This may very well be the last post I write about the meta-issues of Second Life. My reasons are probably clear (if not tediously repeated) to my regular readers — all dozen of you — but in case this is someone’s first time here: I have disengaged from SL to the point that I no longer care how it is run, or by whom, or whether it continues to exist.
As a parting shot, however… let me tell you about an epiphany I had the other night.
Something (mere vanity, perhaps) compelled me to re-read all of my “Seconderth” posts. Besides finding numerous places that need editing and updating — to be expected when the research stays just barely ahead of the writing, and subsequent discoveries supersede older conclusions — I was reminded again of the singular way the Second Life Wikia has of keeping SL’s chronology. In all of their older posts, to which I’ve naturally gravitated because of my subject, they count time not in days, months and years but in version numbers. Thus you will find phrases like “…until 1.1…” and “…after 1.2, continuing through 1.7…” Throughout it all, they do not use the phrase in terms of the viewer, but of Second Life itself.
Being merely 3 years “old” in SL, I have become habituated to thinking in a sort of two-track system about revisions to SL: viewer-side, and server-side. I’ve been aided in this by Linden Lab’s own numbering systems, and the fact that server upgrades have occurred, on average, quite a bit more often than changes to the viewer (we’ll ignore the roll-backs and re-deployments after they repaired some “Oops! Shouldn’t have released that one just yet…”). The upshot is: I — and I suspect, many many others — have come to think of Second Life as, somehow, an entity independent of the software required to bring it to the screen, and the upgrades to newer versions as nothing more than attempted improvements to the efficiency of the software.
Not so. What I have, up to now, smiled upon as a peculiarity of the Oldbies — some sort of in-crowd jargon, now antiquated; a linguistic campaign ribbon recognizable to veterans of a certain age but deliberately somewhat obscure to the rest of us — was significant to them and should be to us:
It is not, nor has it really ever been, a simple matter of “Viewer 2.0”. It is Second Life 2.0
The original conception might well predate Mark Kingdon’s appointment as CEO (announced April 22, 2008). It includes, as preparation, all of the incremental changes which came to a head with version 1.23 and the establishment of Zindra. It includes such adjustments to the profitability of the land market as the Open Space/Homestead change (oft called a “debacle”), Linden Homes, and the recent withdrawal of price supports for non-profit and educational private sims. It includes the closure of Teen Second Life and the assimilation, for good or ill, of the ToS-abiding 16- and 17-year-olds who were there (as opposed to the ToS-breaking ones registered incognito on the Main Grid). It includes two substantial enlargements and revisions to the Terms of Service in just the last 8 months.
It most especially includes — but is not limited to — the redesigned viewer itself. A more recent inclusion — which Mark Kingdon harped upon numerous times while still employed by the Lab — is a voluntary way to associate one’s official identity with one’s avatarian name while remaining back-compatible with older accounts; i.e., Display Names. Now we have this switch to “Username Resident” format (also back-compatible), coupled with the beta release of a web-browser access to Second Life that does not require a separate viewer at all.
So, Wagner James “Hamlet” Au finally gets his wish, after he’s already flipped his loyalty (or, at least, his source of revenue) from Second Life to Blue Mars: SL is doing, and will to continue to do, everything it can to “go mainstream”.
We were warned.
It took me a couple of hours to find it, but find it I did: Philip Rosedale’s keynote speech to SLCC 2009. Prefaced by a brief mention of the same “chasm” Grace McDunnough blogged about in March, the warning begins at 4:15 in this recording:
Try and recognize that we’re at the very beginning, and together, you guys and us, are going to have to make — and weather — tremendous change as we move from where we are today to where this thing is… this as-yet-imaginary, global kind of new digital world. And the changes that you’re going to have to weather in going from A to B, you are not always going to like. In fact, everybody here is certainly going to dislike some of them some of the time — and so are all the Lindens, and so am I, sometimes. Those changes are inevitable because this is a revolutionary change.
(my transcription; emphasis added)
There is, as usual, some speculation as to who is truly leading the revolution, and upon whose manifesto it’s based (Avril Korman’s “Tinfoil Hat Theory” is an excellent example). I have always maintained that Kingdon (and certain others, like Tom Hale) were forced to “step down” because they didn’t deliver on the agenda quickly enough to satisfy its authors. I also suspect that Rosedale is not the author; rather, the Board of Directors, who even if they are not all the investors, logically must be the most invested… and they want their ROI.
Grace followed up her post on the chasm seven months later with “The Creative Destruction of Second Life”, in which she said this:
Having failed to cross the chasm ala Moore, Second Life has to find a new life. The Lab started with a focus on the markets that presented the highest revenue opportunities, but it has to continue to destroy vestiges of the “old” business to create the new. Perhaps this is why Linden Lab initiated a restructuring and 30% staff reduction in June and is continuing to shed people throughout the year as their tenure is complete.
The purpose of the agenda, whoever its author(s), is to increase revenue by driving up user numbers. Retention be damned, as long as its lack is overwhelmed by the influx… which may be why Linden Lab ceased publishing the data for users logged in over the last 30 days (their former definition of “active” accounts): those numbers, when compared to signups and concurrency, can imply retention.
We tend to embrace complacency easily in any situation over which we have no control. We also, when we move into an environment, take for granted that the way things are is the way things always have been, secula seculorum, l’dor v’dor.
I’ve suggested this before as a matter of idle curiosity, and I do so again with rather more emphasis: Take a few minutes to read some early Release Notes. I recommend Versions 0.5.0, 1.1.0, and 1.2.0 which record in nearly impenetrable style the most important changes in the economy of land and prims the Grid has ever undergone – then realize that it changed in such comprehensive fashion twice in no more than seven months, and in the wake of each the face of the world and its population changed as a result.
What we are seeing unfold now, the few Oldbies who still log in at all have seen before. The lesson is the same: The Lab Owns The Grid. Whatever they set their collective single-mindedness to is inexorable and inevitable. No amount of protest stops it, or even slows it down very much. Oh, they may seem to concede a point here or there when it suits the suits, but — once embarked upon, the course is never altered.
…And the changes that you’re going to have to weather in going from A to B, you are not always going to like. In fact, everybody here is certainly going to dislike some of them some of the time […] Those changes are inevitable…
As someone else has notoriously said: “Deal with it.” How you deal with it is, of course, up to you. I have said here before that “Resistance is not futile”, and that remains true — in the short term — for individuals and small groups who may choose to continue to enter SL without enabling its 2.0 features. Or, you may just find yourself able to embrace the change from a creative niche world to a lowest-common-denominator 3D chatroom that encourages you at every turn to buy stuff, rather than learn to make it yourself.
There’s another choice, the one I’ve made: except for rare specific occasions, I’m outta there.