by Pixeleen Mistral on 18/12/11 at 6:50 pm
But transhumanists rejoice as open source software immortality saves Turing Church Online
The assets of Teleplace are being liquidated after the business-oriented 3D virtual meeting place hit a financial singularity which prevents the venture's continued operation, according to a mailing sent to potential creditors - including the Alphaville Herald's own part time typist/technical advisor Mark McCahill.
Mr. McCahill provided the Herald with copies of the liquidation notification but pointed out that the Teleplace software was recently open sourced as Open QWAQ, so the software will live on indefinitely -- despite the apparent demise of Teleplace, Inc.
While opponents of open source may be dismayed at this development, software immortality is good news for the members of the Turing Church Online. The group had been holding their transhumanist services at a virtual venue hosted by Teleplace, but have now moved to another hosting service running the Open QWAQ software. Is it any wonder Second Life conspiracy theorists fear a transhumanist tropism for open source systems?
Unfortunately, the Teleplace and transhumanist news cut short the Herald staffs' well-earned break from the virtual world news beat. After dusting the cobwebs off our virtual printing press and consulting the staff directory, I was able to arrange a meeting with Mr. McCahill at the fashionable Martinis and Power - an after work club favored by Herald reporters despite having almost nothing in common with Philip Rosedale's new Coffee and Power work club.
Pixeleen Mistral: Hi Mark! Sorry to interrupt your vacation but what's this about Teleplace being shut down?
Mark McCahill: Way back in the day - back when QWAQ was just getting started - I spent a couple days talking with them and they put me in their rolodex. Eventually QWAQ turned into Teleplace, and the rolodex must have made it through the transition. Now it looks like they are notifying everyone who might possibly be a creditor, and so a couple weeks ago, I got this notice. It sure looks like they are selling everything off. Here are the papers - what does it look like to you?
Pixeleen Mistral: Hmmm. Looks like game over. That's a shame. Were you surprised to see Teleplace go into liquidation?
Mark McCahill: Not exactly. I knew something was up when Teleplace open sourced their code after a long run as a proprietary branch of the Open Croquet project.
It breaks down like this. David Smith and Andreas Raab worked on the Open Croquet project. They are some of the best software engineers I have ever seen - so they have really great tech - but its not just about the tech. David and Andreas went on to form QWAQ after funding for Open Cobalt got tight, which happened once Carly Fiorina left HP and Mark Hurd took over and started cost-cutting. At that point Alan Kay's research group was wound down, so David and Andreas needed to find a new home for their work. In the end, the people at the universities kept working on Croquet and David and Andreas formed a startup based on the Croquet code. That was the genesis of QWAQ, and eventually QWAQ changed its name to Teleplace.
But the business-oriented virtual meeting place market is really crowded, so a shakeout was inevitable. Look at what happened to Linden Lab - they took a huge hit and laid off 30% of their staff after Mark Kingdon pursued the business meeting place biz. So when the Teleplace code was open sourced, it seemed to be a sign that a change in direction was coming. It was ironic that the code was released under the GPL, but I imagine it was the best they could do.
Pixeleen Mistral: How was releasing the code under the GPL license ironic?
Mark McCahill: Teleplace is based on Open Croquet, and Open Croquet was released under the MIT license. This means that you could do pretty much anything with derivative works, including take them closed source and proprietary. GPL is different - and viral. GPL says that all derivative works have to remain open source. That is a big turn-off for companies that want to sell proprietary systems. Now, if I'm at a university working on a research project like Croquet, I want the widest possible impact for that research, so I prefer the MIT license. On the other hand, I imagine the only way the Teleplace guys could convince their board to release the code was under GPL, because the board was probably worried someone else might take the code and compete with them - so they wanted to see any changes made to the code. Unfortunately, this fragments the open source development community.
Pixeleen Mistral: How so?
Mark McCahill: We can't add any of the Teleplace code to MIT-licensed projects like Open Croquet or Open Cobalt without those projects getting infected with a GPL license, and we don't want a GPL license. So we have to be very careful to keep Teleplace code out of Open Cobalt. There is a way around this mess, which would be for the rights holders of the Teleplace code to dual-license it.
Pixeleen Mistral: what do you mean by dual license?
Mark McCahill: Make it available under both the MIT and GPL license and allow people to choose the license that suits their needs. I imagine that they will be selling the rights to the Teleplace code as part of the liquidation of assets. I wonder who will end up with the rights? Maybe they will also release it under an MIT license.
Pixeleen Mistral: Where do you see the virtual meeting space for business software going next?
Mark McCahill: Onto mobile devices like the iPad and Android tablets. WebEx works really well on an iPad and I see a ton of tablets going out to corporate salespeople. To get anywhere in the corporate market, a 3D meeting space will need to be better than WebEx or Google+ video hangouts and work on tablets - and also do something WebEx and Google+ doesn't do.
Looking at the way the virtual meeting place market has played out you can see why Linden Lab bailed on marketing Second Life for business meetings. But as you keep reminding me, there is money in the babyfur and My LIttle Pony/Brony markets - and not much competition, so Second Life for fancy dress party socializing still makes sense.
Pixeleen Mistral: Never underestimate the power of cute, at least outside a business context.
Mark McCahill: If anyone would know, it's you Pix.