Second Life

Second Life: What’s Next – Report from SLCC 09

Philip Rosedale's Slide from SLCC

Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon discussed their visions for Second Life at the Community Convention in San Francisco, and while two sides of the same coin perhaps, they looked forward across vastly different time horizons and with, perhaps, diametrically opposed messages. On the one hand, Philip talked about how the rate of change will mean that Second Life (SL) has barely begun, the change will be significant, the change will be upsetting to people already using the platform; and on the other, Mark Kingdon (M Linden) talked about how there’s a linear, thoughtful, and solid plan for sustainable and reasoned growth and we should all take assurance from how well ordered everything is.

Now, I love Philip, and I love the fact that he wanted to borrow a slide that we helped put together for Robert Bloomfield’s talk, but little did I know that the slide he borrowed would be his entire presentation. Because I probably could have told him that he ran the risk of being wildly misinterpreted, like the time he called Second Life a terrarium or the other time when he said that SL is great because there’s no eye contact. So I have no one but myself to blame for passing along the above image, which he titled “revolution or evolution”, and which can now be wildly misinterpreted to mean:

- That reality is slowly returning the wilderness, and our cities will eventually look like the above, with us, I suppose, living in the basement plugged in via headsets to virtual reality.
- Or, that Second Life will eventually look like this
- Or, that change happens, get used to it, and the change may be slow or it may be quick and painful, just like in Detroit?

I think he probably meant a little of all of the above. Philip talked about the fork in the road ahead: there’s reality (which may or may not look like Detroit) and there’s virtuality, which is sure going to look a lot better than the above, and which probably won’t look anything like we imagine it.

He was tossing numbers around like a billion users in virtual worlds (and, one presumes, a big chunk of those in Second Life), and he kept referencing Ray Kurzweil (which is a bit frightening, I find his vision of technology to be insufficiently cautious about the negative implications and scenarios) related to exponential rates of change, how one technology doesn’t just progress linearly from the previous but sort of jumps off of it and springboards to – well, to something else, including eventually our ability to manipulate all of the atoms of reality.

In any case, Philip left us with a few main thoughts: one, you haven’t seen anything yet; and two, there will be changes made to Second Life that don’t please the current users, or that don’t please the current hard core users anyways, the ones who would spend the money to hole up in San Francisco for nearly a week.

Now, when I think of the kinds of change that will upset people, I think of things like mesh imports say. Or linking virtual to actual identity. Or banning sex from the Grid (in follow-up questions Pip assured us that sex is here to stay, maybe just slightly partitioned off). But who knows, maybe Philip was talking about having a new viewer that you implant in your brain – although I figure for many hard core users they’d be the first to download it.

M’s World View

In contrast to Philip, M came across as a man with a plan (or the guardian of it anyways). And a key take-away listening to M is that Philip did what they always tell leaders to do: hire someone who is NOT like YOU.

Which isn’t to say that Philip isn’t good at being organized or communicating in ways that the majority of humanity actually understands, it’s just to say that Mark (M Linden) clearly excels at that, even though he did a pretty decent job displaying his wandery/dreamy side through a slide show which he nonetheless compared to watching an hour of family vacation slides.

But let’s give M credit – he needed to show his “Grid cred” and prove that he knows how to terraform. Don’t worry M – you pass. Well, you pass in ONE way, although I’m sure all the coders out there will never respect you unless you can grok code or whatever it is that coders do, but we’re in that one together – I can only admire coders from afar myself, and am happy for the Philip’s of the world.

But the big take-aways from M didn’t have anything to do with the crash stats, or the growth in users, or the satisfaction scores from those user surveys they do – it had to do with his articulation of a broader strategy past the “hey we need to make the first hour easier” stuff. And that broader strategy seems to be fairly deeply based in the idea of bringing Second Life to more people using the tools of social media, and embedding it there, and building stuff to make that happen.

He was slightly non-specific but asked us to ponder what it would be like if you could enter Second Life without actually logging in – maybe you don’t have an avatar, but somehow you learn about a music event say, and you watch that event from the Web, and then decide to log in.

It’s a lot like our experiences with Metanomics in some ways, and our experiences with a group of accountants (FASRI) in another: give people a taste of what it’s like to be in world by participating in events from the Web, and maybe they’ll log on.

But his strategy was a bit broader, and seemed to include some kind of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn referral kind of idea, putting SL widgets and who knows what else out on the Web, and driving cross traffic and getting your friends to come in.

The big “IF” at the end of that however was “IF they don’t get massively frustrated in the first 10 minutes”.

Second Life needs to turn from a 5 HOUR orientation (get in, get around, find stuff, shop, meet people) to a 5 MINUTE orientation – by which they don’t just mean learning to walk, but instead mean getting yourself kitted out and embedded in a community.

We’ll see how that goes – tomorrow morning’s presentation by T Linden (Tom Hale) promises a reveal of the new viewer – or a screen shot at least, and I’ll be front row, because I’ve been placing a lot of faith in their ability to crack the puzzle of usability through the viewer.

There was more of course, and I live blogged a lot of it, but the combination of Philip’s multi-year billion person time horizon, and M’s practical ‘let’s get this moving and working and growing’ message was a pretty dynamic way to kick off the morning, and will set the tone of the next 12-16 months of ‘life on the Grid’ – a period that I think will see a tipping point (yeah, I know, I hate Gladwell, it’s true, but he didn’t invent the term) into a noticeable growth curve.


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