Five Thoughts as Google Turns 20

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The original Google logo from 1998

Google was incorporated on Sept. 4th, 1998 in the garage of Susan Wojcicki (who is now the CEO of Google subsidiary YouTube), with an initial US$100,000 investment by Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim.

It’s hard to believe that this happened only twenty years ago. In those 20 years, Google (now known as Alphabet) has transformed society. The way we look for information. The way we ask for directions. The way we consume the news.

What lessons can we learn from the astonishing growth of Google?

First, those things which might seem unimportant at the time can have great impact. Larry Page’s PageRank algorithm, which relied on the links between web pages to determine the ranking of search results, was a simple idea that became very, very powerful. In fact, it spawned the whole industry of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is basically figuring out ways to improve your Google search ranking!

Second, never underestimate the power of networks. As the World Wide Web grew (and I remember a time when it was still called that!), the Google search engine only became more accurate and useful over time. The power of networks acts as an amplifier (you need no further proof of that than Donald Trump’s Twitter account).

Third, that being an early entry into a marketplace positions you for growth (call it “the Microsoft effect”). It’s not always true, but often enough, being first is better than being best when it comes to the Internet. As some entrepreneurs like to say: “ready, fire, aim”—it’s better to launch something early, then make constant adjustments to your course as you go along and learn from your mistakes. The fatal mistake is to wait until everything is perfect before taking action. Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t wait.

Fourth, that a lot can happen in a short period of time. We tend to underestimate just how quickly things can change in today’s society. The pace of technology is accelerating. Think ahead to 20 years from today—Sept. 8th, 2038. It might seem far away. But every day, it comes a step closer. Who will you be in that world, on that day? If I am still alive, I will be 74 years old and retired, perhaps feeling insecure and afraid in my old age as civilization charges ahead without me. What will I have seen in those twenty years? What will I regret doing? What will I regret not doing? What should I have been paying attention to, while I was busy doing something else? What will I have learned?

Finally, remember that the actions of individual people do make a difference in this world. Sergey Brin and Larry Page had an idea, and that idea changed the world. Philip Rosedale had a dream, and his dream became a daily reality for millions of people on dozens of metaverse platforms. Never doubt for one second that you are not capable of that same miraculous feat, in countless different ways, every single day.

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The Google logo today
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The Top 20 Success Stories in the 15-Year History of Second Life

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Image by ummzakariyya on Pixabay

Note: to see my companion list of the top 20 controversies in Second Life’s 15-year history, please click here.

This is a purely subjective list of the greatest successes of Second Life over its 15-year history, sorted roughly in chronological order. Most were submitted by SL users in response to a question I asked in the official SL user forums, SLUniverse.com, and on this blog.

1. In-World Building Tools (2003-Present)

One could argue that the in-world building tools in Second Life were a key to its early success. Many talented virtual world content creators got their start by learning how to use Second Life’s prim-building tools.

2. The Second Life Economy (2003-Present)

When Linden Lab released Second Life in June 2003, the virtual world had no currency. It was only at the end of 2003 when the Linden Dollar was first introduced (source: History of Second Life). Shortly thereafter people began to create and sell goods to other avatars, and the Second Life economy was born. Today, over 5 million virtual goods are for sale in the SL Marketplace, and creators made over $68 million in sales in 2017 (source: infographic issued by Linden Lab on the occasion of their 15 anniversary).

3. Music, Clubs, and Performers (2003-Present)

From the very start, music, clubs and performers have been a vital part of Second Life. Some clubs have been in existence for over a decade; others come and go with changing tastes and styles. But without them, Second Life would be much less enjoyable.

4. Burning Man and Burn2 (2003 – Present)

BURN2 is an annual extension of the Burning Man festival and community into the world of Second Life. It is an officially sanctioned Burning Man Regional, and the only virtual world Regional out of more than 100 Regional groups worldwide. From the History of Burn2:

Burning Man, Second Life and the Early Years

In 1999, a dreamy guy from San Francisco decided to go explore this Burning Man thing he’d been hearing about. Into his car, he tossed a tent, water and everything else he needed to survive, then he drove 300 miles out to the Nevada high desert.

