Intellectual Property

Douglas Crockford

April 2, 2001


The story of is actually the story of five companies, each with its own distinct intellectual property.

Electric Communities

Electric Communities was formed to develop a secure, distributed platform for online socialization and commerce. The first demonstration of this was Microcosm (aka EC Habitat). Microcosm was a 3D virtual world, in which people could meet, talk (by typing or speaking), and exchange objects.

It was a peer-to-peer architecture. Every machine (or agency) connected to Microcosm was both a client and a server. A user's machine was the server for that user's objects.

It was mostly written in E, an extended version of Java, which provided automatic connection management, immediate message sending, and capability security. Another language, Pluribus (an extended version of E), was used to implement the Unum model (distributed objects).

Four patents were issued for this system. The Trust Management invention was used in an early version, but was replaced by a containment model because of performance problems. The other 3 inventions are used in Microcosm.

The system ran well in its alpha test, giving a pleasing social/visual experience. Unfortunately, it only ran well on very high end machines, and so was not commercially viable at the time. Microcosm was mothballed in May 1998. It has not been built or run since then.

A scripting language, EZ, was also developed with the project. It had the communication and security properties of E, but was much lighter. EZ was open-sourced under the Mozilla license. This allows anyone to have free access to the source code of the EZ language and the E Run Time Library. Electric Communities has rights to the improvements that others make. The ERights Organization is doing development.

Electric Communities acquired The Palace and OnLive Technologies and changed its name to

The Palace

The Palace is a visual chat system that was developed at Time/Warner by Jim Bumgardner. It was spun off as The Palace, Inc.

A Palace server presented a set of rooms, each room having a background image. People would appear in the rooms as little images (or avatars) and chat with each other through text balloons. Palace server software was inexpensive or free, so there are hundreds of independent servers in operation. Users use a client program (written in C) to access those servers. There were two client programs written in Java: Instant Palace and The Palace Viewer. These were not very popular.

The Palace was never commercially successful, but is still in operation, due to its very decentralized nature. Palacetools acts as the focal point for The Palace Community. There are no Palace patents.

The codebase was parked in 2000.


EnterTV developed a 3D virtual world called Traveler. People were represented in this world by disembodied talking heads. The most distinctive feature of the system was its use of audio. When users spoke into their microphones, the lips on their avatars would move. The volume of someone's voice would depend on their distance from you. It has been described as a digital cocktail party.

A non-visual version, called Talker, was developed for voice conferencing applications.

Traveler and Talker were never commercially successful. Traveler has a small but loyal user community.

Traveler and Talker were open-sourced under the Mozilla license. This allows anyone to have free access to the source code. has rights to the improvements that others make. Digital Space is doing development and is the focal point of this community. There are no Traveler patents.

EnterTV changed its name to OnLive Technologies.

OnLive Technologies

OnLive developed an audio digital conferencing server called the ACS/300. It could support hundreds of people speaking together in a set of dynamic conferences over the Internet or through telephone bridges. It relied as much as possible on standard protocols, such as H.323 and T.120. It was written completely in Java.

Its most distinctive feature is that the server does no signal processing. It is simply a message router. This keeps the cost of the server hardware low and reduces latency. It can send two channels of audio to each listener. This allows two people to talk at once, to interrupt. ACS/300 was not successfully marketed. There are no ASC/300 patents. began a successor effort, ACS/400. Some of the contractors on that unfinished project started a company called Lipstream. The management of believed that Lipstream was founded with stolen technology. The case is now in arbitration.

The ASC/300 depends on third-party codecs and protocol stacks. The licenses have all expired, and some cannot be renewed. developed the Passport system. An early version of this system is in commercial operation at AOL-Time/Warner's Cartoon Network. Licenses were also sold to LivePlanet and 3DO. Passport is a lightweight system that provides interactive, multi-user services in webpages.

Passport is in a semifinished state: It works well, but is difficult to deploy without specialize knowledge. All three of the above customers have contracts with former employees for support and training.

Passport is made up of these components:

Room Server. This is the host for multi-user sessions.

Room Director. This manages the assignment of users and rooms to room servers. This allows for the operation of many room servers and does load-balancing across them.

Client. This is a browser plugin. It allows a webpage to make connections to a Room Server. It can also load accessory modules, extending the set of capabilities available to a webpage.

JavaScript Library. A JavaScript library allows a webpage to interact with the Client program. It implements a distributed object model and provides a portable presentation model for chat and avatar interaction.

There are no Passport patents.

There is a Passport Trademark.