Second Life - Second Iteration

Second Life was created using a methodology that works well for the internet - a strong team of people using open , best practices. The game/environment or whatever you want to classify it as - worked as an 'anything goes' place - where, like the internet - people were free to conduct their business as they had seen fit. In response, residents built the virtual world - some actually drawing real world salaries from their work (and scoring a newsweek cover for themselves in the process).

However, the game had been designed with one serious flaw. It was nonscaleable. It would only run on a single corporation's servers and its metaverse was largely closed to that server platform. Other servers could exist, but they would not be a part of the virtual land.

The first sign that second life had begun to iterate into another form, started back two years ago when the Lindens, the group of people that control it - announced and executed a ban on all gambling. Granted, it was gambling a virtual currency that could be later traded to a real currency. Nonetheless, the way in which the decision was reached was extremely troubling - an autocracy was declared - every casino, resort, and game that the residents had built - suddenly disappeared. The selective application of corporate policy. Had the application been hosted on multiple servers - or had been hosted across the open internet - such a ban could not have taken place.

And now, Second life is launching a new platform - and with it, trying to repackage themselves under the control and ownership of a Venture Capital firm. Unlike the Telcos - who made their trillions from packaging the human interaction of speech and attempting to connect people in this way - by simply extending the distances longer and farther - the VC money here is interested in clipping the social fabric off and closing down yet another part of the internet.

Second Life will soon become a part of Facebook. It will be 'Farmville' in the seventy second degree. The key element of SL - the ability of a user to create a world or world object , will be highly constrained and somewhat removed.

Think for a second - would you read this blog, if this blog had a series of templates that I had to use - to write to you? Ok, ok. Besides the templates I store that have Betty Page in them.

The line drawn between the social networking, virtual environments and the real world - is exceedingly hard to define. Yield power over the internet - to one corporate entity - and you will eventually yield social control to them as well.

Physical human contact, real world human warmth are the environment children thrive within - the concept that people can be 'connected' by abandoning their physical bodies and communicating in a highly limited medium that abstracts facial expression, body language, and the warmth of physical contact to a sort of meta-language that substitutes within the dialect - the loss of free expression and template driven interaction - is a concept that has, at its center - only the aim of corporate profit. Which is not a bad thing - after all, business is business. Why not try to change the world, and make a buck?

The question really is - how much money? There is alot more to be had by opening the internet than by closing it. Examples can be struck from recent American history.

Lobbyists influenced the design of America, a series of loosely interconnected hamlets + rockwellian burgs - when they pushed for suburban zoning that created the requirement that all people must drive to get to work, or to shop, or just to see each other. And the modern automotive industry boomed. They further influenced society with well designed spikes driven into the Nixon white house that convinced Richard Nixon amongst other Republicans to push the Kaiser Permanent HMO standard of healthcare - a multibillion dollar boondoggle designed to drug and care marketing plans that drive costs and corporate profits skyward while decreasing care delivered.

Second Life - nee Linden Labs - is now under the control of a Venture Capitalist named Kingdon - who will integrate it with Facebook and like the above - remove from it the built content and hard work of those who create, support and currently maintain. A Venture Capitalist controlling a platform , will ultimately decide what is best for the platform by basing his decisions on the characteristics he can perceive of the most marketed-to society in the history of the human species. But this is why good old King George got it wrong. It really isn't up to just one guy, he really can't make those choices.

Kingdon believes he is designing a marketing package to be placed at the holy altar of Facebook, in hope that they will take the package and, like Farmville - integrate it into a larger application framework.

But the size and scope of that application framework is much, much smaller than the Internet at large - and the design of an application to be a closed , locked platform is extremely destructive to the fabric of that platform. This problem is just like all the other marketing problems out there - the decline of Television advertising, etc. He is like the woman who is constantly running her children to bail out the downstairs as the bath water flows into the room - instead of simply going upstairs and turning off the faucet.

The key change that people like Kingdon fail to perceive is that in opening up their platform - and removing tiered, and vertically integrated implementations of their software - they are freeing the center of profit - user interaction - to fly over their platform and interact with it more broadly and deeply. It is that depth of interaction that drives back through to real world interaction, that is the most profitable form of interaction. GPS applications that let people set up points other than just finding another Blimpies, will ultimately be used to find a Blimpies. Mobile phone applications will be kept in the pocket for use in the real world instead of relegated to special use. And servers and platforms will not go down simply because one company didn't pay their power bill.

Can you remember when you first logged into the net? What were the last 5 like, compared to the first 5? How comfortable are you with your 'smart phone'? Do you remember what things were like when you first logged in - the excitement, and change? Do you remember how the economy boomed? How businesses sprung up all over the place?

And now, when you get your new cellphone - does it come with pre-set web pages? Does your blu-ray player make it hard to type in what you are looking for ? Do you remember when Youtube, started by a couple of Georgia Tech grads - was an open place where the videos you uploaded for your mom to be able to look at were not subjected to 'copyright issues'.

Same with Second Life. When it becomes a part of Facebook, those that discover it for the first time will have been a target audience that people like Kingdon - hope have lost sight of the concept of an open internet. SL will leverage the work of hundreds of thousands of people - and then cast it back toward younger minds that simply wish to connect with each other. They will intercede, and not facilitate - the development of social connection - and in the process commercialize basic human interaction.

In the end, the second iteration of second life will be a commutation of what its original and stated intent had been - a sense that the founding fathers, for all their idealism - ultimately failed. There will be taxation without representation. And the concept of democracy and open society will be dashed against the altar of corporate profit.

Someone, somewhere in the future will not light the church tower for Paul Revere's midnight ride by text message. Because they didn't pay for the app to do it. But in another universe, there will be an app to light the tower. And a company who made a little money off the app - and not off the platform.

Micropayments, Kingdon. Thats the secret. Find a way to drink from a firehose instead of shutting down the floodgate and pretending you can make a water park.

And so true to form, the second iteration of Second Life - as it stands now - would be something to watch out for instead of anticipate. Remember: An hour spent hacking on the internet - is like helping sixty minute men to line up against the british invasion. Hacking is not stealing stupid credit card information - its prying open the stupid stuff people do - and letting everyone use the net the way it's designed to be used: open, scaleable, traversable electric community.

And of course. Transferring images of Betty Page to ever safer storage mediums. Like say, my hard drive.


Anonymous said…
Is this relevant? Hasn't second life already sort of disappeared?