The metaverse is dead. Long live shared creative spaces!

Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world Second Life, is about to launch two non-Second Life products: Creatorverse and Patterns. Creatorverse is an iPad-app:

Patterns will be a ‘new 3D creative environment’. Virtual World-watcher Wagner James Au says on New World Notes that Linden Lab no longer has as mission to make an online world ‘that advances the human condition’ but rather specializes in ‘shared creative spaces’ – not in facilitating the emergence of the metaverse. For those who forgot about the metaverse – which seems these days a bit like an antiquated idea – Wikipedia defines it as thus:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

Second Life is stagnating, at least not growing like Californian tech companies are supposed to growth (that being said, it seems to be profitable). I’ve been fascinated by that virtual world since about 2007, as it allows to transcend geographical and maybe even cultural distances. It enables people to meet, avatar-wise, in shared and persistent spaces. It has a creative and liberal culture – the world is almost entirely created by its ‘residents’. For a while I thought that maybe the future internet would look like a sophisticated Second Life, and that 2D-objects such as websites would simply be a part of that metaverse.

In the meantime I realized that it’s a niche culture. At first it was believed that Second Life, as a user-generated, free culture for (mainly) adults did not go mainstream because of management and marketing errors. There were other attempts to create a open-ended, user-generated worlds, such as Lively (Google), Metaplace.com (Raph Koster), Blue Mars, which failed. Other worlds are still very much alive such as OpenSim (like Second Life, but open source), the very new Cloud Party (browser-based) and Jibe (an embeddable virtual environment, visit Reactiongrid’s new site). I like projects such as OpenSim and Jibe, but those are even more niche than Second Life (and often the users/residents are former Second Life people).

Moya museum in the virtual world Cloud Party

Patrick Moya museum in the virtual world Cloud Party

Some think that virtual environments will gain traction once they are browser-based (no hefty downloads) and are made easier to use. I’m sceptical: while I feel comfortable in a virtual environment and as an avatar, for many others it’s an uncanny experience, especially in a professional context. I have the feeling that it is about the representation of oneself and others, about identities, not about technical hurdles.

It seems to be different for online games which of course did go mainstream, also for adult audiences – but then again, these are games, not open ended user generated worlds. Minecraft is very popular, but it’s more a game (while there are game environments inside Second Life, the world itself is not a game). As it is explained on the Minecraft site:

I strongly believe that all good stories have a conflict, and that all good games tell a good story regardless of if it’s pre-written or emergent. Free building mode is fine and dandy, but for many people it will ultimately become boring once you’ve got it figured out. It’s like playing a first person shooter in god mode, or giving yourself infinite funds in a strategy game.. a lack of challenge kills the fun.

Still, I do like this notion of virtual shared creative spaces. It is exactly what we’ll need in many different contexts, as globalization increases dramatically and the technological possibilities multiply exponentially. But there is competition. Just suppose you want to link up with other people, elsewhere in the world, for a project or even a joint venture. You don’t have the budget for a high-end videoconferencing system. I guess that Google+ Hangout – with its videoconferencing features, screensharing, chat-possibilities, apps, network, possibility to save the conference and with links with the other Google goodies would do a very nice job. It even is free.
My guess is that you’ll mainly use the Google-stuff. A virtual environment? Maybe to create 3D-objects together, if that would be your line of business or educational project. Or as a fun experiment. Or for a simulation.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of these possibilities. Especially not because I’m a firm believer in the importance of developments such as 3D printing. Creating 3D objects together, or at least experiencing 3D prototypes in a virtual environment might very well be very interesting. But I would not call it ‘the metaverse’.

The future of money

Facebook Credits becoming more important than the dollar? Not any time soon – but there are some thought-provoking elements in this discussion about the future of money (by Ross Dawson and Gerd Leonhard). Recently Ben Bernanke got the question whether gold is money. The answer was ‘no’. But maybe we’ll have to ask him whether Facebook Credits, Bitcoins or Linden dollars are money.