He arrived at a featureless, 40-square miles of cracked mud, ringed by distant mountains. Hot. It was terribly hot. Except when the sun went down. Then it was just plain cold. The Black Rock Desert is an ancient dry lake bed. “The Playa”, geologists called it; harsh, foreign, unforgiving and so shockingly barren that it *begs* to be your empty canvas. A strange encampment had been erected there, ringed around a 40-foot tall anthropomorphic wooden statue destined to be burned the last night.

What the Dreamer found there— a huge group of people, self organized into a city, collaboratively creating a different reality— tweaked the direction of the project he was working on back in San Francisco, and filled his head with ideas about the nature of reality, creativity, identity and community. He worked some of these ideas into the very fabric of his project “Linden World”, which you and I now know as Second Life. That Dreamer was our Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale.

The Virtual Burn

Fast forward to 2003. Numerous Linden Lab employees were regulars at Burning Man, but by 2003 they were too busy getting Second Life out the door to visit the real life Playa. So Phoenix Linden approached the Burning Man organization for permission to build a tribute to the real event in Second Life. With permission duly granted, the Lindens built a Man statue much like the real thing, and “burned” it in-world. While Phoneix Linden (and Haney Linden)- started the Burning Life event, other Lindens facilitated over the years: Hamlet, Torley, Jeska, Iridium, and Everett.

By 2007 the Lindens were too busy to be directly involved with the event, and other SLers were running the event. These residents had never been to Burning Man and did not really understand how to represent its principles – yet they were using Burning Man’s symbols and vocabulary, and representing it inworld.

Increased Burning Man Involvement

Understandably, Burning Man was becoming concerned about what was happening to the vibe, the message, the community and it’s principles as represented and enacted by Burning Life. It was decided that sending help and getting involved was the Burner way to improve the event.

Everett Linden, the head of Community Initiatives for LL (and also a Burner), was aware of the issues involved. In 2008, the Lab hired Dusty Udal, an experienced burner, as a contractor and gave her a Linden name tag in order to help reposition the event. Also at this time, Danger Ranger – founder of the real life Black Rock Rangers at Burning Man – got involved and helped with reorganizing the Burning Life Rangers into a more community-based organization, truer to the principles of the RL Rangers.

Independence

In 2010, Linden Lab experienced a sharp downsizing, and ownership of Burning Life was transformed from a partnership between Burning Man and Linden Lab into an entirely regional Burning Man event held in the metaverse. This was seen as a win-win, as Linden Lab was focusing on it’s core business and technology, and less on suplementary activities, while Burning Man wanted a higher fidelity representation in the metaverse.

If you look at the history of BM, it has also undergone a dramatic shift. 1996 was an evolutionary year for BM. After that, BM found a balance between anarchy and organization. In a sense, BURN2 is where Burning Man was in 1997. We are establishing a firm base for evolution and growth in the future.

With the birth of Burn2, there is a sense of renewal, a sense of community and a sense of hope as Burning Man and the metaverse intermix. The Burn2 community is established and viable, and the future is at our doorstep.

5. Relay for Life in Second Life (2004-Present)

The very first volunteer-driven fundraiser for the American Cancer Society ever in Second Life was held in 2004 and raised US$2,000. From that small start, Relay for Life has grown to become a major annual event in Second Life. In 2018, Relay for Life in Second Life raised over US$200,000 for the American Cancer Society.

6. Anshe Chung: Second Life’s First Millionaire (2006)

AnsheChung_BusinessWeek_CoverOn May 1st, 2006, Businessweek magazine featured SL entrepreneur Anshe Chung on its cover. Here’s a blurb from the press release she issued soon afterward, as reported by the Alphaville Herald:

Anshe Chung has become the first online personality to achieve a net worth exceeding one million US dollars from profits entirely earned inside a virtual world.

Recently featured on the cover of Business Week Magazine, Anshe Chung is a resident in the virtual world Second Life. Inside Second Life, Anshe buys and develops virtual real-estate in an official currency, known as Linden Dollars, which is convertible to US Dollars. There is also a liquid market in virtual real estate, making it possible to assess the value of her total holdings using publicly available statistics.

The fortune Anshe Chung commands in Second Life includes virtual real estate that is equivalent to 36 square kilometers of land – this property is supported by 550 servers or land “simulators”. In addition to her virtual real estate holdings, Anshe has “cash” holdings of several million Linden Dollars, several virtual shopping malls, virtual store chains, and she has established several virtual brands in Second Life. She also has significant virtual stock market investments in Second Life companies.

