Will SL Die From Competition?
That seems to be the ongoing question. Will SL survive? Where will Linden Lab take it?
I'm certain that's a big reason behind LL opening registration without verification. I don't blame them for doing it, but a lot of us were upset that it was sprung on us and without any sort of advanced notice or with any features to combat the problems it creates. Posthumously, Linden Lab is giving residents land tools, hopefully an LSL command or two, and marking profiles whether they are verified or not.
While certain people are worried whether this will cause "Second Class Citizens" or not, the reality is that the whole Internet works that way. When you go to pay for something, you use a verifications sytem so that your transactions are secure. Implementing this in SL is the same thing. LL needs to go much farther, of course, but time will tell if they do it, or if it's implemented via 3rd party through some parallel web interface.
Google's motto "Do No Evil" does not mean "Don't take over the world".
Well, Google Earth is poised to take on the metaverse. France is competing, sure, but only time will tell if they're serious. There.com is still back in the "we own the IP" mindset - they are definitely on the game side of the game/platform debate. ActiveWorlds is, and will likely always remain, a prototype. (Especially with such policies like word filtering systems that filter out not only swear-words, but "Second Life" and "There.com". What good is the Internet without the ability to speak freely. (Barring normal 1st amendment exceptions.) Open Source Metaverse Project may have some folks out there working on it, but who knows if anyone will ever make something workable enough that can be funded - and if so, the likelihood is that it will be purchased by one of the existing ones out there anyway.
So, when it really comes down to it, there's Linden Lab and Google as viable metaverse platform development companies, and no one else yet has surfaced. Let's see how the two fare:
Google has billions and billions, and doesn't charge for its product.
Linden Lab just had an $11mil grant, $8mil two years ago in a grant, and they have subscribers who don't quite make it profitable, but user base that grows about 20% per month.
Google has Larry Page and a huge talented staff led by talented people.
Linden Lab has streaming guru Philip Rosedale, and a small but talented staff.
Linden Lab is fairly unknown to the public, Second Life is getting lots of press.
Google *is* branding, as it powers a great deal of the Internet's non-spam advertising.
Virtual World Specs
Here's probably the most interesting comparisons:
Google has built-in search, Linden Lab is "working on it."
Second Life has avatars that interact. Google is "working on it."
Google has a really easy build tool.
Second Life's build tool is clunky, there are rounding errors, and severe limitations such as prim sizes, lack of meshes, and a limit to the number of primitives per area.
Second Life has physics, a scripting language, and dynamic objects.
Google is static.
Google will soon have interoperability with other file formats.
Second Life ... ruh roh!
The Knockout Punch?
If there is anything that can really knock down Second Life, it's the lack of data backup and ability to import files. Linden Lab has said they want to eventually allow importability, but they don't have it as one of the priorities. Meanwhile there's a glut of content out there and professional developers who'd like access to Second Life with there existing creations.
Now, we have cool things like Aimee Weber building an American Apparel store in SL, which seems to indicate RL companies may move into SL. But when a build is fairly static in nature, and really the interaction aspect is not that important, which is a company going to be drawn to?
A. Second Life, featuring $1250/sim upfront, $200/sim/month cost, threats of griefers and crashes, and no data backup?
B. Google Earth, which you can distribute layers for free from an existing website, you can have the design built and imported from any standard 3-D format?
Add to this that Google Earth is planning avatars, and it would seem the only thing Google Earth lacks is the ability to build in an environment other than the planet Earth. And, can all the smarts at Google really not think of that idea? They'd be stupid if that wasn't in works, too.
What about the whole postmodern, everyone's-on-the-same geography aspect of the Metaverse? Well, with the islandification of Second Life, and people doing things in their own areas, that's being worn thin anyway.
So, without the commercial sector coming into SL, will it still be a viable platform? Maybe as a chat platform. Can Linden Lab survive creating a chat platform? I doubt that's in their goals.