Gerd Leonhard reacted on Google+ that what he said about the dollar vs. Facebook Credits was meant more as a provocation than as serious prediction.

Previously we posted about similar ideas being presented by Sean Park: ‘The Sixth Paradigm

In the comments on my Google+ entry there’s also a discussion about what Linden Lab says regarding the Linden dollar (the famous ‘You acknowledge that Linden dollars are not real currency or any type of financial instrument and are not redeemable for any sum of money from Linden Lab at any time.’).

Second Life seems to be focused on entertainment (Gasp!)

Shocking! Maybe Second Life is a game after all! For years now residents of Second Life explain over and over again that they are not ‘players’ but ‘residents’, that one does not ‘play Second Life’ and that it is not a game even though one can play games in that virtual world just as in the real world. Those same residents, often educators, business people and artists, would promote Second Life talking about the great educational experiments and practices, possibilities for the arts, the joy of meeting people from all over the world.

During the reign of former CEO Mark Kingdon of Linden Lab (the company behind the virtual world) it was admitted that most people however do not come to Second Life to attend lectures, but for entertainment purposes, but at the same time the arts, the educational and business applications of Second Life were being considered important. For many reasons however the business applications never really became that very important: conservative corporates, reputation issues (flying genitalia), practical hurdles (scaling, security, reliability…) etc.

The education community is doing a great job in exploring the possibilities of an open-ended and user generated virtual environment, but probably did not add much to Linden Lab’s earnings, because they enjoyed until recently steep price discounts.

So business applications did not really gain traction and the educators were not profitable enough. The user base was and is stagnating. Thirty percent of the Linden Lab employees had to go, among them Kingdon himself.

The founding father of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, stepped in as a CEO, doing some useful things such as making the development of the platform more transparent. There was some anxiety when Rosedale quit as CEO (he remains Chairman of the board though) before even a new CEO was selected, but yesterday Linden Lab announced that Rod Humble will be the new man in charge:

Rod has an impressive depth of experience in developing and leading fun, immersive entertainment experiences that have been great successes. As a 20-year veteran of game development, he’s worked on more than 200 games, and last year, the gaming magazine Edge named him #2 on their annual list of Hot 100 Game Developers. Rod is coming to Linden Lab from Electronic Arts, where he was Executive Vice President and led EA Play, including the best-selling PC game franchise of all time, The Sims. Prior to EA, he was a VP of Product Development at Sony Online Entertainment, where he led the EverQuest Studio.

Wagner James Au on the New World Notes remarks that Linden Lab previously hired “Electronic Arts/Activision vet Kim Salzer as VP of marketing, who has been re-branding Second Life in part as an animal-raising sim” and says:

W]hat really matters is making Second Life fun, developing it to serve the extremely large market of consumers who already use virtual worlds for play and games, not real world work. Only then will Second Life gain a mass market, and only then may it be feasible to turn SL into a full-fledged platform for real world work that people who are not already well-versed in SL can use.

Lowell Cremorne on The Metaverse Journal explains that “there’s plenty of aspects of user experience that game companies get very right and it’s a key weakness of Second Life at present. The challenge will be making those improvements without turning Second Life into The Sims. Unless of course it’s been identified that that’s where the market is, in which case hold onto your seats.”

Cremorne also thinks that buyout rumours will not abate with this appointment.

In the press release announcing the new CEO, Linden Lab says this about its financial situation:

Linden Lab was founded in 1999 by Philip Rosedale to create a revolutionary new form of shared online experiences known as Second Life. The privately held company has had revenues exceeding $75 million and has been profitable (excluding restructuring and non-cash stock compensation expense) each of the last three years. The company is headquartered in San Francisco and employs more than 220 people.

