After Vinnie wraps up his hour-long performance, musical artist Suzen Juel (who like Vinnie also performs in Second Life) takes the stage at 12 noon Sansar Time/Pacific Time. If you have time, please do come down and enjoy the music!
Drax’s livestream of our Atlas Hopping is here. A group followed Drax, left the still-ongoing concert at the Arena, and went to a new experience called Ivo’s Call, by Ravioli. From there they went on to visit a fourth experience called Anu, by Anu Amun.
Author Leslie Jamison, a columnist for the New York Times Book Review and an Assistant Professor at Columbia University, has written a lengthy article about Second Life and Linden Lab for The Atlantic, a popular American literary and cultural commentary magazine.
Negatively titled The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future (although the HTML title of the actual webpage is the much more optimistic “Second Life Still Has 600,000 Regular Users”), the article takes a wide-ranging look at Second Life and the people who use it, and it does not shy away from criticism. If Linden Lab was hoping for a shiny, happy, upbeat profile of SL when they were interviewed by Leslie for this article, then they must be feeling disappointed.
Leslie writes that SL “made me queasy from the start”, saying:
I had pictured myself defending Second Life against the ways it had been dismissed as little more than a consolation prize for when “first life” doesn’t quite deliver. But instead I found myself wanting to write, Second Life makes me want to take a shower.
She also touches briefly on Sansar, writing:
Of the 36 million Second Life accounts that had been created by 2013—the most recent data Linden Lab will provide—only an estimated 600,000 people still regularly use the platform. That’s a lot of users who turned away. What happened?
[Wagner James] Au sees the simultaneous rise of Facebook and the plateau in Second Life users as proof that Linden Lab misread public desires. “Second Life launched with the premise that everyone would want a second life,” Au told me, “but the market proved otherwise.”But when I spoke with Peter Gray, Linden Lab’s global communications director, and Bjorn Laurin, its vice president of product, they insisted that the problem doesn’t lie in the concept, but in the challenge of perfecting its execution. The user plateau simply testifies to interface difficulties, they told me, and to the fact that the technology hasn’t yet advanced enough to deliver fully on what the media hype suggested Second Life might become: an utterly immersive virtual world. They are hoping virtual reality can change that.In July, Linden Lab launched a beta version of a new platform called Sansar, billed as the next frontier: a three-dimensional world designed for use with a virtual-reality headset such as Oculus Rift. The company’s faith, along with the recent popularity of VR in the tech world (a trend that Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR attests to), raises a larger question. If advances in virtual reality solve the problem of a cumbersome interface, will they ultimately reveal a widespread desire to plunge more fully into virtual worlds unfettered by glitches, lags, and keyboards?
In reading this, I realized that I felt the same way about Second Life that Peter and Bjorn did: the problem with SL didn’t lie in the concept, but in the steep learning curve that was associated with it. Many first-time users threw up their hands and walked away, never to come back.
That’s why I am hoping, along with Linden Lab, that the new user interface provided by virtual reality headsets and controllers will go a long way toward making Sansar more immersive and easier to navigate than the desktop-computer-keyboard-and-mouse model of Second Life. As I have said very recently, that’s a gamble. But it’s a calculated gamble which a lot of companies, including Linden Lab, are hoping will pay off.
Leslie finishes her article on a positive note:
Did I find wonder in Second Life? Absolutely. When I sat in a wicker chair on a rooftop balcony, chatting with the legally blind woman who had built herself this house overlooking the crashing waves of Cape Serenity, I found it moving that she could see the world of Second Life better than our own. When I rode horses through the virtual Yosemite, I thought of how the woman leading me through the pines had spent years on disability, isolated from the world, before she found a place where she no longer felt sidelined. That’s what ultimately feels liberating about Second Life—not its repudiation of the physical world, but its entwinement with that world, their fierce exchange. Second Life recognizes the ways that we often feel more plural and less coherent than the world allows us to be.
Second Life will probably not be the platform that will sustain the metaverse. It was, however, the prototype that proved the concept—it kicked open the doors. It showed people that if done correctly, 3-D virtual spaces could be effective tools for business, education, collaboration, socializing, and entertainment, and it showed development companies that a lot of money could be made in building the metaverse…
— Peter Ludlow, Second Life Herald : The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse, p. 263
I still remember the crazy heyday of Second Life, with the hype machine set to maximum, from 2006 to 2008. Everybody was going on about how virtual worlds in general, and Second Life in particular, were going to revolutionize business and education. News organizations like Reuters, countries like Sweden, and big corporations like American Apparel and IBM trooped into SL and set up sims.
(Of course, most of those organizations trooped out of SL just as quickly as they trooped in, leaving the field to the many mom-and-pop businesses that give SL its vibrancy.)
Obviously, Linden Lab is hoping that lightning will strike twice, and that Sansar will reach (or even exceed) a level of popularity that SL used to have. They might well succeed. I must say, based on my perspective as being part of the closed beta since December 2016, and based on what I am seeing now, that Linden Lab is indeed listening to feedback from the users, and things are looking very promising.
Then again, an open-source solution like High Fidelity might catch fire and take off instead. Or an 800-lb. gorilla like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft/Altspace or Facebook/Oculus may well come up with a competing product that becomes the next big successful metaverse. We’ll see.
But if anybody knows how to create a successful virtual world, it’s Linden Lab (even if it sometimes seemed as if Second Life flourished despite LL’s missteps). The key to SL’s continued success is no mystery: provide a good-enough platform (not perfect but serviceable), let people retain the intellectual property of their creations, allow them to monetize their work, and then step back and try not to get in the way of the myriad, unexpected, mind-blowing ways that people will use that platform.
Yes, Sansar is still beta software (some would say alpha), and there is still lots that need to be done. But the naysayers seem to forget that Second Life was also very limited in features when it first started up, way back in 2001 when it was still called Linden World:
It took many, many years of development (and quite a few stumbles) in order to bring about the Second Life which people see today. The same logic applies to Sansar. It’s going to take years to create the sort of mature, fully-featured virtual world product that Second Life is today.
Linden Lab knows that it can’t stand still. Second Life is still a cash cow for LL, but it’s older technology that can’t make the jump to VR. Every corporation reaches a point where it has to respond to market forces, innovate, or die. (Remember what happened to Kodak?) With Sansar, Linden Lab is taking a (calculated) leap into the future. They’re gambling, based on their past experience with Second Life, that you’re going to be willing to be part of a virtual world that supports virtual reality.
So let’s keep some sense of history and perspective when we’re tempted to brusquely dismiss Linden Lab’s Sansar as a folly or a boondoggle, as some SL users have asserted. It’s going to take quite some time for virtual worlds and virtual reality to find their footing. We might not know what the metaverse will look like in detail, but we all know it’s coming.