SpaceNavigator + Second Life: A minireview

Today came the announcement that in a few weeks the free Second Life client (Mac, Linux, PC) will add native support for 3DConnexion’s SpaceNavigator device for navigation and object manipulation. I’ve had a pre-release version of the software to play with for the past couple of days. The improvement of the user experience is on par with how it felt to first use the SpaceNavigator on Google Earth — i.e. it’s a revelation.

That’s good news. All of us who work with Second Life know that the program could well use a more intuitive user experience — the relatively steep learning curve is currently the program’s biggest impediment to becoming a mainstream global client for virtual world-based tasks.

What interesting is that there are in fact three modes for using SpaceNavigator in Second Life, each one useful for a specific task. I’ll call them:

  • “Second Life mode” — You act on the avatar with the device.
  • “Google Earth mode” — You leave your avatar behind and navigate a sim as if it were a close-up view of Google Earth.
  • “SketchUp mode” — when building, you manipulate the object you have selected, much as with a CAD program.

The fact that all these modes make sense at one point or another in your Second Life session points to the extraordinary versatility of the program. The challenge has been to not smother people with Second Life’s complexity. The SpaceNavigator cuts through the clutter by making the most important parts — movement & navigation — completely intuitive. That said, I think that the main people buying a SpaceNavigator for Second Life are going to be the hard core master builders rather than the casual surfer.

Here is a video of the SpaceNavigator being demonstrated in Second Life:

And lest you think that this post is off topic…