Maps as metaphors: Second Life and Sansar

The map is Second Life offers a powerful metaphor for the grid being a contiguous whole, even where private reagions may be remote and physically isolated from their neighbours
The map in Second Life is seen as a powerful metaphor for the grid being a contiguous whole, even where private regions may be remote or physically isolated from their immediate neighbours

Just how important a metaphor is the concept of a “world map” to Project Sansar? Given it has been a topic of discussion in both the first and second instalments of LabChat, and has been given by some as a reason for not wanting to be involved at all in Project Sansar, one might say “very important”; and there is no denying it does have its uses. But is it really as intrinsic to our use of Second Life as has been portrayed, and because it may not exist within Project Sansar in the manner we’re accustomed to seeing in SL, is it really a reason to proclaim we’ve no interest in the Lab’s new platform?

Within LabChat, the discussions on the Map have revolved around two ideas: that without the map, there will be “no sense of community”, and that it gives Second Life a greater sense of presence and of being a place when we’re within it.

I admit that in terms of the map being somehow central to the ideal of community, I find myself in agreement with Ebbe Altberg; that when all is said and done, the world map (and mini-map) don’t hugely contribute to a genuine sense of “community”. Yes, they help us find busy places we might want to visit (or avoid!), or see how busy a venue or store is, etc. But really, this doesn’t add to any feeling of “community” within SL. That comes from the people we meet within those spaces and how they interact with one another and us; how we in turn relate to them; what is going on within those spaces in terms of activities and events, etc. These are the things which are going to bring us into a community, and in that regard, the map really places no larger a role than search; it is simply a means to an end.

Is it really the map which gives SL its sense of community - or is it the people themselves. I'd tend to go with the latter (image: Richard Finkelstein (Leko Littlebird), SLCC 2011)
Is it really the map which gives SL its sense of community – or is it the people themselves? I’d tend to go with the latter (image: Richard Finkelstein (Leko Littlebird), SLCC 2011)

However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many  – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

When it comes to Project Sansar, however, things are slightly more complicated. For one thing, it is not designed to be a single “world” in the same manner as Second Life. It’s a platform for hosting multiple “worlds” (“experiences”, “spaces”, “environments”, call them what you will), many of which may well have nothing whatsoever in common with one another – and certainly no way of moving directly from one to another in-world as we can in Second Life. Thus, presenting a single, all-encompassing map of “Sansar spaces” actually makes a lot less sense that it does with Second Life.

Within specific spaces, maps do have enormous value for visitors, so providing the means / support by which experience creators in Sansar can produce them could be of enormous benefit to the platform
While having some kind of over-arching map of all Project Sansar experiences might not be either practical or useful, providing the means by which experience creators can represent their spaces in a map which can be accessed by their users / clients / visitors remains both a useful tool and a powerful means of adding to the sense of presence within a space

Which is not to say the map is entirely redundant for Project Sansar. While some kind of all-encompassing map of “every” Sansar experience might not hold much value, the fact remains that as noted, maps do assist in giving one a greater sense of presence in an environment (as well as being useful for things like navigation!). As such, providing the means for experience creators to provide maps of their environments, and those to which they connect, would appear to be something Project Sansar should provide. In fairness, this isn’t something the Lab has ruled out, as Ebbe Altberg noted in the first Lab Chat:

So, that’s where we’ll start, and then it could be that maybe people create continents, or whatever you want to call it, even worlds, and maybe over time we’ll think about ways in which those can figure out how to have a map of that experience, and those could be vast.

The only caveat I’d have here is the idea that “over time” consideration will be given to enabling people to graphically represent their spaces. As noted, a map does provide a powerful metaphor for giving the environment you’re in a sense of greater presence. It’s also often the best means of showing people what is where, allowing them to see what might be of interest to them, and  – most basically – how to navigate from A to B to C.

