Second Life is Dead

sldead

People view Second Life in a lot of different ways. Its function can be defined differently for every one of its residents. For some, the early web 2.0 startup is nothing more than an advanced video game, offering an open platform of endless entertainment. For others, it is a communication tool to bridge physical gaps in a semi-physical way. There are those that use it as a marketing tool as they do every other social networking application, from Twitter to Facebook. Many, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies and prolific international corporations, have attempted to exploit the virtual world as a commerce tool, ranging from small, fully in-world businesses to real-world entities translated into digital form. Perhaps one of the biggest things the spawn of Linden Labs has going for it is that its platform can encourage and support this sort of variety. It was created with the intent of individual evolution, and was designed to support every possible ambition.

This flexibility is also its problem. After six years in the business, as hundreds of other social networking sites and virtual worlds have been developed, thrived, failed, and molded, Second Life has yet to delineate its presence in the Web 2.0 and virtual world markets. Second Life still doesn’t seem to know what it’s for.

Your world. Your imagination.

That’s the slogan of Second Life, where every primitive shape of its being is designed and created by the users. Linden Lab provides the servers, the bandwidth, and the bare land to those willing to pay rather copious sums for its “ownership.” The people do the rest. As directors of this open world, Linden attempts to cater to groups and provide more tools to encourage growth. But the management and development goals of the world never seem to make much sense.

Linden Lab is always attempting to appeal to particular business and social areas to draw attention and more to the program. A few years ago it was big business, as NBC, Dell, IBM, Reuters and tons of other multinational companies set up shop in-world, then wondered what to do next. They’ve inspired colleges to start virtual world educational facilities, which have never quite caught on. Now, they are aiming their sights at conferences and trade shows, attempting to develop a presence in the teleconferencing niche.

Parallel to this movement is the launch of AvaLine, a new Linden feature where “Residents can receive calls from anywhere in the world, while inworld” (https:/s.secondlife.com/community/features/2009/08/19/bye-bye-beta-avaline-dial-an-avatar-is-now-available-to-all-avatars) This allows people to have phone calls without switching apps, provides discrete contacts and reduces telephony charges. Of course, it has a fee, of around $6/month or $5/month if a year is paid in full up front. AvalLine is a nearly obvious side-by-side feature for launching a campaign to bring in conferences and trade shows. But does it matter?

A few years back, Linden Labs rolled out Voice chat. This was something people wanted, but it was misplaced, and unveiled at a time where the SL grid was riddled with near constant problems. Second Life’s infrastructure relies on a series of servers that are all connected. Avatars are connected, in-world locations are connected, and inventories are connected. When a problem hits one area of the grid, it can often cause problems globally. This was true then, when residents were in a fury that Linden was wasting time with voice chat and not visibly putting enough effort into solving common everyday problems, and it is still true today.

Innovation, and the motto of “Your World. Your Imagination” can only go so far if you can’t get into the world.

avaline

Features like voice chat and AvaLine, and other now somewhat ignored relics like WindLight seem to be Linden’s attempts at taking Second Life one step further, but falling short on the execution. Nothing has been properly monetized. Nothing has allowed the company or the users to recreate the way they experience the world, or use the web. It’s as if Second Life is a platform that hasn’t figured out what should be resting on top of it. There is potential there. Linden Labs knows it. The users know it. But so far, few things have shown that anyone really understands how to make it come to fruition. They throw out random tools, play to targeted audiences, the users do their thing, and it’s unclear where it’s taking us.

Linden Labs seems to rely too heavily on the users cultivating the world for them, and every now and then they throw a few tools their way to possibly inspire someone’s ingenuity. “It’s your imagination, so you do it. We’re just a platform.” As someone who has been in Second Life for years, and used the world to generate thousands of dollars of monthly income during 2007 through a number of various entrepreneurial efforts, I never got much of an impression that Linden Labs was well-guided with their customer focus or their development goals. Obviously, maintaining a user-created real-time world of such an epic scale is a bandwidth nightmare, and problems are going to occur. But the freedom they extend to their residents would often be the same variable they would use against them when catastrophes came up. Two years ago, ad farms, spammers, griefers plagued the world and much of the terrain and atmosphere, particularly on Linden’s “mainland,” was becoming purely awful. The aesthetics were ruined, and assault was on the rise. Linden took action by banning ad farms, reclaiming tons of abandoned and unused properties, and sought to make things better. This appeared to be in the best interest of the users, as it would improve the experience and free up a lot of what was clogging Linden’s dated mainland servers. However, the impression much of the community received was that Linden blamed them for the fact the problem started in the first place. It was the residents’ fault things got that way, not the fault of a poorly managed real estate system where absolutely nothing was regulated or managed on Linden’s own hardware. Your World. Your Imagination. Your Fault.

