Second Life v2 shows ‘product thinking’ at Linden Lab

Exit from Second LifeThere’s a number of things to be said about the publicity Linden Lab recently attracted for moving developers towards a next-generation version of Second Life.

It’s bad for OpenSim. OpenSim still draws the majority of its users from Second Life due to the fact that it uses the same interface. If Second Life changes dramatically, there might not be enough critical mass in the OpenSim user base itself to continue to grow.

It’s bad for an open metaverse. Linden Lab has already said the new platform will be closed, proprietary code. If Facebook also decides to go the proprietary route — and, if Apple and Microsoft get into the game, they probably will, to — we’ll end up with a metaverse composed of large walled gardens that don’t interact with one another. Sure, eventually the walls will probably come down. But it wouldn’t be an auspicious start.

It’s bad for current content creators. Do they continue to make things for the existing Second Life platform knowing that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to transfer their creations to the next platform?

It’s bad for current residents. Do they continue to purchase content, and work on their builds, knowing that they might lose everything if the next version of Second Life is a success and everyone moves over?

The flip side is that if Second Life v2 is able to attract a large number of new users due to its cutting-edge technology and support for the latest hardware, then the decision to build it would have been good for Linden Lab.

Product thinking vs. platform thinking

Most of these issues come back to one single question: Is Second Life a product, or a platform?

This has been debated numerous times by many people.

We have no way of knowing what the original intent actually was, since we’re not mind readers, and early statements from executives can be read both ways. For a deeper discussion of this, read Hamlet Au’s Second Life is Not the Metaverse — But That’s Not What It Was First Invented to Be and the comments that follow that article.

Today, however, Second Life is most definitely a product.

Specifically, an entertainment product.

And entertainment products have to be refreshed. It’s not enough to have a successful movie or video game. Eventually people stop re-watching or re-playing it. You need to create new content, combine it with cool new technology, and box it up nicely with a big marketing bow.

Products have a finite shelf life.

And products have clear boundaries.

Does this game even have swords?

Mmmm. Fruit.

Customers don’t expect to be able to take their developed character from one video game, and play that same character in the next release. Typically, you start fresh — no money, no skills, no equipment — and work your way up as you play. When players pay extra for in-world content, they understand that the goal of the purchase is to improve the game play for that particular game. They don’t expect to be able to take their fancy new Fruit Ninja sword — if there is such a thing — to other games.

Products are typically “one to many” relationships. A company makes a product, and customers buy it. A smart company will listen to its customers to find out what they like and don’t like but, at the end of the day, all decisions are its own.

Products are relatively easy to manage. Most of the stuff out there is products. There are lots of examples to learn from, lots of experienced people to draw on.

Platforms are hard to build, hard to manage

By comparison, the number of platforms out there is much smaller.

A platform is the context in which products are sold. A particular video game console, or operating system, a set of standard for film projectors or video cassette players, an ecosystem of standards bodies, web server software makers and browser developers.

Platforms aren’t simple one-to-many relationships. They usually involve many companies and organizations providing products and services to many customers, though one company might be more dominant than others.

Platforms change slowly. Because platforms have many participants, getting the entire ecosystem to switch requires buy-in from a lot of different players. Here’s one example: Windows XP was released in 2001, and support finally ended this past spring. But, according to NetMarketShare, more than a quarter of all desktops are still running it. Not to mention the majority of all ATMs, large swathes of government agencies around the world, and three-quarters of Chinese users. Microsoft is doing its best to get everyone to upgrade, but there’s only so much it can do.

Platforms fail or succeed based on their partners and communities. It’s not the best technology that wins. It’s the technology that is able to get the most folks behind it. Windows won the operating system war versus Apple because of its hardware and software partners. Google’s Android platform is now winning a similar war against Apple’s iOS. Microsoft — despite its industry power and what they claim is better technology — has been unable to attract platforms to its mobile platform. It finally had to buy Nokia, a handset manufacturer, in order to get some devices to the market, and that still didn’t help it gain market share.

Oh, video tapes. I remember you well. And I still have a pile of you somewhere that I can no longer play. (Image courtesy Brian via Flickr.)

Oh, video tapes. I remember you well. And I still have a pile of you somewhere that I can no longer play. (Image courtesy Brian via Flickr.)

Platforms evolve. Each new generation of a platform requires a migration path to help the entire ecosystem transition. This usually requires some degree of backwards compatibility. Video game players are less likely to upgrade if their entire existing collection of games instantly becomes obsolete, or if video game developers aren’t easily able to port their games over. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are both exceptions to that rule, since, for the most part, they are not compatible with earlier games and accessories. As a result, there will probably be a significant period where customers continue to use the new console along side the older one. The switch from VHS tapes to DVDs was also a clean break — and, during the transition, many customers continued to have both types of machines.

With operating systems the transition is usually more gradual, with the majority of programs and applications continuing to run on the platform. This is especially true when the older applications are mission-critical. It’s not a big deal to not be able to play an old game anymore, especially when there’s a newer and shinier one you can play instead. But it is a big deal if your banking operations require a particular platform.

The World Wide Web is another example of a slowly-evolving platform. Simple HTML pages from 20 years ago can still be viewed with modern browsers. New technologies didn’t replace old technology, but were instead layered on top. This isn’t always a perfect solution, technically — and the Web’s ongoing security problems are one example of what can go wrong.

The bigger the platform, the more mission-critical the platform, the slower it moves, the more gently it evolves — and the farther it gets.

What it means for Second Life

Linden Lab’s upcoming release of Second Life v2 will more narrowly define Second Life as a product, not a platform, and thus further marginalize those users who do use it as a platform.

In particular, businesses and schools and nonprofits that use Second Life today for training, meetings and simulations will probably stay in Second Life v1 as long as they can because they have already invested in it. And when they move, they’re probably more likely to move to an actual virtual platform — High Fidelity, OpenSim, or Protosphere or 3DICC’s Terf or AvayaLive Engage,

I’m not saying that it’s bad to use Second Life as a product, as a social game. But that’s not the way I use it, and it’s not the way that most enterprises would use it.


Related Posts'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

28 Responses

  1.' Serene Jewell says:

    There are some giant players who could change the virtual world landscape and we still don’t know their plans. Google, Facebook, and Yahoo come to mind as corporations who have access to people’s social networks in a way that would give them a running start in developing virtual world products OR platforms. I can imagine a scenario where Google chooses to go open source with opensim or something else. It only takes one billionaire with a passion for virtual worlds to change everything. We still are in the early days of virtual worlds. It’s a very exciting time.

  2.' Mircea Kitsune says:

    I don’t think it’s bad news for OpenSim myself. We still have the existing open-source SL viewer, and no one’s taking OpenSim away. If some users prefer a proprietary Second Life more than this, it’s their problem. I think this might actually do us good… because OS viewers will finally stop having to care about what the Linden viewer adds.

    On the other side however, this is very sad for SL, and probably the dumbest thing Linden will do which will also cause them to lose users quickly. I never trusted Linden, and have been used to extreme and illogical decisions on their side ever since I found out about SL. Nearly a decade later, this has not changed at all. In an era where even some proprietary software aims to evolve toward open-source, Linden Lab wishes to involve toward close-source.

  3.' lmpierce says:

    If OpenSim fades away because Second Life changes, it’s because it hasn’t caught on enough to survive independently, and at this point, that suggests that it doesn’t sufficiently meet the needs and expectations of potential users. Many technologies, such as Facebook, to name one, exploded onto the world due to a tidal wave of unbridled and eager adoption.

    OpenSim is a great platform. I admire its capabilities and believe it could reach greater adoption over time. However, despite involvement from giants like Intel and IBM, use by the U.S. Army, and the building of thousands of sims by thousands of enthusiasts, OpenSim has just not ‘caught on’ in the sense of a Facebook – not even close to that.

    At the same time, Second Life has seen declines itself.

    To me, this suggests that the current paradigm of virtual worlds just doesn’t work for the world at large. Not yet, and maybe not anytime soon. Maybe never. But in any case, the current model isn’t catching on by modern expectations of preferred technology adoption rates, so it makes sense to try a new model.