Anshe Chung’s achievement is all the more remarkable because the fortune was developed over a period of two and a half years from an initial investment of $9.95 for a Second Life account by Anshe’s creator, Ailin Graef. Anshe/Ailin achieved her fortune by beginning with small scale purchases of virtual real estate which she then subdivided and developed with landscaping and themed architectural builds for rental and resale. Her operations have since grown to include the development and sale of properties for large scale real world corporations, and have led to a real life “spin off” corporation called Anshe Chung Studios, which develops immersive 3D environments for applications ranging from education to business conferencing and product prototyping.

It can be argued that this Businessweek article, and the resulting media attention it caused, was the spark that ignited a period of explosive population growth in Second Life, as people realized that they, too, could earn money on Second Life, and began joining the platform in ever-increasing numbers.

7. Stroker Serpentine, Virtual Law Pioneer (2007)

Lenni Foxtrot nominated Stroker Serpentine for this list, saying:

He fought for the rights to our own intellectual property, in RL, and won! He also a terrific guy that makes a great sex bed!

According to the Second Life Fandom Wiki article on Stroker Serpentine:

Virtual Law

As as result of Alderman’s “Sex Bed Case”, many lawyers and firms such as Francis Taney of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, who represented Alderman in his landmark case(s), have created teams of attorneys and legal analysts devoted specifically to “Virtual Law”. Virtual law encompasses the application of intellectual property law (copyright, trademark, and patent), criminal law, property law, contract law, securities law, tax law, and civil procedure as it relates to content creation, developmental considerations and micro-economies of virtual worlds.

In April of 2008 Benjamin Duranske of the Pillsbury law firm published “Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds”, relying heavily upon Alderman’s case.

Eros LLC v Catteneo

Near the weekend of July 4th, 2007, Alderman’s company Eros LL filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a Second Life avatar named “Volkov Catteno”, temporarily named “John Doe” in court documents, for copying and reselling his virtual SexGen beds. Through several subpoenas served to Linden LabPaypalAT&T and Charter Communications, “Volkov Catteno” was named to be Robert Leatherwood of Azle Texas.[4]

Leatherwood did not respond to the copyright infringement complaint within the allotted 20 days, during which time Alderman was able to persuade the court that selling virtual goods for Lindens, a convertible digital currency, does constitute a “use in commerce”. A default judgment was entered against Leatherwood pursuant to Chapter VII of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The international legal community characterized this lawsuit as an “Avatar vs. Avatar” litigation, with far-reaching implications in applying copyright law to virtual goods.

Eros LLC v Kenzo

Later that same year in October of 2007, Alderman spearheaded a six-person lawsuit against New York native Thomas Simon (aka “Raze Kenzo” in Second Life) for unauthorized copying, resale, and general distribution of the multi-platintiff’s intellectual properties. Simon was duplicating and reselling[5] various types of content from several different Second Life content creators.

The Honorable Judge Townes from the East District of New York specified the cases’ settlement to include the stipulations that Simon pay any monetary gain back to the plaintiffs, that he make his PayPal and Second Life transaction logs available to the plaintiff’s attorney, and that Simon will notify the plaintiffs of any new alternate names or accounts he uses in the virtual world of Second Life. This lawsuit and settlement represents the first collaborative effort of content creators against copyright infringement of virtual world property.

8. The Movement to Open Source (2007 to Present)

Second Life first embraced Open Source in 2007:

Linden Lab is taking its Viewer application of its popular online world Second Life open-source in order to push development.

Second Life has become a high-profile example of the growing interest in participating in online worlds, yet with a development team of 50 or so programmers, there is pressure to expand and secure the platform.

The source code will be licensed under the GNU General Public Licence version 2. A controversial third version will be announced later this month, although it’s unclear whether Linden Lab will adopt this.

The licence allows other developers to view, modify and distribute those modifications. What this means for Second Life is that developers could use this code to create their own viewer software, or participate in Linden Lab projects to improve Second Life.

However, the company says that while it will thoroughly test and support third-party code that is implemented in its own Viewer application, third-party code such as alternative viewers, will not be supported by the company.

The initial projects are likely to focus on bug fixes, improvements to compatibility with less common hardware configurations, such as older computers; support for additional multimedia types; User Interface changes; and potentially new look and feel ‘skins’ for the Viewer itself. Timeframes for these enhancements will vary depending on the scale of the project and project team.