Finally, traveling in SL via the web

In the meantime I managed to try out Second Life via the Gaikai’s cloud-rendered web access, following a tip on the New World Notes. Even though it’s still an experiment, it was a very smooth experience with pretty fast teleporting.

traveling in second life via the web

I tried out surfing and it worked just fine. In fact, I did not notice any major differences between moving around using the viewer and moving around via the web. For now the access it limited to selected places in Second Life, I cannot wait to see access enabled for the whole of Second Life so that people can attend shows, discussion groups or music events in-world but via the web!

As I explained in my previous post, combined with augmented reality and wearable devices this could open up whole new media dimensions…

Rosedale steps down as interim CEO of Linden Lab, search for new CEO launched

Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, steps down (for the second time) as CEO of Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world. Rosedale announced this in a short blog post. Residents of Second Life are surprised by the sudden announcement, even though Rosedale had made it clear that he replaced the former CEO, Mark Kingdon, as an interim CEO.

Only a few days ago a new avatar for Philip Linden (as his avatar name is) was shown to the public, and that timing seems odd now, according to some Linden Lab watchers. More about the announcement and reactions on my experimental page The Metaverse in Turmoil.

Telling the Living Story of The Metaverse in Turmoil

I’m trying to use Google Living Stories for a project about the Metaverse in Turmoil. The project is important to me because Living Stories could help bloggers and journalists to combine breaking news and context in a very user-friendly way – that is at least what Google promises.

Google made the project open source and in April a plugin for WordPress was introduced. Google as a company stopped developing the tool, so it seems. Here is more about the project (which of course was also a nice PR gesture to the newspaper industry):

Now, what are my intentions? I’m pretty sure we’ll see all kinds of interesting developments in the Metaverse during the next year. Augmented reality, mobile computing, ubiquitous internet access and virtual worlds will combine themselves in new and often surprising ways. We’ll watch closely what that will mean for Second Life, Linden Lab, new and old media.

Living Stories can help to bring all this together on one page, providing categories, a time-line, summaries etc. I just started developing the page The Metaverse in Turmoil, so you can expect that the page will gradually grow. If you’re interested in participating in the development of this Living Story, let me know!

Also Twitter wants to be fast, easy and fun – sounds familiar?

So Twitter should be fast and easy. And fun of course. If not, they won’t ever go mainstream. For someone covering Second Life, it all sounds very familiar.

One of the interesting points I learned watching Robert Scoble’s live video stream during the Twitter press conference this week was that the overwhelming majority of Twitter users just use the website, there where no self-respecting member of the tech-elite ever go. The social media and tech people think it is so self-evident to use clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic that they cannot even imagine that everybody else just goes to www.twitter.com.
That silent majority is rather, well, silent. They (okay, many of them) use Twitter as a kind of social RSS-reader without engaging in a conversation or even without retweeting stuff. Twitter itself seems to consider their service as a real time news network rather than as a social network. A news network like CNN let’s say, but more customizable. But many users are there to consume news, just as they consume news watching CNN.
Let’s compare this with Second Life. The most vocal residents are the builders and scripters, the traders, the organizers. They are a minority – even though without them there would be no such thing as Second Life. This is not surprising: on web forums, discussion boards and chat rooms the really active people are a minority, and the bulk of the activity comes from a tiny group of very active people.
The challenge is to keep that minority happy while realizing that the needs and expectations of the overwhelming majority are different. I guess the web version of Twitter will be a success among the majority, while the power users will stick to their sophisticated client where they can manage all their different social media accounts.
The same probably applies for Second Life and similar virtual worlds. One needs viewer versions or settings which cater for the socializers or for users of devices such as the iPad, other versions can focus on the heavy users and content creators.
“Fast, easy and fun” will be crucial criteria for new media wanting to gain traction. “Fun like the iPhone” Philip Rosedale said during the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) in Boston. “The iPhone is slower (…) but it’s delightful” he said. Just like reading Twitter or Facebook on Flipboard is maybe a bit slower, but more delightful. Don’t look down on that – making things delightful is the way to really change things.
Here is the video Scoble made at the Twitter conference: