Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Second Life 2.0: Re-Designing Virtual Worlds

Linden Lab has launched a suite of platform changes which effectively shift Second Life into Version 2.0, with further changes in the pipeline that promise to radically transform the virtual world, its culture, its ability to integrate with the wider digital landscape, and its ability to attract new users.

There will be heaps written about the centerpiece of this: a new ‘viewer’ (the software by which users access Second Life).

But perhaps the BIGGER attraction, in some ways, is the launch of Second Life Shared Media (SLSM) which will allow clickable, embeddable Web pages, editable documents (think collaboration on a PowerPoint or Word document), Flash, and other Web-based content. SLSM will significantly deepen the ability to collaborate, teach, train and create information-rich virtual environments.

Whether this also leads to rampant banner ads disguised as Web pages will partly be a product of how the Lab is handling parcel media and the number of SLSM objects that will load.

Where They’ve Been and Where They’re Going
Second Life 2.0 is the result of close to two years of work at the Lab. With the arrival of Mark Kingdon at the helm, Linden Lab shifted from, well, being a Lab into being a company that focuses relentlessly on product, user experience, commerce, monetization, and long-term strategic thinking – a radical shift from the evolutionary, open approach under Philip Rosedale and one which put the Lab, in some senses, “at war with itself“:

The war at the Lab isn’t a war between growth and stasis, between a “loose confederation of coders” and a tightly organized bureaucracy. It is the war to remember that the technology is in the service of people, with all their hopes and fears, their ambiguity and endless ability to say maybe.

It used to be that everyone in the world knew each others’ name, but now they barely know each others’ name at the Lab itself.

Working in a code-driven enterprise, there will be increasing pressure to systematize, to make binary, to aggregate and to create closed rooms in which the cipher-like code can scrape and direct and be free of governance.

So long as Mark Kingdon remembers that “compassion, (and) an artistic sensibility” are the bedrock upon which his “obsession with experience design” and “management…through substantial transitions” should be placed, then perhaps we’ll be able to resist the temptation to let technology itself bend the curve, to create walls and barriers and secret handshakes, and can model instead a vision of technology that is humane, and can be the playing field upon which we express our ambiguity and art.

This shift goes deeper, however, than rethinking the Second Life experience. There are early hints that this opens up a new front in which Second Life the world, Second Life the brand, and Linden Lab (the company behind it) may no longer be one-and-the-same.

Whether the shift from engineering-based to a more design-based approach, from evolutionary commerce to blatantly commercial, and from business-agnostic to business friendly will so overturn the in-world culture that the result is a diluted online experience remains to be seen.

I for one feel that what were once simply dreams of possibility are now reality. Which leaves me with the incredible opportunity to ask: “what can we imagine NEXT?”

What It All Means
In the coming days I’ll be posting observations about the new viewer and SLSM. But I’ll be focusing on its implications for social media, augmented reality, and narrative. So before I go down that path, take some time to have a look for yourself. Go grab yourself a copy, play around with it, and read what everyone else has to say about tabs and outfits, search and places.

And welcome to the new future. It begins now.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.