Philip Rosedale, CEO and founder of Linden Lab, told AP that there might be other ways to interact with the game other than mouse and keyboard – such as gaze detection – to help the many disabled people who use Second Life.

‘We feel we have a responsibility to improve and to grow Second Life as rapidly as possible,’ said Rosedale. ‘We were the first virtual world to enable content creators to own the rights to the Intellectual Property they create. That sparked exponential growth in the richness of the Second Life environment. Now we’re placing the Viewer’s development into the hands of Residents and developers as well. This extends the control Residents can have over the Second Life experience and allows a worldwide community to examine, validate and improve the software’s sophistication and capabilities.’

Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden Lab, said: ‘Second Life has the most creative and talented group of users ever assembled and it is time to allow them to contribute to the Viewer’s development. We will still continue Viewer development ourselves, but now the community can add its contributions, insights, and experiences as well. We don’t know exactly which projects will emerge – but this is part of the vibrancy that makes Second Life so compelling.’

Open sourcing of Second Life’s code has led to dozens of projects which have enriched the virtual world experience for countless users, most notably OpenSim and the Firestorm viewer.

9. Voice Chat (2007 to Present)

On August 2nd, 2007,  Linden Lab released a new viewer with in-world voice chat capabilities (source: History of Second Life).

10. WindLight (2007 to Present)

On May 21, the WindLight atmospheric rendering was announced. WindLight is the codename for Second Life’s atmospheric rendering system that enhances skies, lighting, water, and other graphical aspects of the environment. (Source: History of Second Life)

11. The Banning of Ad Farms (2008)

On Feb. 14th, 2008, Linden Lab finally decided to ban “ad farms,” the small plots of land with gaudy advertisements that are designed to annoy and extort neighbouring landowners. Anna Avalanche reported:

“Whilst advertising in itself is okay, where it crosses the line into harassing behavior or visual spam, where the intent is purely to compel another resident to pay an unreasonable price to restore their view – then this will be covered under Harassment in our Community Standards,” Jack Linden wrote in a blog post.

“It will obviously be difficult for us to define exactly where example A is an abuse issue as compared to example B where it is not,” he added. “‘Ad Farm’ will apply specifically to advertising or content that is intended solely to drive an unreasonable price for the parcel it is on, usually by spoiling the view of others.”

12. Bay City and the Linden Department of Public Works or “Moles” (2008 to Present)

Bay City, one of Linden Lab’s first planned neighbourhoods, with a mid-century (circa 1950s) theme, was launched in 2008. It was the first project of the Linden Department of Public Works, commonly known as the Moles:

The Linden Department of Public Works (LDPW) is a program focused on improvements related to the experience of living on, or visiting the Linden Mainland. The LDPW will organize teams of Resident builders, artists, and scripters (the Moles!) to create new content on Linden Lab’s behalf and to the benefit of all. Rather than divert company resources from areas of development that contribute to important issues like stability and usability, Linden Lab is choosing to go to the experts…

It should be no surprise that when it comes to creating compelling SL content, it’s the Resident population itself that serves as the best talent pool. In order to hit the ground running, the LDPW has approached a number of content creators whose credentials are well-established, but from the start, its intentions were to make application to the program open to all residents. So if you’re a skilled content creator, please consider applying when the application process is open!

Here’s a complete list of LDPW projects over the years, including the Second Life HIghway and Transportation system, the Second Life Railway, and many other projects.

13. The Blake Sea (2009 to Present)

The Blake Sea, dotted with islands and a virtual paradise for sailors, was the first private-public partnership in Second Life, in early 2009 (Source: the Blake Sea article on the Second Life Wiki).

14. Second Life Marketplace (2009 to Present)

On January 20th. 2009, Linden Lab announced that it acquired the SL online marketplaces OnRez and XStreet SL (formerly SL Exchange) in order to merge and integrate them into a web shopping service for virtual goods that would become known as the Second Life Marketplace (source: History of Second Life).

The Second Life Marketplace has been a phenomenal success over the years, with millions of items available for sale.

