Second Life teleporting

How (and if) we might be able to travel freely between virtual worlds is already the source of some

You might not have been aware of it, but the borders came down in the Metaverse last week. Staff at IBM and Linden Labs (makers of Second Life) claim to have made the first successful teleportation of an avatar between two separate virtual worlds using the Open Grid Protocol, a draft standard to make interoperability possible.

Whilst the documentation of the event might seem less than world-shattering, the implications are hugely important. The concept of an open standard across virtuality is a tantalizing one, enabling avatars to pass freely through multiple worlds whist maintaining their persistent individuality.

How (and if) we might be able to travel freely between virtual worlds is already the source of some amusing hypotheses which may now be made real before we anticipated.

The real challenges of course lie not just in technically moving data between worlds, but with import / export legislation, relative exchange rates and virtual immigration policies.

What happened last week was an interesting technology demo, stimulating philosophical flourish and a great first step towards open standards in an area of the internet often overlooked as needing them.

Also, it was good news at a time when Linden really needs some, after a good run of being the virtual world it’s ok to talk about at dinner parties, Second Life is starting to stagnate.

Problems with core stability have continued to plague it, it’s visionary figurehead has moved from his CEO position and it continues to struggle with its biggest challenge - protecting the intellectual property of its residents. As one of the purest manifestations yet of a knowledge economy, it’s essential that they can find ways of preserving these assets. Without residents feeling total confidence that the things they make are enforceably theirs the value of Second Life - economically at least - is eradicated.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.