There is a very long post on the Second Life Blog (if you don’t check this blog regularly you need to bookmark it on your desktop for future reference):
The post starts with a new mission statement for Linden Lab:
“To connect everyone to an online world that improves the human condition”
This is an update to the old mission statement:
“Create an online world having the exceptional property that it advances the capabilities of the many people that use it, and by doing so affects and transforms them in a positive way.”
He goes on in the post to talk about the dreams that launched the platform, and the challenges they have faced (especially over the past year). I have been to their offices several times and I’ve never seen a group of people running so fast, and being so invested in an idea as the people of Linden Lab. While I may lay down criticism on Linden Lab at various times for their direction or focus, I do have great respect for Philip and his staff for what they are building and how they are making their dreams into (virtual) reality.
At one point in the post he looks out to the near future and gives us a glimpse of what’s to come:
- We need to seriously reconsider how the UI and more broadly the user experience for SL works, especially for new users.
- We need to keep opening SL up, as we’ve started talking about lately. This means formats, source code, partners, and more.
- We need to create new and different ways to communicate more often and more clearly with the community.
The first issue, the user experience and interface, is one that I have beat a drum for since day one during the BETA. The current UI for Second Life, I believe, is the single biggest deterrent to retaining new residents of the Second Life universe. There needs to be a streamlined UI for new users that is less intimidating than what they have available now. It is surprising that the UI has barely changed since the BETA five years ago. The UI of Second Life is its Achilles heel, a vulnerability that must be addressed if Second Life is going to move beyond a niche audience.
Over the past few weeks I’ve taken criticism for stating on the SLED listserv that Second Life will not be mainstream until it can run from a console and a keyboard (Xbox 360, PS3, or a Wii). Most in education were offended saying that those are “gaming systems” and that Second Life is not a game. This is a reflex reaction based on the negative connotations of the word “game” in education. But what I meant was that the interface to Second Life needs to be as simple to use as possible. Our students in Japan had a learning curve when they first started using Second Life because they had never used a PC and keyboard to play a game, all their experience with games have come from gaming consoles. I also used that statement to illustrate the decline in PC use, Japan being one of the first countries to show a decrease in personal PC use. The future of the Internet and the coming Metaverse is through “untethered” devices.
What do I mean by “untethered”? The future of access to information and virtual worlds needs to be seamless and available anytime and anywhere. Far too many people focus on virtual worlds like Second Life and future projects like the rumored virtual world Google is working on as destinations. These are virtual places you have to travel to via a computer. This tethers you to the computer while visiting these virtual worlds. The blind spot most have is to a virtual world overlaid on our everyday reality. What if you could use a mobile device to see things that coexist with the real world? In the past this has been referred to as “augmented reality“. With the blending of GPS and Cell Phone technology this could easily be a reality (or alternate reality) with virtual worlds. I’ve seen demonstrations by large companies looking into this technology. Now that virtual worlds are approaching a critical mass it only makes sense that these technologies now merge.
Lightweight web clients must be developed for Second Life and other virtual platforms. Sure these devices will have lower resolution and audio fidelity than computers, but people want access to information anytime and anywhere. If virtual worlds are the next evolution of the Internet they are not exempt from this requirement. The Second Life client is hardware heavy, and the new First Look WindLight client adds even more bulk to the system requirements of Second Life. I want to see a client that can run from an average computer as well as from an iPhone or other mobile Internet device. There needs to be a doorway to these virtual worlds from any standard Internet browser.
The second issue of opening up Second Life is critical to the ongoing success of the Second Life platform. If Linden Lab tries to keep control of the entire Second Life platform they will fail, and fail miserably. This past week has been an example of just how vulnerable the existing grid is to system problems. The Internet would never have flourished if it had not been put out into the open public domain. Just as the Internet exploded when anyone could run a web server, the Second Life platform’s future success is going to be tied to distributed grids all linked back to a central database or clearing house for currency and objects. This is an area that IBM is focused on, being the glue that ties together different virtual worlds and allows avatars free movement between them, along with their assets. They want to do for virtual worlds what they did for eCommerce in the 90’s.
As educators, we want to have control over our own servers and virtual environments. I want to be able to control who can visit my islands. I want the ability to take my students out to visit other schools, colleges, universities, and attractions. Right now I cannot take students under the age of 18 to the International Space Museum on the Main Grid. Education is all about “learning by doing” and shared experiences with others. By limiting K-12 projects to private islands on the Teen Grid, we are severely limiting the potential uses of this platform for education. As it stands now, we (PacRimX) can’t even interact with other K-12 projects on the Teen Grid. This has to change.
The third issue is an area that Linden Lab is severely lacking in. My calls to the Concierge do not instill confidence in times of crisis. My impression of the Concierge line is that it’s a rotating phone tree, and the calls land on random desks of Linden’s who don’t have much information available to either solve the problem while on the phone, or to give an accurate estimate of when a problem might be resolved and what is currently being done to resolve it. Linden Lab needs to dedicate a group to support the paying residents. This group needs to be focused on providing information that will help in solving problems and resolving issues, including non-technical issues like billing. What this all boils down to is that Linden Lab needs to learn how to operate more effectively as a business. This is not a problem exclusive to Linden Lab, most all creative explosive growth companies fall into this category.
Being someone who is deeply invested in this platform, I really appreciate a message like this one from Philip Rosedale on their blog. While all of the Linden Lab people are scrambling to bring their dreams to reality, they need to take time once in awhile to share that vision with the rest of us, and to solicit input from their community on where they are going and how we will all get there. It is amazing that Linden Lab has done as much as they have with the number of people they employ, currently at 250. They have created and legitimized the concept of a commercial virtual world. Philip states in his post today:
“We have managed to create a virtual world with the magical properties that we all knew were possible. If Linden Lab were to disappear tomorrow, this work would still go on. The rocket is lit. Virtual worlds are finally real.”
And on this Thanksgiving (a US biased statement), I am sure that we can all agree that we are thankful for those who put it all on the line to pursue a vision and to try to change the world. In Linden Lab’s case they are creating a new world. As an educator, I am hopeful that these new worlds are safe environments for our students to explore and learn. We may be participating in the birth of a new reality, one that will eventually seamlessly overlay our own reality and has the potential to radically alter the world by breaking down the barriers that separate us globally. It’s an exciting time to be alive and involved in these technologies, and that is really something to be thankful for.