Wednesday, November 30, 2005 

Solipsis; the arrival of something new

Down in Miami Beach today (Wednesday 30th Nov. 2005) on a street corner, in front of the Bass Museum on 2121 Park Avenue (between 21st and 22nd Streets), there is a 'happening' taking place.

Its called “The Digital Street Corner.” Its ‘Performance Art’ meets the ‘Virtual World’. Why is this interesting? Because, although the technology is young and somewhat beta-ish, it is quite likely an indicator of a major new trend.

It is Solipsis, an open source project designed to enable an infinitely scalable global network. It does not use DNS, It does not use servers. It is in fact a fully decentralized P2P network, or what is known as ‘Pure P2P’. They call it a ‘Metaverse’ or ‘virtual public territory.’ Relying on its own protocols, Solipsis can potentially be inhabited by an unlimited number of participants, and, take note blogosphere… this network also enables personal blogging! (although currently fairly rudimentary)

The concept of a Metaverse is not so new, it’s a term that was coined in Neal Stephenson’s groundbreaking novel "Snow Crash" and is not dissimilar to the central idea in the Wachowski brother’s Matrix trilogy. Projects like San Francisco based Linden Lab’s ‘Second Life’ and ‘There’ which was spun-off from San Mateo CF based Forterra Systems, fall into the ‘Metaverse’ category. What makes Silopsis different is, not only that it is totally 'communications' orientated, but that it was sponsored and funded by a telecommunications company, France Telecom; and that single fact makes this project quite fascinating.

The name Solipsis, is taken from the word ‘solipsism’ which means: “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist” (hmmm… deep!) This is a not too oblique pointer to the open-source politics behind the venture. Its about empowering the individual, and getting right down to the granular end-user level, and on the Internet you can’t really go down much further than that.

Designed by Joaquin Keller and Gwendal Simon at France Télécom Research and Development Labs, Silopsis has been billed as a “free and open source system for a massively multi-participant shared virtual world.” Quoting directly from the France telecom web site:

“Solipsis is a public virtual territory. The world is initially empty and only users will fill it by creating and running entities. No pre-existing cities, habitants nor scenario to respect... Solipsis is open-source, so everybody can enhance the protocols and the algorithms. Moreover, the system architecture clearly separates the different tasks, so that peer-to-peer hackers as well as multimedia geeks can find a good place to have fun here!”

“The Solipsis program is designed in various layers. Each user first runs a program that connects him or her to the virtual world. This initial program also gives him or her a position in the virtual world. A second program or navigator then lets the user move around and interact with neighbours, since communication is the reason for which the Solipsis system was created. The navigator allows the 2D graphic representation of the user's avatar, neighbourhood and neighbouring avatars.”

“It also contains a chat room interface for communicating with them, and a favourites system to mark favourite places. It can also warn the user when he or she moves close to a peer with the characteristics he or she is looking for.”

Note: BTW, don’t expect the Ritz… I don’t think it traverses firewalls too well. I have been using it for a couple of weeks and have yet to work out how to find another human being on the network, virtual or not. However, it did make me quite excited; because I know what it represents.

Instructions go to:

Happening starts: EST, GMT-5, Miami Beach: 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM November 30th, 2005

“The Digital Street Corner” go to:

Main Solipsis page: