Monday, May 4, 2009

Six Birthdays

This coming June, Second Life is going to be six years old. Just step and think about that. Six whole years of lag, naked noobies, and general insanity. It's the better part of a decade. Six years is longer than a single presidential term (in the United States, anyway). In fact, it's one and a half terms in office according to that metric.

We've seen a lot in those six years. Let's not get goofy, however, because comparisons between way back then and the right here and now have been done to death. "We didn't have skins, point to point teleporting, and we have to walk fifteen miles uphill both ways to reach the sandbox in order to build. Newbies these days don't have no idea how good they got it!" That's just way too easy.

The harder angle would be what's changed over this past year.

I think in terms of technical progress, nothing groundbreaking was unveiled. Nothing revolutionary was put to market. SL is still as laggy as it ever was and any significant changes towards stability have been lost on me (and, it seems, a good 60% of the rest of the population). For all of the opensourcing of the viewer, I haven't seen any high visible third party viewers, either. I still use the Nicholaz client, especially when the latest Linden experiment to 'lower' lag backfires.

The Lindens have exerted their significant muscle with more pressure than any other year. With the acquisition of XstreetSL and Onrez, they effectively circled the wagons with regards to the economy. Their fingers are in all the outlets. With the ramping of activity of the DPW moles and the creation of themed continents, competition is extending into the land itself. This wasn't simply an auction of the land, but the physical creation of an essential atmosphere. Granted, their attempts fell somewhat flat if you've seen Nautilus or Bay City these days. However, when they can't bootstrap, they glomp onto the next best thing. They went and tacked the United Sailing Sims (or whatever that USS acronym stood for) onto Nautilus and declared it 'good'.

We also witnessed Linden Lab making moves to control Second Life. For all their bluster about allowing the world to be free and easy, their actions have spoken otherwise. Not a few months ago, Jack Linden sat down and discussed bots and what to do about them. In addition, there's talk of moving against traffic fraud. Ad farms were finally flogged back around October or so of '08 with the caveat that ads without extortion are a-ok. They have a big stick and they're starting to play with it. It hasn't been pleasant all the way, either, because Openspaces and the move to treat them as regular sims on billing hurt. Hard.

Of course, the most notable example in these times has been the 'Adults Only' move. This was a resounding shot that yes, indeed, age verification is going to go ahead. The kinks have been worked out (you can use your credit card if you're disinclined to use your IDs) and full implementation is upon us. If you have adult content (specifically, adult content in the public domain and in public search), you must take it out of the limelight. Get your sex club offa our mainland! An option in the abuse report menu allows one to report the mislabeling of such content. The buzz word is 'predictability'. The Lindens are trying to force a Second Life experience that can be predictably controlled.

The outside venues of SL were revamped. The website and blogs got a much needed face lift, although the results are mixed. The new website has a pleasing design. The only gripe is the lack of ability to teleport to the locations and events featured on it. Same goes for the splash screen on the viewer log-in. I want to reach out and touch these places, but they're behind a glass wall. The new blog site is ok. All the categories have been butchered and you have to click around on everything to make sure you're really up to date on the latest comings and going of Linden Lab. Clunky, is the word, but not in the sense of being slow to load. Even the forums later got a good wash (I'm not a frequent visitor there, so I'm not sure how that change went).

And all the while the Second Life economy has... stalled. It hasn't continued its astronomical boon from 2007, but it hasn't completely went bust, either. It's doing what any other normal economy is doing, and that's existing. Doing its... economic thing. Stability, I think it's called. It's keeping in theme with the new mantra of SL: "predictability". It might be tougher to enter the market but once you're in you're alright. As long as you keep at. The moment you slip, the sharks'll get you.

Kendra Bancroft died. Lindens left. Sarah Nerd went out of business. Lots of churn. And yet life goes on. People flocked to some new worlds, and then came back. Lively came and died so fast heads twirled. Metaplace has come out, but I haven't visited it yet and I believe it's still in beta. Some of the bigger news blogs and agencies have pulled out as well. No one seems to notice or care. Unless it directly impacts them, no one stands up and shouts. They may glance up from their own personal blogs and put up a quick two paragraph eulogy. If that.

OpenSim has progressed, but not nearly as fast as initially anticipated. From the reports in '07 and '08, you'd think there would be a sim in every garage. The initial eureka moment over being able to host SL sims independent of LL's servers and reach led to all sorts of crazy reports. It reminds me of the predictions made in the '70s about life as it would be today. Astronomical imaginations of cities on the moon and flying cars gave way to reality: that stuff is hard! So it is with OpenSim. It's getting there. But that stuff is hard! And the big issues aren't really technical. Do I trust you with my log-in? With my copyrighted materials? That's funny.

We witnesses two major competitions: the Linden Prize and the Resident Choice Awards. The Linden prize was notable for being strictly inhouse and up to the judgement of the Lindens. You could sign up for a nomination, but they made the final judgement call. Upon seeing residents weren't keen on awards given without their input, the Resident choice awards were created and of course created whole new controversy. I could write volumes about it and it seems almost everyone had an opinion on it. Everyone seems to agree that something was not quite right about the entire thing. It felt shoddy to some.

And then there's me. This year will be my third in Second Life. Three entire years. Depending on who you ask, it's either a waste of time or a waste of energy. I kid. But I marvel at how I've seen a good half of Second Life's existence. At the people I've met, the friends I've made (and lost), the things I've seen and built, and all the things still left to see. Ah, I just can't wait until next year!


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