For those wondering generally what I’ve been up to, I said in earlier transition announcements from CEO to Chairman that I wanted to get back into engineering and the design of Second Life in a more hands-on way. So I am now working with two other great engineers as one of Linden Lab’s technical teams. In early December we decided that a good first project to work together on would be improving the performance and experience of using the web-based SL map, and also changing the architecture to be able to handle a much larger number of sims/servers. And, I have to say I’m having a great time getting back into development.
Hopefully, the general direction we are going with the map can help to make place and proximity more meaningful in SL. It should be fun to explore the map: to look at what is near your home, to drill down for more detail, to randomly surf around and jump to places that look interesting from the air. We always felt that this would be a big part of the appeal of SL, but the practical challenge of rendering things far away combined with the weaknesses of the existing web and in-world maps have made this more an aspiration than a reality.
More specifically, we’ve just released some improvements to the SL web-based map (http://www.slurl.com) that should be immediately noticeable. First, the map should load faster and be smoother when you use it. Secondly, you can now single-click on any location on the map and teleport directly there. The map is also accurately updated much more rapidly then the former map – so changes to the Second Life Grid or content should now be visible within about 2 days. Finally, the map images themselves look smoother and are more accurate when compared to the actual in-world content, and you can now zoom out and see how big SL has really become!
We’re not done with this project! We also intend to update the SL viewer to read its map tiles in the same way as the web map, meaning that you will be able to zoom and move around on the in-world map in a manner similar to the webmap, with much better performance than before. Look for a viewer release candidate next with those changes.
For SL developers, and the more technically interested: We are now serving map tiles directly from Amazon S3, and have changed the file naming convention to hopefully make it much easier to develop other 3rd party maps based on the tiles we are generating. More documentation on using the webmap API is available on our wiki. The map generation process is much more scalable than before, and is able to image the entire SL grid of about 30K regions in less than 2 days with just 4 dedicated machines. In general, the architecture approach of generating tiled images on sims into a public repository like S3 seems like the right approach for both performance and openness – it anticipates the ability for individual sim owners/operators in the future to create their own maps (or not make them at all!) and upload them to a common shared filespace on which multiple mapping systems can then depend.
Note: If you have built a map that depends on the old mapping API, we will leave the old tiles accessible for another few weeks, but will not be updating them in the future. You will need to switch to reading tiles directly from S3. We will post more information about this changeover on the wiki.
Also, here is a link to the forum for more discussion or any questions.