Given this, and the fact that there may often be circumstances within Project Sansar where direct “in-world” transfer from one experience to another may not be possible, I’d say that having some kind of all-encompassing “world map” of every available experience within Sansar actually isn’t that important or something we should perhaps get too hung up about. Certainly, it doesn’t seem to be as important as perhaps encouraging the Lab to fully appreciate how useful a tool a map can be to visitors within a specific experience  (or connected group of experiences), and thus provide the means by which experience creators can easily create such maps sooner rather than later.

26 thoughts on “Maps as metaphors: Second Life and Sansar

  1. I suspect some innovative user or users will create an Experience called ‘Sansar Experiences Map’and it may even have a graphical clickable representation. If they build it, some may come. There is a sense of community in social mediums (blogs, websites, etc) as they provide sidebars of relatred clickable URLs…a sense of mini-communities. I suspect Sansar Experiences my provide links in them to other similar Experiences as people join together in networks as an agreed benefit to all in the Experience-Network


    1. I find SL map really fascinating (more below), but at most I would expect some user will create a directory, if LL doesn’t do that; not a map. Why?
      Let’s forget about SL for a moment and think about Sansar like just the name of an VR engine, or a platform, that can be used to create many different separated games. So you create your own Sansar based game (or your VR experience), a bit like you would create your game with Unreal Engine and sell it on Steam (just something more integrated and easier to create). Now, at most, what I’d like is a map of my own game. Why the map of my MMO game should encompass those of all other games available on Steam? Who cares? It sounds even silly. I can see why a map of Sansar makes less sense.
      Moreover there is the different approach: not all inside the virtual world, but it’s a platform. Think about Youtube or WordPress. Your visitors may not even know that your website is based on Wordpess. It could be the website of a museum that embeds or links to it’s own VR experience based on Sansar for a virtual visit, rather to a different technology. And the museum choose it because it’s much easier, cheaper and effective to develop it on this platform. Now, if I’m a museum director, maybe I don’t even want that my visitors open a weird map plenty of random isolated squares, where my museum is shown next to something unrelated and embarrassing?
      I’d rather like a private map that helps my visitors to find their way in their VR visit or, at most, to link different VR experiences inside my museum, or in collaboration with other museums.

      Now back to SL. The “mainland” is a single world. “island” regions are separated. As announced, Sansar experiences will be far larger than SL regions (a SL “continent” is about 5-15 Km wide); so perhaps it would be possible that someone uses the platform to create her/his own remake of the SL Mainland as an experience/world, but without sim crossings. Within the world of the SL Mainland, the map is pretty useful and made me see how large it is. I love to explore it, traveling by plane, copter, boat, trains, pods. I look at the map, I can see the continents, I read about their history on the wiki. While I travel I discover new things or I go to visit something new or the earliest buildings, like virtual archeology, “look what they did 12 years ago here”. Indeed I enjoyed to travel along LL road too, although they are a pain and they look like they weren’t made with sim crossing optimization in mind (not to mention when they go straight into sim corners) – it is also a desolated landscape, in most part, with few people, besides some around the Blake Sea area and surroundings, yet it is still so fascinating to me.

      So the map is useful, but the sense of community comes from elsewhere, IMHO, from the in-world groups or external websites. whichever they are about virtual sailing or a roleplay. I’m not even sure that SL users can be called a community, as some may have not much in common with each other, besides using or playing SL. “Using or playing”, because they don’t even have in common how they take SL, and if it is a game or not (because indeed there is anything, from games to more serious stuff). There are many little communities, instead, some overlap, some less.

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      1. The “mainland” is a single world. “island” regions are separated.

        No, not really. SL’s mainland is also split up into 8 continents right now, where only a few connecting corridors exist. Between Sansara –> Heterocea, Satori –> Nautilus –> Corsica –> Gaeta V. All those continental clusters plus Jeogeot, Gaeta VII, Zindra and the ex-teen grid stay unconnected.

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        1. “All those continental clusters plus Jeogeot, Gaeta VII, Zindra and the ex-teen grid stay unconnected.” + the majority of private estates and regions.

