Virtual Landmarks: solving an age-old problem?

On July 24th, Toysoldier Thor posted about an idea he calls “virtual landmarks” in the Merchant’s forum. It’s a potential solution to an age-old problem most of us in SL face at one time or another: making sure all landmarks relating to your location in Second Life are always up-to-date.

Whenever we move in SL, we’re faced with the fact that every LM we’ve ever given out for our old place is now worthless, and we have no choice but to start issuing new ones. For some, this isn’t a problem – but for others it very much is.

Merchants, for example, are faced with the fact that every single landmark they’ve ever placed within a package contained in a vendor server or magic box or in a Marketplace folder or used within landmark givers they’ve placed around the grid (at malls, satellite stores and so on), now needs to be individually replaced (and in the case of Marketplace folders, each folder manually re-linked to the relevant listing). For some this can run into several hundred items and many hours of additional work. Nor are merchants alone – the likes of role-play groups, clubs, and so on, can face similar issues, both in terms of updating landmark givers, etc., and in terms of ensuring patrons get updated LMs.

In short – it’s a nightmare.

The issue: change your SL location and old LMs no longer work – click to enlarge (credit: Toysoldier Thor)

Toysoldier Thor’s idea is so elegant and (in some respects) obvious, one is tempted to ask why such a system wasn’t developed for Second Life from the outset. He calls it Virtual Landmarks (VLMs), and it essentially works in a similar manner to how we navigate the web. He describes the idea thus:

The concept of a VLM would be identical to the critically important Internet service of DNS (Domain Name Services) in that Internet users can create and use easy to understand HOST NAMES to access all Internet services where the HOST NAME actually masks the underlying required IP Address that is needed to actually route and connect their computer to that respective host.

Well the same would hold true with VLMs.  A VLM would be the equivalent to a DNS HOST NAME and the LM that is configured to be associated to this VLM would be equivalent to an IP ADDRESS.

One Change

In his proposal, rather than creating and distributing a landmark, a store-owner (or whomever) would create a user-friendly VLM (e.g. “My Wonderful Store”) which is then associated with the actual landmark for the store itself. This association is stored in a new service Toysoldier calls the “VLM Mapping Service”, and it is instances of the VLM – not the original – which are given to people or placed product packages, landmark givers, etc. When someone uses the VLM, their viewer sends a request to the Mapping Service, which  looks-up the physical landmark associated with the VLM and sends the information back to the viewer, enabling the user to be teleported to their desired destination.

The beauty here is that if the underlying landmark is subsequently changed (because the destination store moves, for example), all the creator of the VLM has to do is associate the VLM record stored in the Mapping Service with the new landmark – and every instance of the VLM in existence will automatically route people to the new location when used. There is no need to pass out new LMs, replace existing LMs or anything else; one change, and that’s it.

The solution: VLMs and the Mapping Service – click to enlarge (credit: Toysoldier Thor)

There are further benefits of the idea, as Toysoldier points out:

  • The system could be developed such that a single VLM could be associated with multiple landmarks (such as a primary store location, a secondary store location, etc.). Then, should the primary location be unavailable for any reason, the person using the VLM would be automatically routed to one of the alternate destinations
  • A round robin capability could be included, such that a single VLM is linked to a number of arrival points at the same destination (such as a club or an event that is liable to be popular, etc.). People using instances of the VLM are then automatically delivered to the different arrival points in turn, helping to prevent overcrowding at one particular point
  • Duplicate names could be supported for VLMs through the use of asset UUIDs (so there could be many VLMs called “My Beautiful Store”, and asset UUIDs could be used to ensure a VLM sends a user to the correct destination
  • As with LMs at present, VLMs held within peoples’ own inventories can be renamed without affecting their function
  • The system does not prevent the direct use of landmarks.

While there is some potential for griefing within the proposed system (people maliciously creating an VLM with the intention of flash-mobbing a venue or mis-directing people to a location, for example), the risk is probably no greater than is currently the case with the use of landmarks. Griefing via the use of VLMs might even be easier to limit, as LL would have control of the Mapping Service and so could effectively remove / disable VLMs shown to have been created with malicious intent.

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