Building Software Together in Open Wonderland

March 18, 2013

By Nicole Yankelovich

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Northeast GNU/Linux Fest in Cambridge, MA. The theme of my talk was using Open Wonderland as a collaborative software development environment. I used the Subsnapshots project and the Postcards code-a-thon as two case studies to show people how we use Open Wonderland throughout the software development process. One thing that struck me when I put this presentation together was how many collaboration tools we actually have to support this rather complex and multidisciplinary process.

I published my slides on Slideshare in case others are interested.


Postcards from Wonderland

November 12, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

The Postcards from Wonderland code-a-thon wrapped up this evening. The project isn’t entirely complete, but we now have a working prototype:

Initial Postcard Implementation

The first working version of the Postcards feature.

To create a postcard, the user positions an in-world camera and clicks on the green camera button to take a photo. A window then pops up with the photo (not quite displayed properly yet) and allows the user to type in a name for the Postcard and add a message. The user can then save the Postcard to their computer or export it to a photo sharing site.

The whiteboards on the right side of the image show the rough design for the web app that will be used to export the Postcards to services such as Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and others. The export piece is still a work in progress.

During the two code-a-thon sessions, the group broke up into three teams. Two of the teams worked on coding while the third team worked on design and documentation. The documentation is in the form of a photo essay – really a screenshot essay – of the two code-a-thon sessions.

Creating Facebook photo essay in Wonderland

Creating the Facebook photo essay as a mechanism for documenting the code-a-thon.

If you click on the individual images in the Facebook Postcards album, you will see that each one includes a narrative explaining what the group was doing at that point in the project.

We used a wide range of Wonderland collaboration tools during the two sessions. We began by setting up several different Cardwalls to record “user stories” and track tasks. The design team made heavy use of Whiteboards to sketch out the Postcards UI design. All the teams used the Screen Sharer to collaborate. The design team used it to work on the user interface document in Google Docs and also to create the photo essay on Facebook.  The development teams used it to share terminal and web browser windows. The development teams also used two in-world copies of the NetBeans software development environment, sticky notes, and VNC (a desktop sharing tool). The VNC session is what is visible in the first screenshot above. They used it to show Wonderland running on a remote test server. In this way, the group could use the main community server for collaboration and a separate server to install and test the new Postcard code.

All the code developed for this project is publicly available in a Postcards github repository.

Postcards Part II – New Participants Wanted!

November 7, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

Last month, we held our first ever Open Wonderland code-a-thon, working on a project we called Postcards From Wonderland. The non-technical code-a-thon participants created a screenshot journal of the project in an album on the Open Wonderland Facebook page. Be sure to click on the images to read the narrative. This Sunday, we will be continuing this project, brainstorming and implementing ways to publish the postcards to social media sites. This event is being managed via Eventbrite. If you would like to attend, please sign up here:

Sign up for the
Second Open Wonderland Code-A-Thon

Sunday, November 11th
1-9pm US Eastern time
See time in your timezone

It is not necessary to have participated last time to join this Sunday. This event is an excellent, free learning opportunity for both developers and non-developers. Developers can learn about Open Wonderland programming from more experienced developers, and non-technical attendees will have an opportunity to experience a variety of Open Wonderland’s collaboration tools in action.

First Postcards From Wonderland Code-a-thon

Participants in the first Postcards From Wonderland code-a-thon used multiple collaboration tools including a shared copy of NetBeans, a card wall, sticky notes, and a VNC session to watch code testing on another Wonderland server.

First Open Wonderland Code-A-Thon

October 9, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

This is a call for participation for our first ever Open Wonderland code-a-thon. This event is being managed via Eventbrite:

Sign up for the
First Open Wonderland Code-A-Thon

Sunday, October 14th
1-9pm US Eastern time
See time in your timezone

During the code-a-thon, participants will divide up into a set of cooperating teams to design and build a new Open Wonderland feature. The theme for this first code-a-thon is Postcards From Wonderland.

Physical "postcards from Wonderland"
Design of original physical postcards from Wonderland

Postcards From Wonderland

If you review the notes from the October 3rd code-a-thon planning meeting, you will see that we established a set of goals for the code-a-thons and discussed desirable attributes of code-a-thon projects. In that meeting, after brainstorming a list of possible project ideas, we selected the Postcards From Wonderland theme because it met the criteria of being a small, but fun project that we felt was doable in the code-a-thon timeframe. When complete, it will also demonstrate a number of important aspects of the Wonderland environment, including the ease of building a small new feature and the flexibility that the development environment offers in terms of integrating with external web services. In this case, the integration is all “outbound” integration. That is, taking data from within a Wonderland world and pushing it out to other services.

The idea for the project dates back almost to the time the Wonderland project was launched at Sun Microsystems in 2007. For one of our early public demos, we created the set of physical postcards shown above to hand out to visitors. We gave these to people along with postcard stamps so they could write the cards and send them to friends via postal mail telling them about the cool new virtual environment.

