Back in June, I wrote a piece on Philip Rosedale’s (and others’) illusion that Linden Lab’s virtual world Second Life would become the next worldwide web, according to statements he made to the Guardian in May 2007. Of course, 6 years on from then, i.e. from the era when SL was the darling of the media, we all know that Second Life and the other virtual worlds are certainly not considered mainstream. It’s true that SL is the most prolific and popular virtual world platform, but it simply doesn’t have the number of users (or the image, but that’s another issue entirely) to make it “mainstream” in any generally accepted sense of the term. Mind you, none of the other virtual world platforms that were spawned from it have fared any better – in fact, some have even gone under.
If you try to look for explanations and theories for this failure of virtual worlds in general to become “mainstream” and fulfill the promise and the hype of yesteryear, the internet is full of them, but most of them concern Second Life only, which I personally find expectable, as it’s the most prominent target for criticism and scrutiny – even on this blog, there’s an older post that tried to approach the matter, albeit I now think my then-limited understanding of the technical and conceptual aspects of virtual worlds affected its ability to get to the core of the issue. Skim through any of these explanations: you’ll see people constantly complaining about lag, griefing, complex viewer software, content portability and tier cost. While it’s true that these issues are important to many, some are largely specific to Second Life and, in reality, they are not problems, but symptoms: they are manifestations of underlying problems, as I have explained before, and I think it would be beneficial to reiterate this particular point if we are to have a meaningful discussion of the subject at hand.