Yes! You've hit the nail on the head. The Second Life system is designed to support their business model, rather than being a open, interesting architechture that will promote progress in the model of the web. I've also been telling people that online 3D is still in the "Compuserve and Prodigy" phase of development for a while now. A real open source system, and a real open architechture that in flexible and encourages innovation is what we're looking for.
In that vein, I've actually been working on just such a project for about seven years now as a hobby open source effort, and have built several end-to-end prototypes of such 3D systems, learning a lot each time about how to do it right and scale up to the real size of the problem. I think there's a real zeitgeist that "we need an open source Second Life" triggered by, ironically, the massive hype train put out by Linden Labs.
We call it the Interreality Project, and the software is the Virtual Object System (VOS): http://interreality.org
I'm in the early phases of looking into possible funding to develop this as a full time open source effort, if anyone knows anything about this I'd love to hear from you!
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