15. The Linden Endowment for the Arts (2010?-Present)

FreeWee Ling adds in a comment to this blogpost:

I would add the establishment of the Linden Endowment for the Arts. I don’t recall the exact year — 2010 or 2011 I think. A committee was established to manage some 29 sims on behalf of creative artists in SL. In addition to a few committed sims, including a sandbox and a one dedicated to public-access movie sets, the vast majority are available for 6 month residencies by artists via an application process. Much of the art created on the LEA sims has been among the most interesting experimental work anywhere in SL.

16. Avatar Physics (2011 to Present)

Linden Lab introduced avatar physics to Second Life back in 2011, thus allowing for what some people see as a more natural movement of parts of the body such as breasts.

17. The Advent of Mesh (2011 to Present)

Mesh refers to the ability for users to create polygon mesh objects using suitable 3D rendering tools (e.g. Blender, Maya, 3ds Max) and then import them into Second Life for general use. This was introduced to Second Life in 2011, and it has had a significant impact on the platform. to the extent that many avatars have mesh heads and bodies now, as well as mesh clothing, hair and shoes.

18. Materials (2013 to Present)

On April 8th, 2013, Linden Lab announced a new Materials Project Viewer for alpha testing of Normal and Specular maps on Second Life objects (source: History of Second Life). Rolig Loon summarized the impact of this change:

Materials is a texture property, describing how light from nearby sources reflects off of surfaces.  Creators in SL have only had very rudimentary control over reflectivity until very recently.  Now that they have new tools, it is suddenly quite easy to make metallic surfaces look metallic, gravelly surfaces look gravelly, and snow look granular or fluffy. It doesn’t make any difference whether an object is a mesh object created by some external tool or whether it is made of SL’s native prims (which are also mesh, anyway). You can apply materials to any surface. To see the effects of materials on surfaces in SL, you have to be able to enable Advanced Lighting, which again has only recently been available to residents with fairly high-end computers.  Take a look at http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Materials-Normal-and-Specular-Mapping/ta-p/2034625 for a general description of materials mapping.

19. Bento (2015 to Present)

Linden Lab first announced Project Bento in 2015:

We are introducing extensions to the standard Second Life Avatar Skeleton that give you dozens of new bones to support both rigging and animation, and accompanying new attachment points! This extended skeleton, which is fully backward compatible with existing avatars, rigging and animation, gives creators the power to build more sophisticated avatars than ever before. The skeleton extensions include:

  • 11 extra limb bones for wings, additional arms, or extra legs.
  • 6 tail bones
  • 30 bones in the hands (all 10 fingers!)
  • 30 bones for facial expressions
  • 2 other new bones in the head for animating ears or antennae
  • 13 new attachment points associated with the new bones

20. Second Life’s Extraordinary Longevity on its Fifteenth Anniversary (2018)

The fact that Second Life has endured for over 15 years now is a testament to the initial vision of its creator, Philip Rosedale, and to all the employees at Linden Lab who have worked tirelessly on his project over the past decade-and-a-half.

But the biggest reason for SL’s successful longevity is, without a doubt, its users and creators. These are the people whose vision, drive, persistence, imagination, and creativity have made Second Life what it is today, and why it is still going strong after 15 years.


Have I missed any successes that you feel should be on this list? Please send me a comment on this blogpost, thanks!

Second Life Infographic: Some Statistics from 15 Years of SL

Both Daniel Voyager and Wagner James Au have posted an infographic that Linden Lab shared with them, giving some statistics on the occasion of Second Life’s upcoming 15th anniversary. (Somehow, I seem to have been left off the list of bloggers to receive this graphic…. hello, Ebbe? Remember me? I’m over here! *waves frantically* I know you read this blog! Could you pull some strings and get me on the secret blogger mailing list?)

Anyway, I thought I would share it, and a similar graphic from SL’s 10th anniversary for comparison purposes (both of which I took from Daniel Voyager’s blog, which I do recommend you follow):

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Keep in mind that of those 57 million accounts created since 2003, Wagner James Au estimates that only about half a million accounts are active users. He says:

Despite 57,000,000 total accounts and 350,000 new registrations per month, the active Second Life userbase remains around 500,000-600,000:  Over 10 years ago, SL’s active userbase reached a plateau of around 500,000 monthly active users, and despite continued new user sign-ups of around 350,000 every month, the number of returning users stubbornly refuses to grow much more than that — and just as mysteriously, stubbornly refuses to shrink much, either.

And here’s the infographic from the tenth anniversary of Second Life:

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