As pretty much everyone knows now, Linden Lab announced a new direction for Second Life yesterday and laid off 100 staff members. LL announced their intention to focus their marketing efforts at web integration and social networking.
Reaction to the announcement is mixed. Long-time SL’ers, already concerned about the shift of attention toward corporate interests and away from residents, worry that they will lose the tools that allow for collaborative building. Others hope that their socializing opportunities will be enhanced. The free market types, of course, are all in favour. One naive soul even suggesting that the people let go probably “sucked” at their jobs anyway.
In many ways, I left SL months ago. While I certainly enjoy the social aspects of SL – I treasure the friends I have made there – for me, it’s all about the building.
I have been happily creating new work on Reaction Grid since November. It’s cheaper, less politically fraught and far more demanding of my creative abilities (such that they are).
I joined SL for the art. In 2007, I had read about a Vancouver curator opening a gallery in Second Life and I joined to see what that was about. I spent about an hour on Orientation Island acclimatizing to the environment. I had to pass four simple tests showing I understood the key tools and then I was off.
I had no trouble understanding the viewer. I found it intuitive and easy to use, the Search took me exactly where I wanted to go. And when I saw what people were doing with 3D building tools, I was hooked.
In 2006, Philip Rosedale, aka Philip Linden, gave an interview on what Second Life was all about. Halfway in, at the 3:40 mark, he tells the interviewer, “the thing about this metaverse is that you can make things there with other people.”
Make things. Not do things.
Yes, you can do things in Second Life – you can shop, you can dance, you can hangout and socialize. But as SubQuark Hax points out in a post on the iliveisl blog, the high end graphics and capabilities have little to do with the success of virtual social spaces.
Who has time to spend hours and hours online just chatting? Not adults, that’s for sure. And young people have never really been on Second Life’s radar, because Second Life is made for adults who want to create.
Second Life’s real strength lies in the stability of its platform. For stability, it ranks head and shoulders over any of the Opensim environments and that is where, I think, they should expend their energies. The art created in Second Life is a kind that has never been seen before. Artists like AM Radio, Adam Ramona, Glyph Graves, Kolor Fall and Miso Susanowa having been exploring immersive spaces and pushing the boundaries of virtual reality to create an entirely different art form, perhaps not seen since the invention of photography.
Losing that focus will turn a truly valuable asset into just another computer game subject to the fickle whims and passing fancies of children.