Inspired by this concept, the project theme for the first code-a-thon is to design and implement a feature that allows people visiting any in-world location to automatically generate a postcard from the scene they are looking at, add some text, and send the card. Depending on how many teams we have, we will tackle ways to send cards via email or to post them on web sites that have programmatic access (eg, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Instagram, etc.).

Call for Participation

Given the nature of the 3D environment, Open Wonderland code-a-thons are not just for hackers. Of course, software developers are crucial to the endeavor, but for the event to be a success, we will also need people with a range of other skills. We need people to help design the user interface for the new project. We need 3D artists and world builders to create an interesting 3D world to show off the new project. We need writers to create documentation, write blog posts, and update social media feeds. And we need people to help with logistics, system administration tasks, and web research.

We understand that people are in different timezones and probably have family commitments on the weekend, so it is not necessary to attend the entire event. We do request, however, that if you sign up, you will commit to a minimum of two hours of time helping out during the course of the event. Also, to the extent possible, we would like everyone to attend for the first half an hour. That will be the time when we do an overview of the project and divide up into teams.

No prior Open Wonderland experience is necessary to participate. These code-a-thons are an excellent way to get started with Open Wonderland development and world building. They are also an opportunity to see how we use the environment ourselves to organize group work and to collaborate.

Follow the link above to register for the event. It’s free!

Fall Meeting Schedule, etc.

September 18, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

As many of you know, we held a series of Open Wonderland meetings recently to discuss the future of community meetings along with a number of other topics.

September 5, 2012 Community Meeting
September 5, 2012 Community Meeting

Fall Meeting and “Code-a-thon” Schedule

The major new idea we discussed was holding longer weekend “code-a-thons” approximately once a month rather than weekly one-hour coding sessions. A code-a-thon is where developers come together and work on a project from start to finish in one day.

Instead of coding during the weekly meetings, we talked about cycling through a number of other types of meetings. First, we’ll move the monthly release meetings into a regular meeting time slot. The other weekly meeting slots will include planning for the code-a-thon sessions, hosting community showcase events, and having discussions on topics of interest to the community. The showcase events will involve a person or team providing a presentation and / or a tour of their Open Wonderland virtual world. The discussion topics will primarily be non-technical, but we may occasionally include developer-oriented content.

Open Wonderland Fall Schedule

All Wednesday meetings start at 1pm US Eastern time and run for 1 hour and all Sunday code-a-thons start at 1pm US Eastern and run for 5-7 hours.

Wed Sep 19 Monthly Release Meeting
Wed Sep 26 Discussion: Business Case for OWL
Wed Oct 03 Code-a-thon Planning Meeting
Wed Oct 10 Showcase: Ryan’s Builder Project
Sun Oct 14 Code-a-thon

Wed Oct 24 Monthly Release meeting
Wed Oct 31 Discussion: Wishlist for Data Collection
Wed Nov 07 Code-a-thon Planning Meeting
Sun Nov 11 Code-a-thon

Wed Nov 28 Monthly Release Meeting
Wed Dec 05 Showcase: STCC ESL World
Wed Dec 12 Code-a-thon Planning Meeting
Sun Dec 16 Code-a-thon

Holiday Break

Everyone in the community is encouraged to submit discussion topic ideas and volunteer to showcase their project.

The Open Wonderland Meeting Calendar is now available as a public Google Calendar with the calendar ID:

You can add it to an iCal application using this URL:

Webcasting and Recording Meetings

Over the past year we have gotten quite a few requests to webcast and record meetings. After brainstorming about this topic, someone suggested we try Livestream. Since this costs $45 a month, I decided to experiment with the free version of UStream first. We now have a UStream Open Wonderland Community Meeting channel. It has a few drawbacks, but I would like to try it for a few meetings and see how we like it. The drawbacks include advertisements and what may be an inability to capture both microphone and computer audio. I don’t think either of these are show stoppers. We can capture in-world audio, so someone will have to set up the capture computer as a “camera,” but do any talking on another computer.


An additional topic we covered was listing priorities. Different people had different opinions about importance, but most people agreed that these items were significant areas to focus on:

  • Avatar improvements or a whole new avatar system
  • Audio improvements
  • Updating OWL graphics
  • Addressing firewall issues and tunneling
  • Creating additional developer APIs to make development easier
  • Improving stability

Recruiting New Developers and Other Community Members

Another topic we discussed was how to grow the community in terms of both developers and non-technical community members. For the more technical people, we discussed coming up with a preliminary code-a-thon project that was glitzy enough to make a demo video and post it on developer sites to inspire interest in Open Wonderland. We also talked about putting time estimates in the issue tracker so that new developers could find small projects to volunteer to tackle.

