Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ten Years of Second Life

I signed up for Second Life about a year ago. Back then, my life was so great that I literally wanted a second one. Absolutely everything was the same except I could fly.

Dwight Schrute 

                Ten years!  Yes, that’s how long we’ve now had Second Life (SL) to leave our first lives behind in Real Life (RL) and go online to explore, make new friends, and get into all the mayhem we’d never dare to as humans.  (Or, at least some of us do.)  The anniversary celebrations will take place at SL10B inworld.  This year’s theme is Second Life – Looking Forward, Looking Back. 
           At 12:00PM SLT on June 14th, SL10B opened for Press Day whereby SL bloggers and journalists got to see the exhibits.  Daniel Voyager has been doing a great job of reporting the run up to the grand opening and I’m sure will do a great job of describing events and builds. 
          (For those who may be worried about why I wasn’t there, RL does occasionally get in the way of my going inworld.  Also, I do tend towards edgier fare in SL.  I will visit the exhibition area and don’t worry, for those of you who’ve read some of my recent stories, I’ll wear clothes!)
          But, now, I want to do a little retrospective about SL.  Ten years is a long time for a technology.  Some might say it’s several lifetimes.  Let’s look back on the original promise of SL and see if it was fulfilled.  And, if it wasn’t then how long does a promise have? 
           For those just joining, I’m an explorer and writer in SL and this is my blog.
          I’ve been inworld blogging about my wanderings for just over two years.  I was late to the party.  I’ve had a great time and look forward to another ten years on the Grid.  (BTW, if you’d like a very good account of the start-up and early days of SL, read Wagner James Au’s The Making of Second Life.)
          In my humble opinion, there are three phases in SL’s long history.  (In case you haven’t noticed yet, I tend towards a lot of sarcasm.) 
          The first phase was the Golden Age.  That pristine, early, primordial time when everyone thought a brave, new world had been discovered.  We would all have virtual lives.  We would wear virtual clothes from virtual Gap stores. Virtual Toyotas would take us where we wanted to go.  We would live in virtual homes in virtual neighborhoods with our virtual friends.  The capstone of all this was that famous cover on Businessweek.  Remember that?
          Well, the Gap stores and Toyota have been closed for quite some time.  Then there was what Linden Lab thought we’d all be doing inworld with our virtual lives.  As a good friend of mine recently said, “They thought we’d all be going to pottery classes instead we’re making out like rabbits!”  More about that later. 
          So what happened to end the Golden Age and brought on the second phase?
          Well, there was the Great Recession, that little economic upset which nearly reduced all of us to a barter system while being homeless.  (Unless of course, you happened to one of the 1% but I won’t go there.)  I showed up shortly after this.  (Yes, I know, I have a bad habit of showing up right about the time the punch bowl is taken away.)  I found many abandoned sims.  There were all the empty sims that I’d rezz into and felt like I was on a tour of virtual ghost towns.  Elsewhere in the Metaverse, I found blogs and websites which apparently stopped in 2008 or thereabouts.  I felt like I was aboard the Mary Celeste after her crew had gone walkabout.   
          While all this was occurring, the RL technology was changing around SL.  When the first glimmers of this new virtual world occurred, most folks used desktops with broadband and physical cabling to connect to the Metaverse.  Email was the killer app.  Folks were just beginning to step away from AOL and Compuserve.  (Anyone remember that last one?) 
          Along the way, mobility came along in the form of smart phones and tablets.  Those desktops with cables are now laptops with wireless.  The communities reformed in Facebook and Twitter among other social media apps.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, SL started to get a little long in the tooth.  Some of the fun and exciting things that used to go on there, if somewhat quasi-legal, like gambling and financial services, became forbidden activities.  Oh, and did I mention that the Grid received a reputation, which I’m still trying to determine whether deservedly or not, as a hotbed of uninhibited sexual license. 
          So where does this leave SL as it enters its third phase?
          I’m not sure.  I’ve blogged about this before and the jury is still out for me.  Even Wagner James Au seems to be rethinking his original position about SL.  Some feel that social media like Facebook will crowd out virtual worlds.  There is a school of thought that virtual worlds will ultimately become a regular part of our virtual existence.  New technologies such as Oculus Rift and the eventual migration to mobile platforms would help this to occur.  I agree with these assertions but I also believe that a viable, self-sustaining economy is crucial as well. People not only need a reason to come but a reason to stay and keep coming back.  Economic self-interest will do it every time.  (Apologies to my Marxist friends.) 
          Ten years with an aging technology and potentially a declining user base (Yes, many people keep signing up but how many return on a regular basis?) leaves one to wonder what might happen.  I always like to look at questions like this in terms of people, process, and technology.  (OK, I used to be a consultant it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.) 
 In my travels, I’ve encountered various types of people.  Serious roleplayers, fashionistas, BDSM afficianados, nudists, naturists, (if I don’t make the distinction, I’ll get angry emails) tekkies, artists, and people who just want to hang out with friends and have a good time populate the Grid. 
          As for processes, there’s not much to talk about inworld.  Customer service has been a perennial complaint among residents.  Unscheduled maintenance is another favorite gripe.  Longtime residents bemoan the loss of the Lindens who used to hang out with residents, helping them, and answering their questions.  The fact that Linden Lab (LL) no longer sponsors the annual anniversary celebrations is a telling sign. 
          Then there’s technology.  I’ve touched on this already but I’ll make a few additional comments.  Lately, complaints about system crashes seem fewer.  Yes, mesh has arrived and seems to be a disruptive technology for those who based their SL work and businesses on the older technologies.  I still worry about the aging platform that underlies SL.  Those who have spent their careers in IT understand the risk of staying on outdated technologies too long.  (Although, some consultants have made a good living out of helping clients catch up!) 
 Coming to the end of my cerebral meanderings, I have to ask whether SL get another ten years. 
           Not if things stay the way they are.  RL investments have to be made but before that happens, SL needs to have a reason to draw residents back in.  Or, maybe SL will just be another ghost town in the development of cyber civilization much like Ur and Babylon were in the development of RL civilization. 
          The promise has yet to be fulfilled.  (But I hope it will.  There’s a lot of wonderful people in SL.) 
          Looking forward to seeing you at SL10B! 
 As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 
I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here. 


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