That is not to say nothing has improved over the years. The concept of Second Life is utter brilliance, and it has triggered the invention of a whole mess of virtual worlds and social platforms, one of which is destined to fulfill the ambition they’ve all set out to design. I entered the world in 2006, and was within the first million registered avatars – a milestone they crossed a few weeks later on October 18, 2006. This number was quickly passed again and again, and now the active user base is around 1 million per month. Back then, much of the world was choppy, slow, and there weren’t nearly as many tools and gadgets to enhance the experience. Flexi prims didn’t even exist yet. So, given the population and object growth of the world over the past three years, the fact that visual and developmental progression continues to improve the avatar-world-avatar interactions is quite an awesome feat. The interface is unarguably miles beyond where it started.

Many critics will tell you the reason Second Life is a poor platform for trade shows and conferences, and business in general for that matter, is the unreliability that still exists. Despite constant improvements and community requests, things like failing teleports, crappy search features and inventory problems have been around for years. That makes it a tough platform for big events. That, and the griefers that want to fly around and cause trouble, the price of ownership in-world, and the difficulty of using the world for the average Joe. Imagine teleporting into the world and the teleport fails and you get stuck somewhere, or your avatar ends up naked, or you’re attacked by a dozen nutty people throwing huge pink penises at you. Imagine you are some important business suit having those issues, your first visit to SL. Then imagine you’re having that happen, are a fancy business type, and aren’t totally computer savvy. Your computer is more than a month old, so it’s having a little trouble even running the software at a decent pace. You wouldn’t know how to overcome the problem. You wouldn’t know what was going on. You’d probably end up with a pretty jaded opinion of the company or organization you were there to meet, by no fault of theirs. The platform would punish you. It’s a fact that Second Life has quite a learning curve, especially for those who aren’t as super savvy with these things. The number of operations is massive. There is literally so much to do that it turns you away, because you’re a fancy business person and quite frankly don’t have that much time. Some people have trouble working iChat. Attending a virtual conference in Second Life and conquering its frequent issues would be like asking them to operate the Echelon satellite. Flat out, it’s too much for a lot of people, and this is proven by its repeated failures as a corporate partnership medium.

On the other hand, imagine it working smoothly. Imagine what you could do that you can’t do over Skype or a video conference call. You can greet potential employees or clients, hold structured HR events, discuss privately via text or voice, and get a lot of crossover between the real and digital worlds. With sponsorship and promotion, great exposure potential is there. Virtual products could be given out, videos played for all to watch… though this all hinders on the promoter having a strong grasp of SL, and the attendees knowing how to navigate. They have to make sure all their equipment works, all the attendees will have the right viewer version, the grid won’t haggle you, and everything else. Money will be important, too, as the event will have to be held on a safe location. The only real way to ensure that is to buy your own sim and eat a lot of cash, otherwise you risk vagabonds ruining your fancy event, or having a bondage store crop up behind the speaker’s podium.

Many residents are happy to deal with the problems SL has. Many residents don’t care that most of Linden’s IT solutions and development plans fail. They’re there to have a good time and hang out, meet new people and escape reality with a gamer’s mentality. But others are tired of the constant lack of service. Nearly everyone I used to associate with in 2006-2008 (who, admittedly, were a group of real die-hard 24 hours per day SL residents that revolved their real lives around their avatar’s) have left the world. They fear it is a world shifting its focus to profit more and more each day.

There is nothing wrong with those who are there for fun. It’s a fun world, especially at the right places and with the right people. It is easy to develop an insatiable desire to create, and looking at other users’ creations make Second Life an intense boulevard to drive for inspiration. I’m not particularly skeptical of Linden Lab’s means of making money. They’re a well-funded organization that has been backed by some real big supporters. I’m just wondering when the real good stuff is going to kick in. I’m wondering when the world will reach that next level, and if their movement can continue to support them. It seems to be dying, if it isn’t too late already, in which case death has come. I hope it all ends up well, because I truly love Second Life, despite the misgivings I have about its operation. The latent potential is waiting to be uncovered, as few things foster creativity to this level.

Conclusion:

I started this by saying Second Life allows itself to be everything to everyone. That’s great for the users, but not for the company in charge. They need to know what they are. Nobody, user or corporate, has put into action a big change for SL to bring. As time goes by and companies continue to pull out of SL more than move in, I’ve seen nothing but faith being lost by many previously obsessive LL apologists. Big business failed, fruitless advertising led to a catastrophe, and here we are appealing to conference-goers as the next hopeful candidate to pen the definition of Second Life and find a real-world role for mass society. It seems like a weird idea. It probably is – which is why few conferences or trade shows have yet to jump on the option.

  • Grim Bracken

    I’ve been a successful SL business owner (not a real life business) for a couple of years now so I have some insight about how SL works. I’d explain it to you but that would futile since I would only be telling you what SL means to me.

    I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not a game and real life companies have no place or purpose in SL other than advertising and we’ve all seen enough of that.

    In short, SL is what you make of it. You can mold and shape it anyway you want.

  • Jeff

    Exactly. Stay tuned for an upcoming companion piece – Second Life is Alive.

  • Grim Bracken

    So which is it then? Dead or Alive? It can’t be both.

  • Jeff

    Sure it can. There are arguments for both sides. Just as for everything else in the world…

  • Grim Bracken

    I would argue that if there is an argument at all then it’s alive. There’s not much to talk about when something is dead.

  • Little Gray

    I have a small business in SL and the only reason why it’s almost breaking even is that I’m a v e r y s l o w developer. Even with very little marketing, my sales have been increasing.

    When I started in 2007, the average number of people online was under 20k at peak times. Now, when I log in, the average number of people online at any given time is over 60k. SL has come a long way since when the client was so shoddy you had to update the browser every couple of weeks (which is a real pain when you only want to login to sl for a few minutes every couple months. SL continues to improve.

    I think what the author is talking about when he refers to ‘dead’ is a recent phenomenon affecting those seeking to use SL according to a commercial RL business paradigm. From mid 2007 to late 2008, SL attracted serious interest from Big Business. The presence of big business in SL raised a lot of expectations. But, as big business soon came to realize, SL is not a cost effective venue for retail sales of rl consumer goods. In any event, lets say for multiple reasons, as a generalization, the amount of interest from big businesses in directly operating in world presence in SL declined — compared to the levels of interest in 2007-2008.

    Big business is still interested in SL on a less-direct, and more supportive level. People on the boards of multiple fortune 500 companies, see e.g. http://www.theyrule.net/, view the second life model as a way to reduce carbon emmissions. At a top business level in the U.S., SL is viewed as a model for a future carbonless economy.

    Interest in SL continues to steadily grow in the educational and training areas. SL provides an unparralled training aid where geospatial positioning of people in reference to a physical environment or object is important, i.e. building evacuation planning, museum docent training, cargo handling, event planning, architectural design input, interaction and visualization of unique equipment or facilities, and where it is difficult or impracticable to bring people together in RL for training.

    I’d say, SL isn’t dead … it’s more accurate to say that the prevailing use paradigm of SL has shifted from commercial retail sales and marketing to education and training.

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  • Jeff

    Little Gray – thank you for your constructive input, and for actually reading the article before commenting. You’re spot-on.

  • Grim Bracken

    This article is hype for your blog Jeff. With a headline like that it’s obvious. I see that you have monetized it. How much money are you making from this article?

    P.S. You have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Kristofer

    Hi Grim… I have to jump in here and interrupt, maybe clarify.. what do you mean by: “This article is hype for your blog Jeff. With a headline like that it’s obvious. I see that you have monetized it.” What blog are you talking about? This one here is not Jeff’s site, he writes for us, but he doesn’t own it. Jeff has quite a bit of experience with Second Life, so I asked him to write me up a couple articles about it. If you paid attention, there’s a second part to this article that was posted early this morning, called ‘Second Life is Alive’, maybe you should check that one out…

  • Grim Bracken

    The sensationalist title of this story is obviously trying to get peoples attention. The argument that SL is dead is meaningless. Something is either dead or alive. Since we’re discussing it, it’s obviously alive. So this whole thing comes off as a weak attempt at getting attention. And the lack of true understanding of what SL is about is disturbing.

    How about this headline? “Second Life is Dead to Real Life Businesses” Oh wait, those were the headlines last year…

    btw It was stated that SL was dead at that time and here we are still talking about it.

  • Jeff

    Wow, it’s a semantics argument. Imagine a blogger going for a catchy headline… what’s the world coming to?

  • Hava Heart

    I’ve read this article and have been following the comments. I also own a business in Second Life going on 2 years now. I don’t believe this to be a semantics issue. Your title is not “catchy”, it’s misleading and incorrect. And to follow it up with an article called “Second Life is Alive” makes no sense and ends up being pointless. You’re already told your audience that it is dead. I find it interesting that you seem to think that Little Gray’s comments are some sort of validation for your views. When in reality they show where your ideas have gone astray.
    Much of your information is true to a point, but slanted toward your own agenda. Second Life is ever evolving. Admittedly you were a resident form 10/2009 thru 2008. Since we are now closing in on the 4th quarter of 2009 your dated and skewed info is mute. You listed just enough semi-facts to seem viable. Please don’t insult your readers by trying to play this off as an expert. You’re misleading and incorrect information has done enough damage.

