In January, I had written a long-winded article on why Second Life has not fulfilled its potential (and is actually in a slow decline, as Tyche Shepherd documents). However, as long-winded as it was, it did not address all the issues that Linden Lab could improve and perhaps, due to its length, it was a bit unwieldy for many readers. Today, I’m going to revisit this topic, but not in the form of a single post. I’ll start a series of posts on the matter. As it stands, I don’t know – yet – how many posts this series will consist of, as there is a significant number of issues that need to be addressed and it’s still not entirely clear to me whether some of the resulting posts will need to be further broken down into smaller ones.
The starting point for my initial article was a November 2012 article on the Slate, which was yet another obligatory run-of-the-mill (and quite misinformed) “Why Second Life has failed” article. The authors compared Second Life to the Segway and claimed that SL is “like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills.”
First of all, there is a serious factual error in that article: SL may be in slow decline, as the gradual loss of privately-owned (i.e. non LL-owned) regions shows (and some of the reasons for this gradual loss have nothing to do with LL, but everything to do with the idiotic and destructive neoclassical/neoliberal financial policies followed by austerity-obsessed governments throughout the world), but it’s still not a failed project at all: it is still highly profitable (although its profits certainly wouldn’t let LL’s CEO afford a business jet), it is the virtual world that has survived the longest so far and it has a massive community of users and content creators that show a dedication and passion I’ve yet to see in users of other virtual worlds. Oh, and it also has a large marketplace where content creators can sell the goods they make and either fund their existence in this virtual world or supplement their Real Life (RL) income or even make a living out of their SL-based businesses.
Whatis Second Life?
Second Life is an excellent virtual world platform, but I do get the feeling that, until now, not many have grasped what SL is really all about. Some commentators think it’s a game; others think it’s a “sandbox”. Others think it’s a chatroom with 3D avatars. As you can see, there is a hefty deal of confusion as to what Second Life really is all about.
As a matter of fact, it seems that, for far too long, not even LL’s own management had understood its own product and its potential, leading to many marketing blunders. Second Life, like I said, is a virtual world platform. It’s not a game, although it can certainly offer immersive and interesting gaming experiences. It’s not a mere sandbox world. And it’s not a chatroom either: it’s an entire virtual reality platform that can develop a strong social element and it can also provide users with the opportunity to use it for a number of purposes, such as:
- The creation of immersive worlds for various entertainment and educational uses.
- The reinvention and reimagining of one’s own personality and self, which would enable them to express aspects of their own psyche with considerably reduced fear of stigma (thanks to a general anonymity and the fact that segregation of RL from SL is the accepted norm within the userbase of SL, and by LL itself).
- Creation and sale of virtual goods.
- Creation of immersive 3D environments to showcase products, builds etc.
Now, contrary to popular belief, SL’s diminishing popularity and its rather lacklustre image cannot be solely attributed to the high cost of virtual land; even if LL slashed its tier cost, it is unlikely that this would result in more regions being rented by people, as Exotix (Inara Pey) documented.
Now, I am certainly not the only one who has dealt with the always popular “what’s wrong with SL and what can be done to improve things” topic. Numerous other bloggers, some better, some worse, have covered it and I certainly am going to be using parts of their work as starting points for my own arguments, with due credit given.
But what should LL do to turn things around?
For starters, they need to understand, admit and acknowledge that there are problems with SL. Then, they need to be critical of both the platform and of themselves. Finally, they need to separate the symptoms from the problems. For instance, region loss is not a problem, but a symptom, i.e. the manifestation and result of a number of other problems that cause people to abandon their land (and even leave SL entirely). LL need to sit down and understand what people complain about, what makes them leave, what keeps them in SL, and they will have to review – very critically – their own attitude towards these grievances of the users. So, in this I fully agree with Penny Patton. It must be said, however, that LL have often received unfair flak from users and that the flames of many users’ ire are sometimes fanned by people who either have axes to grind with LL for whatever reason or simply enjoy creating internet drama.
Problems and Symptoms
Before we go any further, we must sit down and consider whether the “problem-solving” that LL engages in and is demanded to engage in actually solves problems or not. Please note that I did not place the emphasis on “solves”, but on “problems”, straying quite far from the norm when it comes to speaking of LL’s and SL’s woes.
Because far too many people confuse problems with symptoms. I believe that right now is the best moment to draw a clearly visible line between the two, to help not only the analysis that will be part of these posts, but also readers’ understanding of it.
Symptom:It is the result of a problem; it is caused by a problem. It is, in essence, the evidence by which a problem can become known to us. However, because symptoms are usually all the warning and indication we get that something is wrong, and because of a lack of rational thinking that characterises far too many people (especially among those arrogant, ignorant fools who fashion themselves as “paradigms of rationality”), symptoms are misidentified as problems.
Problem: It is a holistic and systemic failure of something we are trying to accomplish and manifests itself through a variety of symptoms.
Why is this so important? Because, when you mistake a symptom for a problem, you are not fighting the underlying cause, but the result. This is a waste of time, money and resources. Lots of time spent, and what are the results? Nothing. It has no end and, by allowing the underlying problems to persist, the symptoms will persist too, resulting in frustration, disillusion and, more often than not, serious tensions.
On the other hand, identifying the problem and treating the problem instead of its symptoms gets things done; it has an end. It creates momentum and, yes, satisfaction. And, of course, it allows you to move on to the next issue.
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