    If Second Life is moving towards being nothing but an entertainment product, that is not what people want when they think of a metaverse. This leaves OpenSim as the only product of its kind. I don’t see how that is good or bad, in and of itself. What’s more important is to ask better questions related to why OpenSim hasn’t seen greater adoption. Believing that, as goes Second Life so goes OpenSim, is part of the problem. Any system that is going to work as a platform for a metaverse must learn how to be appealing to the masses. Linden Lab didn’t figure that out for the long run, but they are trying…

    And I would add that no one knows if Second Life 2.0 will succeed. No one knows for sure if Facebook made the right decision investing in Oculus Rift. I think of VR for the masses as this long experiment without clear outcomes. In the middle of an experiment, most conclusions about good or bad choices are guesses rather than analysis.

    • I pretty much agree with you here Impierce – OpenSim – as fantastic as it is – is basically riding along on the coat tails of SL, as a product or platform or whatever. Fair enough, it started out to be compatible with SL to be a kind of clone – although I know OpenSim is not a clone, but it is seen as SL’s little brother.

      Many others – including myself – have said numerous times that OpenSim needs to cut the ties with SL if it wants to succeed. Now that Linden Lab have announced SL2, this has never been more true – and urgently needed. By this, I don’t just mean a few little bells and whistles added here and there, like Var Regions, or the ability to create massive prims – beyond what is possible in SL – no, OpenSim needs to start thinking long term.

      What does JustinCC and Overte Foundation want to achieve long term with OpenSim? My hat is well and truly “doffed” for OpenSim as it is, and not being a programmer myself, I am truly grateful for the fact that such a platform exists in the first place. But where to from here? More patches, and fixes, tweaks around the edges? Or how about, new avatars, introduction of voxels, better HyperGrid performance. A new dedicated OpenSim viewer with all references to SL and LL removed – and the ultimate goal I feel anyway, web based access through a browser, even if only in a limited way.

      If the core developers start to think longer term, and start to think outside the paradigm of “must keep compatibility with SL”, it is possible for OpenSim to blossom. However, we are now at an important crossroads. The big guns are lining up and developing new more shiny platforms/products – will OpenSim adapt and change strategy, or will it be more of the same patches, fixes and tweaks – and regrettably, in five years time probably be obsolete?

      •' Han Held says:

        >What does JustinCC and Overte Foundation want to achieve long term with OpenSim?
        You’re assuming long-term thinking and planning from an organisation which has never demonstrated such. What are you basing your assumptions on? As far as Justin goes, I thought he said in the release notes for one of the 0.8 RCs that he was considering stepping down as the release manager. (He did. See: ).

        So, seriously -it appears no one is at the helm and the ship is steering itself.

        If any radical changes are going to come about, they’re going to come from outside of the organisation, by a group which forks the code and takes it in a different direction.

        No, seriously. It could happen…

        •' lmpierce says:

          I think OpenSim gives everyone a great opportunity to use the Second Life style paradigm of virtual worlds, without the same costs and constraints. Where I think there has been a shortfall is in the lack of interest most people have for regular participation in virtual worlds. I personally don’t assume the ‘fix’ for this is exclusively technological.

          People are busy creatures and using a virtual world takes time. Lots of time. The Web is much, much faster for most tasks. This is one reason virtual world marketplaces exist on the Web… it’s ironic, but the Web is far more efficient for virtual world shopping, as it is for many other activities.

          I don’t think there is a lack of long-term planning either. OpenSim has been a non-profit project, not a commercial endeavor. It does, in fact, offer a lot of utility in a variety of specialized settings. It’s also engaging and satisfying for people who have the time to become immersed.

          Keeping in mind that virtual worlds are competing on the entertainment front against online games, movies, books and television, as well as competing on the information access front with the Web, and let’s not forget, everything in the real world competes with our attention for extracurricular activities, I think it’s fair to say that wider adoption is not just a technological challenge, but a sociological challenge.

          •' Han Held says:

            I agree with your first two paragraphs and have said similar myself, your fourth one has nothing to do with the point I’m making -so I’ll confine my response to your third paragraph.