  • Hava Heart

    Correction for typo: Admittedly you were a resident from 10/2006 to 2008.

  • Grim Bracken

    I’d like to quote the great Chuck D and say, “Don’t believe the hype!” See for yourself and make up your own mind folks. That is if anyone is reading this.

  • Jeff

    The reason there are two articles is more a product of the fact that when combined, they make one very large article. It served its purpose better to split them and serve up both sides of the issues in their own contexts.

    The article also states I had many active businesses between 2006 and 2008, not that I haven’t been an active resident since 2008. I currently still own land, have two active businesses, have an in-world resource center for my e-book on SL, and am very active on Xstreet SL. I’m not sure what my own agenda is or how I’ve slanted anything towards it, considering I fought for both sides through two different articles. Sort of hard to establish an agenda. People seem to forget that in order to have a good argument, you should be able to grasp both sides. Only those who have one outlook on something have an agenda. I find it odd that most of the problems with these articles are the titles. Perhaps “A Look at the Future of Second Life: The Positive Version” and “A Look at the Future of Second Life: The Negative Version” would have pleased people more.

    I get the backlash – a few years ago I would have defended SL to the death as well. Notice how there’s a lot more comments on this post than SL is Alive. People don’t have anything to whine about if it’s alive, but how dare anyone point out its flaws.

    I thanked Little Gray for their comments because they were able to understand what I meant by dead and alive instead of blowing it out of proportion as if it were literal. They’re clearly the only person who actually understood the article.

    And yes, the headlines last year were that SL has driven out big business. That’s exactly what the article says – that last year that was the issue. Now they’re trying something new.

  • Jenzy

    I love SL. I too have and had successful and non successful businesses in world. But really, who cares? The only fact I can garnish out of this is that it seemed to have riled some people up. Ultimately, you have your own opinion of Second Life, clearly so does this writer. I don’t think he ever implies that this was meant to be taken as an official Linden Lab report. It served its purpose beautifully, it got people thinking about what SL means to them. Well played, sir.

  • Grim Bracken

    Nobody is denying that SL has it’s flaws. We’re all painfully aware of them. I’m critical of the Lindens for their ham-handed approaches to solving issues and I take issue with their prioritization of those issues. However, I’m not smart enough to create something as unique and special as SL. I have to give them props where it’s due. IMHO there’s nothing better out there or on the horizon.

    I think the Lindens should spend some of that time they would’ve spent on real life businesses and invest it on the virtual business owners and on the issues they find important. We are a big reason why SL is as interesting as it is. Content, content, content… without it SL isn’t much more than a chat room.

  • Little Gray

    I have to agree it is a little sensationalist to report that Second Life is dead. On the other hand, we deal with sensationalism in the press all the time .. its par for the course. I’m not sure there’s anyone in the industry who would say that SL is dead, though there may be some who would say that it might be arguably dead. To say SL is dead is different than report that the death of SL is controversial.

    In any event, what I wanted to point out was this Wednesday’s press release put out by Linden Lab’s, “Second Life Transactions Reach One Billion” http://www.industrygamers.com/news/second-life-transactions-reach-1-billion/

    “Now at nearly USD50 million each month in user-to-user transactions, the Second Life economy is on an annual run rate of more than a half billion US dollars, making Second Life the largest virtual economy in the industry,” the company stated. Linden Lab noted that Second Life’s in-world economy grew 94% year-over-year from Q2 2008 to Q2 2009.

    Unless I am mistaken, SL’s biggest growth spurt occurred within the last year, starting about the time when everyone started saying SL was dead or dying. I think what the author intended was that SL is like the living dead or animated dead. If the title had been, “Second Life is Undead” those of us who commented wouldn’t have had a problem, but, then we would have missed the author’s subtle poetics.

  • PMT

    i wish they’d just make the sculpted stuff open to everyone. It’s just too much a learning curve with all the ridiculous tricks and apps and shit to keep up with. The old method was better because everyone i knew could do it. With sculpted prims, more than 75% of my friends left or stopped building. It’s sad. Really Qarl Linden should be shot for this shit.

  • Jajij

    well if sl is dead .. than why are we now in 2011 and is it still running ? i dont see its dead… its getting bigger !! i think the poster from this article just does not like sl !!

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