Second Life

Second Life and the Superbowl: Is Linden Lab Ready for Prime Time?

Has the pendulum swung too far in the direction of enterprise clients at Linden Lab? Or are they prepping Second Life for a marketing push that will bump up the numbers of casual users? You know, the folks like you and me who arrived in the virtual world looking to waste some time maybe and suddenly found ourselves rezzing prims and dreaming that we could actually bring some of that sense of exploration to the office…someday, maybe, if we could be sure we didn’t sound like we were nuts.

My last post about Mark Kingdon’s recent trip to Europe spurred Kwame Oh to comment:

“Much as I applaud the work being done with regard enterprise,and all the new ways to give us tools, without marketing of the platform for use by the general public which so far has been done by users of the platform, traction will not be gained in the wishes of Linden Lab to maintain its place at the moment as the leading platform provider.

As the pendulum swings into the next decade, and content producers look for new spaces to market their wares Linden Lab should take the lead and market itself as this space, or face the possibility that dedicated spaces will rise from this lack of marketing/leadership.”

And I couldn’t agree more. And I agree partly because I have this horror of virtual worlds being populated by a bunch of dull corporations with conference tables and endless meetings over PowerPoint slides – I mean, really, someone needs to start designing new animations: the “I’m so bored my brain is melting” Animation Override, or maybe a “My eyes are bleeding from looking at yet another mission statement” attachment.

One of the success factors for the use of Second Life by enterprise isn’t the technology or how well the MediaAPI’s work: it’s the people. It’s the Residents, who support and motivate content creators, who push the envelopes of what’s possible. Other platforms have desktop sharing and mesh imports and slick UIs. What other platforms DON’T have is an army of creative and talented people who can remain motivated with the right combination of governance, policy, technology and economy. And the economy rests on new users.

So is Second Life ready for its ad on the Superbowl? Maybe not the Superbowl, but some kind of mass market initiative. Something with, you know, banners and an ad here and there, and maybe a box at Best Buy that includes a user guide, the viewer on a DVD, a little Showcase guide and a decent headset.

Is There a Plan?
Now, I have this idea that M and his crew are actually fairly systematic in how they do things. Don’t get me wrong: their ability to do that is also in tension with a culture of innovation and the ‘hey kids, let’s build a world’ spirit that Philip brought in building Second Life. And against THOSE competing tension – of strategic planning and steps and road maps combined with JIRAs and what-do-you-want-to-do-today love machine driven development, there are evolving facts on the ground, so to speak: a lawsuit here, a competitive announcement there. So…no, they don’t always get it right, and they’re often taken by surprise (can anyone say educator trademark notice?) when their best-laid plans go awry (or maybe they’re NOT taken by surprise, in which case they’re either way smarter than I thought or way, well, not).

So in my possibly delusional fantasy of how the Lab thinks about these things, I have this idea, based on what M said at SLCC and during his trip to Paris, the keynote by Tom Hale and his presentation at the Virtual Goods Expo, and what the tarot cards told me, that things are unfolding in a way that suggests the Lab isn’t far off from kick-starting some proper marketing, with the goal being to build a faster growth curve of new users. So here’s my guess of their inner logic:

Content Streams and Features for New Users
- Build the infrastructure for more “Web-side” experiences. This begins with the site overhaul and will continue with social media links.
- Embed this in the larger goal of increasing retention of new users. They have frequently stated that there are two major barriers to keeping people in Second Life – they can’t find anything, and they don’t meet people. So the thinking goes that you need the Web-side content as a ‘holding place’ for community channels, showcase, and commerce because it’s a more familiar experience for a new user.
- But for this to work in-world, you need to refine the orientation experience. This is best accomplished through community partners….because the key is linking people to people.
- And for this to ALSO work in-world, you need a new viewer. Because the current viewer doesn’t integrate well with all that Web content, and it’s intimidating to new users.
- Package land better, because if you can get someone to buy land, you have a convert. So turn land into a ‘product’. Package up builds with land, make it easier to buy.

So, we start with some broad goals: improve orientation, get the Web site ready to integrate with a new viewer, create pathways to communities and content, make commerce easier and more accessible. In other words, get the Grid ready for new people.

Roll-Out a Developer Path
- Have you ever noticed that little button at the bottom of the new Second Life Home Page that says “Second Life Develop”? Who do you think that’s for? Just as there’s a ‘channel’ now for work, the Lab clearly has plans to launch a channel for developers. Stay tuned.
- Keep content developer’s appetites whetted – mention mesh imports, launch the MediaAPI.
- Create a sellers’ registry on XStreet – this isn’t just a content protection idea, this has implications for the other stuff that M announced like a marketplace for Nebraska. (”Inside Nebraska, there will be a market place (iTunes like) where users can buy existing content.”) If you’re going to transfer content from the main grid to private servers, you’re going to need to deal with licensing issues – the seller’s registry will open a new market to content creators who don’t mind earning REAL money for selling virtual goods to corporate-type clients over on the stand-alone solution.
- Struggle, wrestle, fail, try again, police, fail, try again – referring of course to the Lab’s content protection road map.

The goal here is happy content creators. Without them, the rest of it doesn’t work. Period.

Open the Doors to Enterprise
- Launch Nebraska. Enjoy some positive press buzz. Maybe even snag some revenue.
- But what’s REALLY at stake here is creating an ecosystem of application development that will carry Second Life past being a world in which there are lots of virtual GOODS, into being a world which starts to play well with others – with the Web, with social media, with other types of content.
- In other words, it turns Second Life into a platform like the iPhone is a platform where there’s a marketplace of applications like there’s an iPhone app store. The incentive to CREATE all these applications is partly facilitated by enterprise who needs all that Sametime/Sharepoint integration stuff. So, we’re talking a way to monetize all that Web work you’ve done, or that Twitter thing you built on a Web site that integrates into SL.
- With an application market, Linden Lab can start creating the hooks out to social media that they’re so keen to do. Give people tools like Twitter has for creating apps that are embeddable elsewhere (I mean, these tools exist, people DO this stuff, but marketing it as product is difficult).

Finally, Start Promoting
Superbowl here we come. And since I’m so delusional, I probably shouldn’t peer too much into the future. There’s the stuff about a new browser-based viewer, there’s the “cash out” option with the economy that M mentioned in Paris, which makes me wonder what their plans might be for the Linden itself (a PayPal for the virtual goods market?), and, I dunno – there’s embedding Google Wave or something.

Now – that seems like a plan with a lot of moving parts but with a couple of big directional points. Whether they can keep all the balls in the air I’m not sure, but they’re sure continuing their hiring binge these days so maybe they can staff up enough to pull it off.

And while it’s nice to hear M sketch some of these things out, what would be REALLY nice is if he’d hit the blog once in a while and keep us a little more informed – I mean, when WAS his last post anyways? Because while the above road map may be wishful thinking, I’d love to just know whether it’s even vaguely in line with how they think about these things, or whether I’m just as delusional when I first arrived in Second Life, when I came to believe that the future would unfold as it should, but not quite as I expected.


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