2007-08-11

Second Death

As you might have noticed from my profile avatar, I started this blog with quite a bit of optimism about the online virtual world, Second Life.

In the last few months, though, my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I have decided to try to put down into words the reasons why I am rarely in Second Life anymore, and why I don't expect to be there very frequently anymore in the future.

For one thing, I have tired of trying to get other people interested in trying out Second Life. I have found that, like cryonics, it simply is not a topic about which I can inspire much confidence in others. My recommendation is not good enough to attract the best and brightest people I know to try it out. Even for a moment.

Since one of the best applications of Second Life is for meetings, conferences, networking, gabbing, etc., this is a terrible drawback. Maybe someday the world will wake up to the advantages of virtual worlds and force themselves to learn how to use it -- kind of like they did for the World Wide Web (can anyone still remember how hard it was to get the average person to use a COMPUTER???). But I am not going to wait around wasting time till everyone else joins the party.

Second, I have come to notice several deep flaws of Second Life, and virtual worlds in general. I do not have much time to devote to Second Life, and I find this not just a coincidence, but a sign of how poorly virtual worlds integrate with everyday life. If virtual worlds do not help average people in everyday life do things they want to do better, then virtual worlds will never be accepted. As I said, I think virtual worlds already offer better teleconferencing than anything else, but since the world has so far refused to take notice, it may take some time to get this across. More importantly, the other uses that have been proposed for virtual worlds -- such as shopping, education, romantic mingling, sales -- are already better served by other media such as the 2-D Web or face-to-face. So far virtual worlds can't get past being novelty acts in these areas. Maybe it will require more sophisticated technology than just 3-D gaming tech to move beyond this impasse.

Lastly, Second Life has a wrong-headed business model, and already seems well on the way to being the AOL of virtual worlds. Although users in Second Life can create anything, they can't own anything. Because Linden Labs centralizes control of the virtual world around themselves, exercising the ability to delete entire university campuses at a whim, no one there will ever be able to feel safe investing time, money, and invention there. Users do not retain enough control over their creations, even when they rent ("buy") virtual island spaces for what it would cost to rent a home in real life. We all know where the evolution of virtual worlds is heading -- universal browsers with virtual spaces housed on the users' chosen servers, so that all virtual space can be privately and personally OWNED and where all virtual creations can likewise be owned, controlled, and backed up by users without getting permission from anyone else. By the time LL offers free space (the way virtual Disney already does), everyone will probably have moved on to somewhere else.

It is really a shame, considering the incredible effort that has gone into creating the many and varied creations of Second Life. We can only hope Linden Labs will do the honorable thing, back up their virtual world, and preserve it for users in the future to peruse for free, after their business model fails.

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