Friday, September 17, 2010

What's Wrong With Second Life and All That

I don't know who reads this stuff, but my current involvement with SL and my past as a virtual explorer are itching me to comment lately on other blogs and in private conversations with people. So I thought I'd take a stab at being a stable, rational and insightful individual for once minus my whacky just-havin'-fun persona and address what I think is the main problem for The Boyz in Second Life.


Among the real techniscenti, the buzzwords "web 2.0" and so on are viewed with contempt and eye-rolling. Why? Because none of this is new. The entire net is an outgrowth of a new platform but the ability to self-conform and self-route was intrinsic in the structure of that platform from the beginning. The synergy, the diaspora of information, the convergence of the bits, the organic growth were all there; all these buzzflaps are only new-speak marketing terms to allow reselling of concepts; concepts which are still developing as the medium explores itself.

How is Flash "2.0"? Flash was created in 1996. Yeah, so you can do more stuffs in it now. How long did that take? "Cloud computing"? We used to call that 'dumb terminals' because you didn't have the server/computing resources on your end; you were in thrall to the high techno-priests of IBM. How far did that closed-market approach take their personal computer business? [hint - they're now called 'Lenovo']

"Web 2.0"? Evidently, these people don't know much about the history or theory of the original network. Of course things are converging; of course they are linking up and feeding back in cybernetic loops. This was the whole point of the internet. This is what the internet was supposed to do. This is the structure built into the network itself. "The Internet" is not merely some passive bunch of pipes and wires with signal traveling through them; that's cable tv. The internet has an organic component; it is truly a cybernetic feedback system.


Second Life, to use an oft-mocked but valid analogy, should be a city on the information superhighway; maybe even the digital Manhattan. But SL will never be television. SL will never be The Web. SL may be part of the future but it will not be The Future. Get over yourselves. It's this tycoonish, arrogant shortsightedness that is harming your business model.

Second Life is an application in a new communications medium; a medium far different from books, films, radio or television. The net is not a passive medium. The net is spurring intercommunication between people to a degree not seen since the invention of the other major media arts. The net in turn is influencing new forms of communication itself in the same feedback loop previous technological leaps had. The medium is seeking its message.

Trying to make the net be like a previous technology is like using a cell phone to chip out heiroglyphics on clay tablets or make smoke signals; it is a stupid waste. The net is not television; passive and spoonfed [though segments of it can be that]. Nor is it newspapers [themselves in decline to little more than ad packages], radio [ditto, along with the homogenization of music] or films [big-budget pretty eye-candy yawners]. There's a reason the major entertainment industries are desperately trying to lock up common culture and regain their role as arbiters...


Hollywood stole the ooo-shiny eye-candy of the game worlds, which had already started to reel in the feedback from gamers who played games to play games, not to watch dvds. Both industries show a remarkable decline in sales [when weighted against people only being first exposed] in recent cycles. This is a simple lesson in what "the public" want from films and from games. They don't want games to be films, and they want films to be stories, not eye-candy. Sure, candy is dandy, but homogenizing one medium's strengths to try to glom off some lagniappe from another medium only weakens the original.

The ridiculous focus on the user interface should be examined closely. Trying to "get hip" and "make SL like Facebook" is as useless and ridiculous as trying to glue a GPS unit onto your Princess telephone and pretend you have a new SmartPhone. I wouldn't try to slap System X on a microwave or Windows Vista/7 on a public bank terminal. The interface is not going to look like a Mac with its' Dock, or Windows, with its' theft of the Sidebar and Widgets from Linux because it isn't a server, a MacBook Pro or Facebook. Get over your Facebook Envy!

Users aren't turning away from SL because of the interface. If that was the case, no one would be using Blender or Photoshop by choice [two examples of hideously difficult interfaces]. There will always be a percentage, or even a majority, who prefer not to learn how their car works or what it needs and depend on a mechanic to do that. Great; so make it simple for them to find a mechanic. Then make it simple for mechanics to do the tinkering for those people. But you can't ignore the purpose of a car: to take people places. To do its fundamental job as a vehicle for transportation. The car has to be reliable or people will buy another car.