          Which, when you think about it, leads to the Lab’s view (which I don’t necessarily support) that the majority of Second Life isn’t a contiguous whole, and that the map is more a graphical convenience for giving the illusion that it is a contiguous whole, more than it is a useful (and in my opinion) effect tool. After all, it doesn’t really matter where Zindra might be shown on a world map in relation to everything else when the only means of getting to / from it is via teleporting, and it bears no actual geographical references to anything else we see on the map.


    1. And yet you’re active in OpenSim, an environment made up of multiple grids (“experiences”) without any unifying map setting out their geographical relationship to one another…

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      1. Active? not really. Last time I did much in Opensim was last fall. One reason I didn’t like Opensim was its lack of a unifying map.


        1. In which case, I stand corrected. I was under the impression from past comments you were more engaged in OpenSim as a growing consequence of dissatisfaction with SL in general.


          1. Not so much dissatisfaction but looking for a possible replacement for SL if Sansar cannibalized it so much that the lab let it die. Given the lack of information about Sansar at the end of last summer that seemed like a very real possibility. It seems less likely today which is a good thing since in my opinion there is not a good replacement out there.


      2. Actually, regions in OpenSim do occupy XY coordinates in a 2D map and various folk, myself included, have attempted to build partial maps if only to illustrate that grids can occupy the same area of the map, i.e. the maps have a notional third dimension. Grids were frequently regarded as being located in the upper, middle or lower regions of this map and the distance between them was formerly an issue in hypergrid teleporting, i.e. multiple steps were involved in moving between regions in the upper and lower areas. This has largely disappeared as an issue but many grids still maintain local maps.


  2. Yep, no map suxs. As does the LL decision on no last names in SL. Both are clear indicators of a larger community around you in game. And both indicate to me the continuing failure of senior LL management to ‘get’ why SL is still making money after 12+ years. It’s a whole ecosystem, and you have to use it – to ‘get’ it.
    Sansar seems like it will be walled gardens where only creators with a large range of skills, resources, and plenty of time can create sticky, or profitable services. But then, info is limited atm – so I still hope they might get it right.

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    1. I’d actually call Sansar something of a “walled metaverse” in its approach, initially slanted more towards defined market verticals and use-cases.


  3. Not everything in Second Life is connected, we cannot walk everywhere, hence we teleport to places. Even in Second Life you have your niche private sim communities and while there are people in various mainland communities, I think of the Blake Sea for example, the majority of people are on private sims and building their communities they want them to be. Sansar is not any different in this aspect.


  4. First off: I’m an avid lover of the mainland. Why, you may ask. Well, there really is a sense of community on the mainland. Sometimes you see famous people driving down the road, or races taking place on the Linden Roads. I also like to chat with my neighbours, and invite people in when they stroll by my building. While that also may possible in a small community, the diversity will be far smaller. Also, I like to explore. Driving down the Linden Roads, flying over parcels with a blimp or sailing down the waterways of Sansara: between all the abandoned parcels and crappy freebie buildings you find a beautiful made park, a fuel station or an airport. That’s the reward: you found something which is not listed in a feature guide or advertised with arrows. You’ve discovered this yourself!

    Also, some communities are based heavily on the big, connected landmass. For example the aviation community. Sometimes I just pick a random airport on the map and try to fly there from my home airfield. That wouldn’t be possible with a small, single entity owned grid. That’s also a feature that distinguished High Fidelity from Second Life (or Sansar for that matter) for me: While High Fidelity is that 3D WWW what SL always wanted to be, SL is the more cultural, more community based cousin of it. And I really wished Sansara would have also used that approach.

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    1. That actually is possible, but most private aviation sims are gone now. I think of the old Olds AFB sims or the Flying Tiger sims. Even the Blake Sea ocean sims are homestead sims and not just mainland connected sims. Most of the airports out there are on private sims also.


  5. Something I used to enjoy doing was sailing from where I lived and go see friends. Maybe 50 or 60 sims away and look at the nice things along the way. For example I’d leave my house on the coast of the northern continent the sail and sight see my way to a friends house in the southern part of the south continent.