            You say you don’t think there’s a “lack of long-term thinking” -again, I ask …what specific reasons and instances do you base that on? If you look at their “roadmap” page, it’s empty. If you base that upon the features’ they’ve historically added one thing that stands out is how (apart from NPCs and possibly the hypergrid) reactive they are (SL adopts mesh? OS adopts mesh. SL supports MOAP? OS adds MOAP. SL supports region windlight, materials and the aurora-sim project creates variable regions …OS *reacts* to those and adopts them).

            To me, this indicates passivity, and while they don’t lack for talent or skill (I wish I could be so skilled!) I don’t see them creating anything *new*, I don’t buy the assertion that they have any sort of long-term roadmap. I don’t see any evidence that they have long-term goals for the project, I don’t see a laundry list of features they plan on implementing -I don’t think any such list exists, I don’t think any such *goals* exist.

            This is not to say the project is not worthwhile -I believe in it because of the personal empowerment it offers end users, I just simply say tout the strenths they have and not the ones they don’t.

          •' lmpierce says:

            When I say, I don’t think there is a lack of long-term planning, I don’t mean the converse, there is long-term planning. I mean that the absence of long-term planning is not a shortcoming due to poor organization. The absence of a roadmap is the anticipated state of affairs given that OpenSim appears to be a project, which, once created and brought to fruition, is essentially on its own.

            They write two interesting things in the first paragraph of the homepage:

            “OpenSimulator is an open source multi-platform, multi-user 3D application server.”
            “In this way, it is the basis of a nascent distributed Metaverse.”

            This tells me that what they hoped to achieve is what they say, a platform that can be used to start a Metaverse. I think the key term is ‘nascent’. They have created what they set out to create and have even continued to improve stability and add features. I feel no grounds for thinking this indicates passivity.

            The kinds of advancements you imply by indicating that you do not see a laundry list of features they plan on implementing requires not only talent, but a tremendous amount of time. Who will step forward and fund such an endeavor? Are the developers of OpenSim now committed to a lifetime of volunteer work on our behalf?

            A business entity, like Linden Lab is certainly organized along different lines. For one thing, they have a revenue stream that funds further research and development. Additionally, most commercial endeavors hope to be around for a long time generating income, and although many are guilty of short-term thinking, they have a lot of incentive for long-term planning.

            In my view, the developers of OpenSim have already given a great deal of their time and their lives in benefit to our interests. It has been, for all intents and purposes, a gift. I think the desire for ongoing innovative advancements is understandable. After all, we’ve been given a taste of what is possible. However, I think it’s only fair that our expectations remain reasonable and unpresuming.

          •' Han Held says:

            I can agree it’s not a short-coming in and of itself, no. My whole contention was about the idea that they have any sort of master plan going forward -it’s apparent to me that they probably don’t. 0.8 is reasonably stable and if they wanted to just rest on their laurels in perpetuity, they’ve certainly earned that right!

          •' Minethere says:

            Hi Han-) I am just curious about your sentence, “SL supports region windlight, materials and the aurora-sim project creates variable regions …OS *reacts* to those and adopts them).

            Specifically, with the caveat that I know you are much more knowledgeable about all this than I will ever be, but how do those items correlate to variable regions? Is not varregions a totally different thing unlike anything SL has ever done? I see you might be saying that OS has reacted to aurora in that regard, so perhaps I need more coffee.

            Regardless, I personally see it as a major paradigm changer.


          •' Han Held says:

            Hi, Minethere, sorry -I could have written that clearer.
            What I meant was that all the things I listed came from other projects and were adopted by the opensim project; region windlight, materials came from SL, and variable regions were developed by aurora-sim.

        • Ok just read the link you posted Han Held, and I don’t see any mention of JustinCC standing down

          ” …It’s also the case that I may have a limited window of time to act as release manager, after which things may get very busy for me for an extended period.” A bit vague, but it is not an outright statement that he is stepping down permanently, or walking away from OpenSim.

          However, I do agree that there seems very little evidence of a longer term plan. If the only plan was to create a server platform that a metaverse could be built upon – they have achieved that – but so what! In the coming months and years new platforms will be coming out that could also be used as the basis for a metaverse such as Philip Rosdales HiFi, more so than the closed source and closed wall efforts of SL2.

          I do think it is a little unfair to expect the same kind of thinking from a non-profit opensource community project, as one would expect from a multi-national corporation. But I for one would like to see that the developers have a plan, and a blue print as where they want to go.