The strength of Second Life is connecting with other people. Why should I go to SL when I, as an artist, could stay happily at home, making awesomeness in Blender or Maya or Photoshop and perhaps sending a few pieces to friends for their own enjoyment? Why would I go to SL, a program which is not "like Facebook" and therefore demands a little effort to utilize the interface, to hear a concert when I could just stay at home and listen to my cds or web broadcasts alone? Why wouldn't I be happy with some grownup Barbie-dressup game [Sims standalone] or a storytelling construction game, sitting alone in my own house making up pocket universes?

Because I want to be with other people and share things with them.
That is what cellphones facilitate; that is what email facilitates; that is what video cameras facilitate. That is why millions of people use them. People want to communicate, to share.

This is what should be the core focus at Linden Labs; that is, if they are serious about their own platform. After all, this is what I heard Phillip talk about in numerous speeches in 2004, and 2006 [and a loooonnnggg time before that, in 1996-7, they knew that; they also knew that in the late 1960s when the technology was being born]. All the fantastic visions, the glittery palaces, the concerts for kings and queens, the ability to work simultaneously in virtual space with collaborators... all these things.. everything, is rooted in and dependent on communication.


Every single complaint by thousands of SL clients over several years boil down to one simple thing: broken communication. The ability to find a store and shop at it, then call a bunch of people in excitement and tp them in; the ability to reliably "tweet up" an event in Second Life with a group chat; the ability to run on over to the next sim, or merely sightsee and travel [see Nish Mip's thorough and funny travelogues]; the ability to have some friends over for a wild dance party; all these things are focused on people communicating with others.

They aren't spending 90% of the time cursing the interface [except when it crashes, belches or otherwise gums up]. In many cases, helping someone else find out how to do things in Second Life is one of its pleasures. Sure, people will remark and grumble sometimes, but they do in RL also. It isn't the focus of their core experience [there's some valid 1.0 terminology].

Here's the Magic Key to the Successful Future of Second Life. Ready? Ok, listen closely!

Fix Search. Fix the Marketplace. Fix the Asset Server. Fix Group Chat and Group Notices. Fix sim-crossing freezes. Fix permissions. Fix stability. Assure us Second Life has a viable and serious future.


Forget the interface for now, Boyz, you got a major problem in your deepest premise: the communications in Second Life suck huge marbly rocks. Your foundation is rocky.

Anything you build on that foundation is wasted time and effort and money. Your measurements/metrics will change and sway with each gust of the market-wind and you will be forever trying to catch up. You will wither, unable to ride your own technological wave into the future.

Remember: how can you get to the future if your past [mistakes] are always present?



Kranfel aka Kling said...

Good post! For me its as simple as economics. Second life is too expensive compared to what i get in other grids, for example inWorldz.

I began to look around for alternatives when i didn´t get an answer to my support tickets in three weeks (i couldnt leave my parcel at sea level because of a bug on Lindens own protected water on the other side of my border).

Not enough value for my money, thats my reason. The prims are very expensive and when you dont get the support you need, then bye bye....

The competitors are close on your heels Linden Lab, watch out!

Miso Susanowa said...

TY Kranfel :)
Some of us have hung on, hoping that some sense and vision would reassert itself in one of the main progenitors of this multiverse.

It is all that much sadder when so many voices have clearly stated their basic concerns over the few years. I do see LL slipping behind, and it is mostly due to this simple error of not really getting why people use SL or what would make them bring friends or expand their holdings in SL.

Apmel said...

Awesome post Miso! I linked you:)

ZE design Zigadena Gabardini-Emarald Harvey said...

very well put.I salut you!

Miso Susanowa said...

ty both :)

Juanita Deharo said...

Well said Miso.
We all know it. Why don't they? You have to wonder what is in their minds. Given the way things are going I have to think maybe they WANT us all to go somewhere else, but even that credits the boyz with too much ability to think ahead.

Win Heron - The Celestial Poet said...

Hugs Miso - very good post