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  6. It’s not about communties and other sumsuch soft feely touchy pseudo reasons but the need for a world map has practical reasons first and foremost. Without a functional navigable worldmap sailing, flying and vehicle use would be impossible. Simple as that! If any of you know sailing in SL you’ll undoubtedly know the many many charts we have available for all the many racecourses and weekly changing LCC cruises. Those often span far above 100 sims, not an easy task to sail without a chart. Without them not even half of our racers and cruisers would be able to find the waypoints and markers and finish lines. Actually, when I’m sailing, flying or motorcycling I always have at least the minimap open and the worldmap open but pushed off screen for quick availability.

    Otoh Sansar doesn’t really need a woldmap since it’s even less a virtual world than SL. If and when anybody comes up with a Sailing Experience or with a Battle of England Aviation RP Experience they can make their own charts I hope.

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  7. This is an apparent paradox of virtuality – while space could be seen as irrelevant, it remains important.

    In virtual worlds we re-embody ourselves – we don’t float around invisibly – we choose to have a form that takes space within a wider worldspace. Virtual worlds are about space.

    Maps are conceptual representations of reality that help us understand where we are relative to other things. There is absolutely no reason to think that is less relevant in conceptualising a virtual world in a virtual body as it is for navigating a solid world in a squidgy body.

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  8. I think that people are forgetting that Sansar is not meant to be like Second Life 100% and also remember that not everyone sails and flies in Second Life (I am not knocking those communities and I both sail and fly), but Sansar is meant more for people to build their own private communities around themes or experiences etc.


    1. No, not forgetting, just not liking the concept of Sansar and that LL plans to to financially dry out SL and eventually replace it for Sansar. And that even tho Sansar is of no use for most of SL’s residents and nothing but some technocrat’s wet dreams. It’s more like LL are forgetting that VW and VR ain’t the same. SL users love the concept of Virtual Worlds but not necessary that of Virtual Reality. Why should I waste money on a fancy sci-fi goggle that makes me seasick when I can use the money to pay tiers and buy kitties?

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      1. Then dont waste the money, its simple…no one is forcing anyone to go to Sansar or any other virtual world for that matter


      2. “LL plans to to financially dry out SL and eventually replace it for Sansar. ”

        Assuming the SL user base is the primary audience LL are looking to for Sansar, which right now doesn’t appear to be the case at all. Rather, the Lab appears to be looking to generate a user base for Sansar which is very separate to, and independent of, Second Life by targeting vertical markets which have a perceived / developing / stated interest in leverage VR and virtual spaces. Verticals which, in many respects, don’t / won’t use Second Life.

        Given this, it’s not unreasonable to assume that rather than “drying out” SL, Sansar may actually develop its own revenue streams entirely independently of Second Life, allowing both to exist without either significantly impinging upon the other. Indeed, if Sansar does turn out ot be as successful as the Lab hopes, and without unduly impinging on the SL user base, who is to say it might not actually help attracts audiences to it from well outside SL, it might not actually eventually help SL, such as by boosting LL’s revenue generation to a point where they feel comfortable in lowering SL tier?

        The point here is that really, there are many ways in which Sansar might play out, good and bad. Some might well put SL at risk by drawing users away from it (although given there are other environments with similar aims to Sansar which are being developed which could have the same impact, regardless of what LL does). But equally, there are ways in which Sansar might develop which have little or no direct impact on SL, or which may even in time benefit SL. So to categorically state one particular route is the one LL is “planning” to take is, I’d respectfully suggest, a little premature at this point in time.


      3. What I take from your post, orcaflotta, is that (a) games companies still don’t quite realise how un-‘gamer’ a good part of gaming market is, and (b) VR is a tech bubble that has yet to reach the point where it ceases to be worth trying for everything and become regarded as something that is useful for some things and not others. That point has yet to come for anyone in the tech field, and no-one wants to be the one left stranded if VR really is the next big thing by ignoring it. But if LL has any sense it will be hedging its bets.

        I’ll be watching the rugby tomorrow: VR is good for watching sport. I’ll probably be on sl at the same time as watching the rugby: can’t do that with VR. These are the shades of decisions that will determine VRs future, not its technical capabilities.


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