          I love OpenSim, have been apart of this community for the last five years, but I think this is a critical time now – a time that provides a wonderful opportunity to go beyond our current position, but it is also a time when the landscape could change dramatically and see other players come in and dominate the field.

          • OpenSim has always prided itself on being a user-driven organization. There’s no commercial entity at the head of it, as there is with, say, WordPress or Ubuntu or many other open source projects.

            I think this means it’s up to us, the users, to come up with a strategic plan for OpenSim. I’ll start. Stay tuned.

          •' lmpierce says:

            Yes. Here is what the developers have written on the opensimulator homepage: “OpenSimulator allows virtual world developers to customize their worlds using the technologies they feel work best – we’ve designed the framework to be easily extensible.” This is an invitation to take the ball and run with it.

          •' Han Held says:

            There’s a middle ground between being a multi-national with an agenda, and just kinda doin like whatever’s groovy, man. It’s not uncommon for open source projects -even smaller ones- to have a set of features or bugs that they want to knock out of the park. I don’t look down on the devs for not having a plan but at the same time …I don’t run around saying they’ve got some sort of a plan.

            I’m happy enough with 0.8 …I even consider rolling back to 0.7.6 sometimes (I’m not impressed with the hypergrid attachment breakage). Things in the VR field are advancing and we’re seeing more and more platforms rise up, while our platform is showing its’ age -regardless, tho, I’ll still be playing with it on my desktop as long as I’m able to run it -if I’m running opensim 5.0 great, if I’m stuck with opensim 0.8 -that’s also fine.

          •' Minethere says:

            I watch this regularly, and he is still adding stuff so, dunno, but I do recall that article.

          • Justin Clark-Casey says:

            Rumours of my death have been greatly exagerated :). Back when I wrote that, I did expect to be very busy after the release period but certainly nothing like leaving the project. However, as it turns out circumstances have wheeled around again and I actually find myself with more time than I thought.

            As for roadmap, I think you really have to remember that OpenSimulator is not a commercial entity or a project driven by a single corporation. It’s reactive, organic and evolutionary rather than cathedral. However, I disagree that there are no long term goals because there is one big one – to bring about the Metaverse.

            Unlike a lot of other projects, even open-source ones – that’s an incredibly amorphous and complex goal. It will take a lot of experimentation to find out what that means – we’re only on the start of a road that will last for decades. But that’s where I think open-source will ultimately win out over commercial projects. It’s only by putting basic capabilities and an anarchic network (the Hypergrid) in the hands of thousands of independent minds like yourselves that we’ll find the true community driven innovation that we need.

          •' Minethere says:

            Hi Justin,

            There is some more discussion about this over here in case you feel like adding some thoughts there also.

  4.' keyandrew1 says:

    Im not sure if this is good or bad for opensim….. I love opensim but when I bring clients into VR its always been with Second Life even through I really want to be somewhere else….. We are just gonna have to wait a couple years to get a feel for the next platform…. Whatever it is the more connected is where I’ll be….. The metaverse is already here in a way as the “internet”….. I trust the process and the wisdom of the crowds idea…. Im excited about “High Fidelity”… I wish I could just fast forward a few years so I can really get to work and not be in this strange in between stage….. I’m glad that there is competition because that pushes ideas further….. It’s clear that any walled garden seems like a good idea for major corporations but that will be short lived…….. Looking at the history of tech shows the huge benefits of an interconnectedness model…..(like the internet)….. A co-creative spirit and the correct intentions are needed when building these worlds….. It speaks to our urge to connect in a deeper way…..

  5. The way i see it is that the moment they announce of the new version, then killed second life. I’ve been on SL for the last 5 years, pretty much everyday and now I feel like It would be a waste of time to put any effort into to doing anything there, knowing that its on a timer to die. All my work in last 5 years there will be for nothing.

    we all know what happens when you introduce something new to a community, they adopt it and if it’s an replacement, they move on with it. Like when they introduced sculpts, people start making furniture with less prims. Then they introduced mesh, and people reduce using sculpts. So at the end of the day most will move to the new second life ( its like a fashion trend ) and start over and spend more money on fixing your appearance with cloths, furniture, etc.