Linden Lab needs to get in gear to stay alive. I'm hoping they have already, because it's a great platform and I want to see it succeed. But really, we still lack basic essential elements:
- Integrated chat interface to IM. (Jabber, etc, Linden Lab has not even started on it)
- A way to import / convert from standard 3-D formats (No timeline yet when)
- Allowing use of standard programming languages for scripting, and/or 2-Way high-volume html transfer. (whether with XML/RPC or with better HTML functions, planned, and overdue)
- Integrated 2-D web browsing (i.e. reverse compatibility, in progress by Linden Lab, months overdue)
- Superior land and group tools to enable the proper organization and control. ("soon")
- Proper search tools. (in progress, purportedly)
And these are just essential features, let alone ease-of-use improvements and upgrades to the environment. (havok, improved framerates, better culling, longer-range display)
Linden Lab is going to have stop saying "We having trouble finding good talent" and start finding more incentives to bring in the talent. There's a ton of work to be done, and shrinking time for it to be accomplished.
What Linden Lab has is a head start, and that's not to be understated, either. The amount of things that Linden Lab has discovered heuristically by having the community in place to provide feedback is enormous. On the other hand, who's to say that a competitor won't pull what World of Warcraft did to Everquest: keep the best aspects, and fix the bad ones?
Google also lacks of idea of owning space; instead they go with the overlay idea. But really, how many overlays can you have on at the same time? And then there's the dynamics question: Who wants to go to a virtual world where nothing moves, nothing interacts? Who wants to wander a silent landscape? Google will have to add in a way to change elements of the system, for certain.
Google also has to really express that they want to do the Metaverse. Just having an online virtual world isn't enough. Google so far has lacked the enthusiasm for a cooperative, shared, immersive environment.
So, if there's hope for Second Life winning out, it's the mindset. As with any great accomplishment, if you can visualize something, you're much more likely to obtain it. Some say if you have visualized something, you've already obtained it.
Will SL Die From Competition?
While there are many for-profit companies touting themselves as innovators for the Internet, it is instead educational organizations and non-profits are leading the way in using Second Life as a tool.
One would think that it would be tech companies leading the way, since they are in such a highly competitive field and need to have every edge they can. Excepting Google (which is into everything, nowadays), we find that it is the educators and non-profits experimenting with virtual worlds and pushing the Web 3.D*, who are much more cooperative than competitive with one another.
To highlight a few projects:
- A SL Developer group, The Magicians, has been working with Global Kids to create an online environment on the SL Teen Grid.
- Aimee Weber has done what may be the first educational machinima, and works with The Exploratorium, whose last collaboration on the 2006 solar eclipse was a real treat to attend.
- Speaking of astronomy, the International Spaceflight Museum is opening Sunday on Spaceport Alpha sim. I have a small involvement - a gift shop and the dome over the main stage.
- I've also been very busy developing the Landing Lights 3-D Wiki, part of Democracy Island, sponsored by New York Law School's Do Tank. It's a "Build your own park" for local people in a real location in Queens, NY, to have direct input into what they think should be done to improve their park. The 3-D Wiki will be used for actual feedback to the city's planning board, and the board has been aiding a great deal in providing feedback to allow us to meet their needs.
- New York Law School of course provided a great deal of support for Second Life Community Convention last year, which was a huge success. (Okay, more self-promotion. Guilty as charged.)
- There's also Brigadoon Island, which has been around for a while now, helping Asperger's patients interact in social situations.
- And speaking of the health and mental health industry, the American Cancer Society put on the very successful Second Life Relay for Life last year with aid of a number of SLrs, and this year Jade Lily and Aimee Weber are heading up the massive 12-sim in-world event. I've volunteered to help in a small role.
- I've also heard from Danielle Damone (SL name) who co-developed a team-building experience in Second Life for an undergraduate class at Seton Hall University she is teaching.
- Entire classes are being mixed into SL as well. I was able to personally help with a university class this past Spring. I played a sort of virtual-lab-tech role for a small team for USC's 400-level class on Designing Online Multiplayer Game Environments. Teams of 4 or 5 each made their own multiplayer game in SL. I've also heard about something on the order of 16 or 20 other university-level classes participating in SL, all with last names.
And I'm sure there's plenty of which I'm not even aware. (Please do feel free to respond in comments with more programs.)
Why is it educators get SL? I suppose when it comes down to it, the people in charge tend to be more open-minded than corporate executives. That's my theory. I'm interested in your theories, so please post them in comments, readers.
* Web 3.D is a term coined either by Phillip Torrone or Mark Wallace who both said it in the span of a few hours in the same evening. We're not sure whom actually said it first, though Mark runs the website. :)