For both technical and non-technical people, we should do a better job of publicizing our meetings in places like Hacker News, the agile software development community, and LinkedIn groups related to virtual worlds, distance education, serious gaming, collaboration, or software development. In addition, we should get people already in the OWL community to publicize the event to their local colleagues as well as to their social networks. For that purpose, it would be great to have a PDF flyer that people could either email to friends or print out and post on a physical bulletin board.

To attract more students, it would be helpful to update our student project list and then send the list to as many Computer Science departments as possible.

For a general audience, we talked about launching a “Do it in Wonderland” campaign.

All of these publicity ideas require some additional volunteer help. We’re hoping to get a work/study student volunteer from St. Paul College to help out during the semester, but it would be great if community members would volunteer to take the lead on some of these publicity items.

Open Wonderland 2nd Anniversary

March 31, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

This month marks the 2nd anniversary of Open Wonderland. In the release meeting last week, the group brainstormed about some of the past year’s highlights.

Wonderland Wednesday Projects

Wonderland Wednesdays continue to be a great way for developers to both learn more about Wonderland development and contribute to the community. They are also an excellent testing ground for new features and bug fixes. In the past year, we have completed one Wonderland Wednesday project, EZMove, and are close to finishing the more recent Telepointer project.

Telepointers: All evidence points to Jagwire
Telepointers: All evidence points to Jagwire

New Monthly Release Cycle

Starting in January 2012, we put into a place a monthly release mechanism. The main goal was to ensure that when people download the Wonderland binary, they are running a recent stable version. With the previous system, someone could download a binary that was almost a half a year out of date, which was causing support issues.

The new system has had a number of unexpected positive consequences. We are now holding monthly release meetings to review which new features and bug fixes should be included in the release. In addition to being another venue for developers to meet and discuss issues, these meetings have provided us with a framework for reviewing bugs and feature enhancement requests (RFEs). During the meetings, we can also enlist volunteers to tackle problems or work on RFEs.  Developers are pushing to get code finished in order to have their code included in the next release. We never expected changing the release cycle would have an impact on progress, but it’s turning out that bugs are now getting fixed at a faster pace with more people participating in the process.

Immersive Education Participation

It has been particularly gratifying to see the number of Wonderland projects being presented at the Immersive Education (iED) conferences.  Community participation in my remote keynote “show-and-tell” session at the most recent European Immersive Education was amazing. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the video, or read the blog post about the event.

Community members participating in the Euopean iED conference

Community members participating in the European iED conference

Although I’ll be attending in person, I have signed up to do another similar session at the upcoming Immersive Education Summit in Boston June 14-16. Please contact me if you cannot attend the summit in person, but would like to show off your Wonderland world or Wonderland feature in the Boston show-and-tell session.

Start-up Activity

This year there has also been some activity on the business front. The WonderHealth team from Vmersion is looking for funding from the Knight Foundation to create a social networking environment for people with common  health concerns. The new environment will allow participants to hear from doctors, share experiences with one another, and discuss educational media together.

Also in the healthcare space, WonderBuilders has entered their new VMed Learning Spaces product offering into the MassChallenge start-up competition. VMed Learning Spaces are a collection of simulated clinical settings such as a doctor’s office, an intensive care unit, an emergency room, a maternity ward, etc. that medical, nursing, and other allied health students can use to practice critical skills.

VMed Learning Space by WonderBuilders

Example VMed Learning Space by WonderBuilders

Please cast your vote for both these projects on their respective competition web sites to help them gain momentum.

Press Coverage

In the past year, Hypergrid Business and other news outlets have picked up quite a few stories originally posted on WonderBlog. A search for Open Wonderland on Hypergrid Business reveals stories published about Wonderland’s use in Africa, in the +Spaces debating project, in the Singapore Games Village project, in an English as a Second Language project, and in the Virtual Cockpit. You will also find reports on new Wonderland features such as drag-and-drop of Microsoft Office documents, exporting of objects, and streaming a Wonderland world to a tablet.

Hypergrid Business Search Results Page

Hypergrid Business Search Results Page

Final Thoughts

We are looking forward to another year of community projects, collaborations, and interesting activity around Open Wonderland. If you have a Wonderland project you would like to highlight on the blog, simply email a few paragraphs and a screenshot or video to me or to and someone will work with you to edit the article and publish it as a guest post.

Last year on the Open Wonderland anniversary we ran a series of educational workshops to commemorate the event. We’re in discussion about how to commemorate it this year, so please keep your eye out for a discussion the forum on this topic.

Telepointer Project Starting

January 10, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

Happy New Year! Just a quick reminder that the new Wonderland Wednesday telepointer project is starting this Wednesday. The details are here:

Wonderland Wednesday: Improving Telepointers

During the break, we made some good progress thinking through the performance issues with Sticky Notes and other apps. This work will continue in the background, with various community members volunteering to take on small investigations each week and reporting back their results at the end of each Telepointer session.

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