So Mitch Kapor did his big announcement, and it wasn’t that big. A US$10,000 prize, paid in Lindens and amounting to very little real cash for Linden Lab to have to really worry about. To me, the real story was between the lines.
He talked a lot about the pioneers of Second Life, and how their era is drawing to a close. He treated charm and character as yesteryear concepts, as indicated in Dusan Writer’s blog. His view of this Metaverse is one of real people doing real people things. Avatars that can look, act, and sound just like your real world counterpart, so you can virtually take part in office meetings and such.
Maybe he’s been hanging around the IBM inworld campus a bit much, but the Metaverse is more than pixilated videoconferencing.
Second Life’s longstanding slogan has been “Your World, Your Imagination,” and the platform has existed as a place where residents could make their wildest dreams take flight. It’s a world dominated by svelte, attractive human, furries, fantasy characters, and all sorts of others. Some of the most popular places in this world are a giagantic sized home populated by “Greenie” aliens, the mystical biosphere of Svarga, and any number of other fantastic places.
It is not dominated by “Initech” style offices and such, no more than it was real-world style American Apparel stores.
Mitch, however, feels that it should be. He views this transition to business platform as necessary, and that all the “pioneers” are simply going to have to live with these changes – adapt, or die as it were. As an example, he talks about how text-based communication was a boon in Second Life – but he hated it. Clearly, we know now why voice was pushed so hard on a very resistant world.
I feel like Mitch, and maybe others at the top of Linden Lab, are dealing with a surplus of hubris. They seem to be developing a not exactly healthy attitude that they know better than their own user base. No, that their user base does not matter: the means to an end, as it were.
When Philip Linden handed the keys to “M,” one of the challenges discussed was the wild ways of the userbase. It was viewed as a challenge, rather than as the very lifeblood of the world we exist within.
This is foolish thinking, and was the downfall of a great many internet based systems.
What Second Life should really consider is taking their “3D Web” goal to heart. Look at what the web is. It is the home of a great many businesses and universities – the very market Mitch wants – but it is also the home of “Tron Guy” and “Peter Pan.” It is a place where people hunt up videos of “dramatic squirrels.” It’s weird and freaky – and retains a bit of a wild west edge even this far into “Web 2.0.”
Linden Lab needs to look at Second Life as that sort of animal. Go ahead and court the businesses and schools – I’ve been doing work inworld with them too – but also know that you’re bigger than that. The “Burning Man” spirit remains very much at the heart of this world, and holds just as much value. The community is still the central focus, and the thing that can make or break the very world.
I fear that they won’t hear such, though – in which case I hope Mitch notices that he used a bell curve in his presentation, and each up will have a down. The top, however, might be closer than he thinks.