Deep Thoughts, Second Life

M Linden Goes to London: Joe the Plumber, and Where We Go is Where We’ll Get

M Linden gave the opening keynote in London at the virtual world conference and, well, it’s more of the same really, just with a bit more data thrown in, at least according to the summary over on Virtual World News. But just as intriguing, in some ways, was the lead-up TO the keynote, with his last minute post to the Second Life blog, and the community response. And call this a crazy reference from the sidelines of popular political “narrative” (maaaaan how I hate the media’s use of that word) but my gut reaction to M’s post was, well, what about Joe the Plumber?

The Frontier Days Are Over, We Need New Sheriffs
See, maybe the ‘campaign narrative’ for Second Life has changed from a year or so ago. It’s not a surprise. Mitch Kapor warned us that the frontier days were over and all the early creators and residents should suck it up and embrace change, it’s not like this is something new.

But lately I feel a little sad, or disconnected, or less likely to connect – all this collaborating and Web integration talk and partnerships with content providers, whatever – it’s all fine, it’s my work, it’s what we do, and it’s nice to know that SL is moving in the direction I need it to professionally, I guess: make it a more productive PLATFORM and all. And firewalls are fine and dandy, because without firewalls I’ve personally got a tough sell, most of these corporate types need security, and Gartner wrote about that, after all:

“Gartner said the security risks posed by virtual environments range from spam and malware to business issues such as privacy and intellectual property management as users upload and create information that is stored and traded ­remotely.

“The ownership of content placed in a virtual environment is often in doubt,” said Walls. “The end-user licence agreements offered by social software are between the user and the vendor, not the company and the vendor, so the company may have no legal standing to negotiate to protect their intellectual property.”

Emerging threats from virtual environments include social network analysis tools that allow easy integration of data from a variety of sources, and potential flaws in user interfaces and media formats such as QuickTime, AVI and MP4.”

So there was M assuring us that security is coming, saying that “Despite the many urban myths, it’s possible to hold a secure meeting in our hosted Second Life. But people want a solution behind the firewall. We’re working on the alpha now. We have alpha customers signed up. And we’ll have a beta in the first quarter.”

But What About Joe?
So back to Joe, because maybe he doesn’t have a license, and maybe he’s not even a plumber, he’s just a, um, pipe guy or whatever. But the point about Joe is he’s just a guy, and he’s trying to eke out whatever living and he wants to know if his money’s safe and if his taxes will go up and he’s trying to get his voice heard when everyone else is talking about markets and enterprise and security concerns: I mean, do you see the parallel here?

Because the campaign narrative for Second Life changed. It’s no longer about the people who can make a million from their basement with no experience. It’s not about the person who can build up a fashion empire, or even a land Barony. Instead, it’s about “enterprise”, with a nod to new user adoption, and increasing the population of the world, but we don’t hear so much about Joe anymore.

Joe of yesteryear was Aimee Weber maybe. Or Robbie Dingo. Or the kid who made cars that were better than the car company’s. (Or kids, I guess – I think that was who I met out in LA, and a shout out to them and their race track and nutty ways).

Because lost in this narrative is the fact that what differentiates Second Life from all of these other virtual world experiments: the Web-based ones, the ones with game mechanics, the ones embedded in Facebook, the collaboration things like Qwak or Wonderland – what’s DIFFERENT is that this is 100% user generated.

And the folks who keep the pipes open, the ones who keep this thing moving and vibrant and interesting and who protect its deepest value proposition are the creators. The ones who build houses and rent mall space and build corporate offices for all those collaborating meeting people. And we don’t hear about them so much anymore. We hear about the first hour, and we hear about the new wave of businesses and we hear how we’re saving the ozone layer.

Last Person Standing
But the brands came a while back. And left.

And the companies will come. And they’ll collaborate on, um, stuff. Or chat as avatars with other avatars. Or do, um, visualization things, was it? And maybe THAT will work.

But who was left standing the last time around? Once the brands were gone, and now, when the “collaborators” have discovered a cheaper, faster Cisco telepresence system – who’s left? The folks who build SL prim by prim, and eke out a living, and have fun doing it and maybe make a few bucks but are more likely there because they love it.

There was a time, seems like ages and ages ago, when Philip actually posted. At the time, he promised to post monthly. But I gave up on him. Like I’ve given up on the main SL blog for any meaningful sense of what’s going on. Philip’s last blog post was November 21st, 2007. In it he wrote:

“I started Linden Lab in 1999 with the dream of finally being able to create an online world that was truly an alternate reality – a place where you could do anything. I had been thinking about this general idea for a long time, because as a kid I was always dreaming up things I wanted to build that were difficult, expensive, or impossible to create in the real world. And along with being creative, I was also very into computers and science. So in my mind, the ultimate thing you could do possibly do with computers was to simulate reality – to create a place where you can make anything you can imagine and share it with others.”

And then he linked to something that to him represented the spirit of Second Life:

“If by chance you are still reading this and feeling like you didn’t get enough value or inspiration for your time, how about you just watch this video…created by Robbie Dingo. I’ve already watched that first one about 100 times. Thanks very much for listening. “

And I still return to it, after all these months, when I’m tired of thinking about business collaboration and Showcase and how the UI might be improved for the new user or whatever other muck, because this is why I stayed in the first place:


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