by: C. Sven Johnson

Those following virtual worlds have probably heard about recent “changes” to Linden Lab’s position in regards to how they - or supposedly their residents - will police Second Life to make it “safe, together” (Link). While I’ve been involved in the debates, there is a separate opinion I’ve formed regarding what’s occurred that I consider worth mentioning here: the less like the Internet Second Life becomes, the less reason there is for a company to stake a claim inside it.

I’ve repeatedly said that the best, if not only, reason for a company to enter Second Life is to get a sense of what the future 3D internet might be like (reLink). Linden Lab’s dogged determination to maintain a relatively strict hands-off policy made Second Life an excellent sandbox for advertising experiments and brand marketing tests. Griefers and virtual grey goo attacks and a virtual weapons market, as well as residents who both claim to live inside the virtual world and seem to be obsessed beyond all reason with it (and anything/anyone associated with it), offer glimpses into the kinds of issues a company’s future online presence may encounter.

It’s not that I don’t think that some minimum control is necessary; if the application itself is unable to operate, then obviously there’s no reason for anyone to bother. Those same observations previously led me to consider similar issues in a post titled “Protected (Cyber)Space” (reLink) which, when I read it now, sounds to me like an early script for some of Linden Lab’s current difficulties.

However, as Linden Lab is now clearly sending a message that they will react to external pressure from various quarters in order to keep their business alive, and, consequently, control user behavior - even that which does not impact the platform - in order to expand their global reach, Second Life itself starts losing the main ingredient which made it such a good recipe to try in the first place: lack of control over user behavior.

No doubt there are international issues with which they need to deal. And no doubt there are companies who have, are and will put pressure on Linden Lab to reign in the behavior of their users. But with each unique law/Cease & Desist letter/condition for entry imposed by corporations with fat wallets, the application actually becomes less relevant, not more. Not only because users will increasingly either behave or dump Second Life, leaving mostly docile and easily herded consumers in a less-than-satisfactory marketing environment, but because other applications are preparing to enter the market and would like nothing more than to attract early adopters who increasingly feel like victims of a bait ‘n switch… in addition to those same corporations.

Disillusioned Second Life residents would gladly accept behavioral guidelines if they only knew what they were, and up until now it’s been unquestioningly a mostly anything-goes atmosphere. However, Linden Lab steadfastly refuses to provide concrete guidelines, thus creating an even worse situation for these people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence I’m noticing an increase in ads from Second Life competitors.

If given a choice between clear guidelines with firm restrictions, and fuzzy guidelines with questionable but somewhat more lax restrictions, I know which one I’d choose. And like me, I suspect there are quite a number of users who would simply prefer to know what they can and cannot do, and will migrate to whatever application they feel can offer them an acceptable compromise; a tailored, protected cyberspace.

In addition, as reports come in regarding new applications such as HiPiHi (reLink), regardless of whether or not these new contenders are as good as they sound, they invariably raise levels of expectation beyond what Linden Lab has been able to maintain; or at the very least remind users of what Linden Lab has long promised but failed to deliver.

At some point a serious challenger will emerge, and even if they’re only technically as polished as Second Life, if they can avoid the Utopian mindset that has plagued Linden Lab since the outset, and set firm guidelines - those for which they are willing to fight for on an international level even at the expense of growth - then I believe they’ll not only attract users, but a larger base of interested corporations who may have already formed an opinion about Second Life and have no interest in revisiting it.

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Finally, there are the often-overlooked potential challengers to Second Life’s current reign as most compelling peek at the future internet which seem to be popping up with increasing frequency: from browser-based 3D plug-in’s based on X3D to 3D browser applications like SpaceTime (Link) to Croquet, which may eventually offer peer-to-peer functionality with local control, the future looks even cloudier for Second Life (and that’s not a pun referring to their recent acquisition).

And I’ve not even brought Google Earth and MS’s Virtual Earth into the mix yet, and we can all be relatively certain they’re interested (reLink 1, reLink 2).

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Since Qwaq’s announcement last March (Link), I’ve not really considered any other application to be a serious contender to Croquet. It’s not just that Croquet is an open source, potentially scalable peer-to-peer 3D world application, but that’s mostly the reason. And that’s enough, as fair as I’m concerned.

In addition, however, if you follow the links I provide above you’ll find one in which I said in comments:

I’m curious to see how something like Croquet deals with these issues. {”these” being the security issues that affect real life people, the net and a future “metaverse”.}

Assuming you read my earlier entry pointing to a post on the Meshverse Journal (reLink), and have read some subsequent discussion over on that blog, you know that my curiosity might now be satisfied by what could potentially be an emerging solution to the problem of creating “protected (but securely networked) cyberspaces”. And if it is a solution, companies may as well find a videogame or heavily regulated space like “There” and wait for the real thing. Because with development times being what they are, companies might get five or ten years of use before the 3D internet arrives in force.

Original Post: http://blog.rebang.com/?p=1295  

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