    Then there the other issue, people with older hardware and lesser income, people with passion to do great things with so little they have. They wont have a chance. But hopefully, open source community will keep up the good work and find it’s own path rather than trying to match second life in the future.

    And don’t forget there’s another set of people like me that aren’t happy with the start over and may not go with it at all. I just got a grid up and running a month ago ( going through some tweaks and sorting things out ) and probably going to put more time into the grid than second life ( you don’t stay on a sinking ship when you know it’ll up in the bottom of the ocean at the end ).

    But one thing i’m sure is that virtual world community will go on with or without second life.

    @lmpierce:disqus: OpenSiim is not the only other platform. there are a lot out there. Its just that majority of the people use it.

  6.' Joey1058 says:

    This is a “half empty/half full” debate. Okay, Second Life is a product. But people have been using it as a platform. Linden Lab will not shut SL down in a week, the way that Electronic Arts simply closes a title when it falls below projected numbers. It is precisely the fact that SL is being used as a platform that has kept it viable for so long. Dysfunctional as the Lindens are, they know how to support a community better than EA ever will. Because EA produces commodity products. They never had any interest in the communities that develop around a product. But there are several wild cards in the game that are being played now, to use a metaphor. Occulus Rift, and High Fidelity, are just two of those. Time is another. Personal interest is also. I have said in these pages before that I do not see SL just shutting down as soon as the new product is opened. There are just too many people using it as a platform.

  7. In response to some of the comments below about OpenSim’s long term vision, I just posted an article:

    OpenSim is a user-driven project. We are all users. We can speak up and say what we want the long-term vision to be.

    I, for example, want to see OpenSim develop into the, or one of the, default platforms for the open metaverse, with full VR support.

    Do you have a vision or a goal to suggest? Please go to that article and add it to the comments, and I WILL DO A POLL of all our readers and find out what the priorities are for the community as a whole!

  8.' sl animator says:

    ok I’ve been in SL for over five years, and I was involved in many aspects of it. Modeling, dancing, making animated art, creating poses and animations from scratch (frame by frame) and still do… socialize, participate in lots of fairs, SL11B, charity events, etc. The problem I have with this new switch is that I have no idea if i fit in or not. Leaving your customers/clients from SL in the dark I feel is horrible… We have the right to at least know ahead of time if our skills are going to be needed there or not. I love making animations, and its all for the fun of it, but it still would be nice for SL to give us a little more information as to what we can expect. thanks…

  9.' cathartes aura says:

    IMO LL, the top builder/content creators and land barons are/have been conspiring to drive out their smaller competitors. They would rather have a smaller, non-mass adopted world where they reap 90%+ of inworld income, instead of a smaller percentage of a much larger economic pie. They are that greedy… Atlas Land Program, grandfathered tier, reduced tier, free tier to their “friends” have led to the current position LL/SL finds itself in.

    Instead of eliminating all that destructive BS, LL, the top content creators, and the land barons appear to be doubling down on it. Hence the concerns over SL 2.0. Which according to ole Ebs is just like SL 1.0 “but better”.

    What will be “better” about it? Land costs even more highly rigged to benefit certain folks at others expense? An “approved” content creator program where only “friends” of LL are allowed to create? The above mentioned scenarios wouldn’t surprise me a bit given the past actions/performance of “the Lab”.

  10.' Apple says:

    The Lindens are not handling the new platform well, or more specifically, the transfer to the new platform. What is going to cause them problems in the end is the “Have your cake and eat it too” mentality in which they approach decision making with. SL, as the TC pointed out is a “product” at this point in time. A very popular one at that, with many of it’s people being more than a little devoted to it. On the other hand, when it benefits them, the Lindens treat it like a platform. They are overly dependent on the inworld creators to make their product more interesting. Also, when they have to deal with anything, their response more often than not is to wash their hands of it and say it’s out of their control because they don’t get involved. This is how you manage a platform, not a product. In short, since the Lindens are undecided about whether it’s a product or platform, so is everyone else. They want the best of both worlds. In my experience, when you try to get the best of both worlds, you end up with the worst of both worlds.