Second Life’s 8th Birthday Party
I’m not sure whether to be really impressed or really disappointed.
Here is the good part: The amount of creativity in Second Life is constantly improving. More and more we are seeing some very innovative designs considering the current technical limitations.
Here is the troubling part: We’ve seen most of this stuff time and time again. There are some really new and innovative things going on in the broader Metaverse. But a lot of those innovations are not being showcased at SL8B. To be fair – this may not be the right venue to showcase these aspects however if I were in Linden Lab’s position I would be trying to encourage the best of the best to be showcasing what is possible – not just what is.
I realize this is the pot calling the kettle black because as much as I like to promote Rockcliffe as being a center of expertise for understanding the business, education, and social dynamic of virtual worlds, I don’t think that at this point in time we would have done much better. Not in that we can’t do better – we can. But more to the point – it sometimes takes absence and re-acquaintance to see what has been staring you in the face for the past 2 years.
Web on a Prim
The thing that is most noticeable by its absence is the lack of applications which use the relatively new web on a prim features in order to raise the bar on what can reasonably be done to improve the user experience.
For example: One of the most useful aspects of web on a prim is the ability to have interoperability between web-based applications and in-world content. However many of the needed LSL scripting commands to make this happen aren’t available; what is available has massive built-in lag associated with it to prevent abuse; and the ability of scripts to control the most basic of media settings such as turning on and off specific media displays are not available.
Beyond this the viewer complicates the process by having multiple methods for the user to set their settings to on or off independent from any scripts – that is assuming the average user can both find the media controls (which are VERY badly placed and highly un-intuitive) and figure out how to turn the myriad of items on or off. Even experienced users have troubles with the media controls.
The other aspect that seems to be visibly noticeable is the lack of coherent communities. Over the course of 2009-2010 Linden Lab systematically dismantled all of their core community relationship programs. This was probably one of the biggest mistakes that the Lab has made over the past two years and it seems to be very noticeable this year at SL8B. There is no coherence to the program nor the way in which groups showcasing at SL8B are being leveraged.
For example: two of the biggest supporters of virtual worlds, and Second Life specifically, are Metaverse TV and Treet TV. Both are mini-power houses for the promotion of virtual worlds. Neither seems to have been engaged appropriately in order to leverage their considerable influence to really go beyond the sim. In fact Metaverse TV has been relegated off to a corner so far from where anything resembling program is occurring as to be completely missed if you didn’t go hunting for it. Treet TV didn’t exactly fair much better albeit they were more centrally placed. Compare this to the way Relay for Life leverages primary resources and the difference is beyond night and day.
Education is also noticeably absent. There were a few educational groups that I was able to find showcasing however it doesn’t appear as if any conscientious outreach has been done to the one community which is responsible for a very large cross-section of the overall community in Second Life.
It would seem that there are some opportunities for improvement here. And while some may criticize my remarks as throwing water onto something the organizers should be commended on pulling together, they fact remains that we learn through noticing the opportunities that these types of events provide. Each of these types of events, whether they be SLCC, VWBPE, or SL8B, provide an opportunity to look back and say to ourselves “what is wrong with this picture”.
That is not a bad thing – it enables growth and provides challenges to raise the bar each year in what can be accomplished.
I’ll leave this with this thought that I think may sum up how far afield we have gotten from where we should be.
Prim Perfect held a designer’s forum in which one of the designers was asked “could you teach me how to build”. Her response: “Do you have 10 years?”
Second Life’s major competitive advantage is that it has brought very difficult learning curves in technology, design, and development down to a level where the average person with a little knowledge and a good attitude can tailor their experience to suit their individual needs. The fact that it takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get use to the environment doesn’t absolve the fact that people CAN do in this environment things in a matter of days what use to take 3-5-10 years to learn how.
THAT is the future – accessibility of technology and technology integration.
Every time someone puts others down by setting impossible standards for those whose imagination wants to take them places they have never been, they diminish us all. That isn’t right – that isn’t what virtual worlds are all about. There is room enough for professional designers to create high quality work that does take years to learn how to do. But that doesn’t mean that as a community we should be trouncing someone’s creativity and enthusiasm just because they might be perceived as competition.
The average use CAN be creative in a manner that is expressive and innovative. What we need are the tools to make that happen. That is what Linden Lab gave us 8 years ago. With a little luck, the powers that be will start to make that connection again to their true competitive advantage and reawaken the child within all of us that believes virtual worlds can make us better as both a society and as individuals.
— Kevin Feenan