Second Life

Left Unsaid: The Second Life Road Map

The new Second Life viewer: think - Tweetdeck

Tom Hale (T Linden) presented Second Life road map for the next 16 months at the SL Community Convention this morning, heavily prefaced by Philip and M and whoever else was beating the drum: change is coming and you’re not necessarily going to like it.

Now, nothing I saw had me running for the exits and while I’m sure we’ll hear some teeth-gnashing from the community, I suspect it will mostly blow over. Mesh imports are coming (the ability to import 3D objects created using external tools) - and so what?

Sure, we might be loading the world up with objects from Renderosity or wherever, but I strongly suspect that the process for doing so will be, well, a process. It WILL have an impact on the current object economy, but the Lab is linking us all up with new ways to shop and spend and there will be a new Web microsite devoted specifically to content developers so while we might need to learn a few new content development tricks, the market will expand and it will be worth it. (Or, um, that’s the theory).

It needs to happen. Second Life needs to support all of the folks out there making stuff using Blender in their basement and taking fancy photos with it or whatever they do - imagine being able to tell them that they can put those objects into a space where you can walk around what you built.

But mesh imports will be single object things (at least based on the demo video) - non-editable polys, so you’ll need to split your objects up if you want to script them (will they be scriptable?), and it will probably take some elegant hacking to get it right.

Sculptys came, SL survived. Mesh is coming. SL will thrive.

The real game changer in the presentation was HTML-on-a-prim or whatever you want to call it. Multiple media textures in a single parcel. Full support for Flash. And embedded browsers - launch Google, run a search, click the links, surf the Web. Open an Excel file, edit it, edit it while someone else edits it as well - bye bye Qwaq. Synchronous viewing of Web pages. Synchronous viewing of videos. Game changing stuff.

Footnotes Duly Noted
Now Tom was a fairly compelling presenter in an Adobe sort of way. I don’t know what it is about Adobe, or Macromedia, whichever - I’ve seen some of their platform presentations and there’s a kind of “from the mountain” way about them.

And so it was with Tom, who answered a lot of the audiences questions with the phrases “duly noted” and “is that something you’d like us to do?” which seemed to imply “we thought of this already, in fact, we thought about it months and months ago, and it’s in the works but I’m not going to tell you that we already thought of it because I don’t want to look arrogant and I don’t want to over-promise but yeah, we thought of it, so duly noted.”

The other thing about the presentation was it was, well, highly footnoted:

- Here’s the new viewer (which looked great) but it’s not what it will actually look like, we’ve improved it even more, but I’m not sharing that with you today
- Here are the economic stats but there are some footnotes for you to consider that I won’t necessarily go into, other than to say, yeah, bots are down
- Here’s the new user dashboard on the Web site, but by the way this is barely half of the way to what it will look like once it’s really done, it’s complex, so what you should really get excited about is stuff I haven’t shown you yet
- Here’s a video that we’re putting on the new Web site (which was GORGEOUS) and there are a bunch of other videos that are just as awesome, but please note we won’t launch them all at once

Maybe it’s a quibble with style and while the session was billed a road map, what we got instead were a few signposts maybe, or perhaps we got the road but with no mileage markers.

So maybe I should think of it like a product launch instead, as in “hey look at all the cool stuff we have coming” but then maybe it shouldn’t have had so many footnotes attached.

It would be like Steve Jobs getting up and saying “This is what an Apple Tablet looks like, except it actually looks a lot different because we’ve been working on it since I made this slide, and by the way, we may NEVER launch it, and if we do, I’ll just say that it will be sometime next year so take your pick as you plan your content development business whether that means January or December.”

Maybe they were trying to give it to us gently: “what do you think, because if you hate it we’ll back down”. Although I suspect it’s more like: “here’s what we have planned, but if you hate it then we’ll say ‘oh, but we told you we weren’t FOR SURE going to launch it, which means we want your feedback (although actually, we plan to launch it regardless we just needed the cover)”.

Left Unsaid
But there was something in the road map left unsaid.

Or rather, it was said but not as explicitly as this: Second Life is about to become a Web-based engagement platform.

Now, he talked about this in terms of a ’spectrum’ between synchronous and asynchronous activity: between immersive and Web-based, between 2D and 3D, between self-directed and shared experiences.

But clearly the major shift in direction isn’t that Linden Lab is launching a new Web page, or a new registration system, or new education and developer microsites, or new videos to entice new users, or a new land store (where you can buy pre-built land in a, say, moon theme or beach theme or whatever), or that mesh imports are coming and all that stuff.

The shift in direction is that Linden Lab is about to shift the Second Life brand into one that equally encompasses a 3D experience with the “flat Web”. In fact, we’ll see more and more of the conventions of the 2D Web embedded in the Second Life experience. For example: the new viewer looks like - well, it looks a little like TweetDeck really. (Footnote: this has changed, and it may not look like this anymore, duly noted).

And what’s interesting about this shift is that it will eventually allow Linden Lab to extend the 3D brand to the Web as well, as 3D in the browser picks up steam. And it will allow the Second Life brand to represent a combination of social and educational and enterprise experiences that are not held within the garden that is the Second Life world.

Now, I’m not arguing that this is bad. And I’m sure the above sounds like some kind of giant pan of Tom’s presentation.

I found myself getting kind of emotional as I watched him reveal the pieces of this broader vision: of a Web site that draws in new users and that will clearly make a huge difference in churn rates; a new Web-side map search function that rocked my world; a new viewer that will help you to manage your SL experience in an intuitive way; a new Web site that will bring a sense of discovery and joy to people who need a little hand-holding and direction to actually FIND stuff.

It was truly brilliant stuff.

But make no mistake: Second Life will be a brand that is equally about activity on the Web as in the world.

And that’s the change which is a REAL change from the world that we know, and will be far more profound than mesh imports or HTML on a prim.


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