there's no real way to trigger it through interactivity.) So accessing the web in Second Life has been a dreary affair.

Finally, someone has given us a full web browser in Second Life which, despite its limitations, is actually usable. Corro Moseley of Daden Limited has come up with a browser that listens to chat and can navigate to whatever page you say. On its own that's just a media controller really, which you could code in about five lines if you were a scripter. You can't scroll either, as that's something the Lindens won't let us do. This browser however, has something I've never seen before - it follows links! You can bookmark pages, Google stuff, and popout whatever you're looking at to an external browser. With this functionality it's actually fairly comfortable to use.

Link following, though, is the real magic. The browser filters pages you request through a proxy server which trawls through the page and extracts the links embedded in it. When you request a link, it searches through this data and tries to create a match given what it knows of the page. All you need to do is say part of the name of the link and voilas, browsing! (If any techies doubt this is magical, I only have to mention that the proxy is written in Perl, the "Swiss army chainsaw" of Unix programming :P).

Unfortunately, the Daden browser can't read text embedded in pictures - so if a website is poorly designed and not accessible to screen reading applications then searching for the link will fail. Many websites, unfortunately, suffer from this problem, but if you think it is an annoyance for us, it is a deal breaker for the blind, who must rely on screen reading software to browse the web at all. So if you tinker with this browser and find that it loses its link-following ability on certain sites, spare a thought for the visually impaired who deal with this every day, and waggle your fists defiantly at the website creators.

The Daden Navigator can be played with (and purchased for L$2,400, which is reasonable considering they run a backend server) by teleporting directly from here. The components are copyable so you can install it at multiple locations. You will need to either be a land owner, or on group land be allowed to deed objects to group to get it to function.

PS. If the name Daden rings a bell, it may be because they were behind the Google maps build blogged about earlier on NPIRL.


Dale Innis said...

I am curious about the scalability of that proxy server; if collaborative web browsing becomes a Big Thing To Do in SL, and every time anyone follows a link while doing it it has to go through the proxy, is it going to keep up? Will they be willing and able to pay for the server muscle required? They might, of course; I wonder if they're using Amazon EC2 or some "cloud" thing like that...