Re: Version

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:

An increase in the version number is not a mere change in the software — it is a change in the world.  And the change of version number from 1.x to 2.x is not a mere bookkeeping whim — it has marked the implementation of a deliberate process to remake the world.

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.

.

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22 responses to “Re: Version

  1. Okay, where to begin? In summary:

    1. Your expectations that an online community's tools and feature sets staying static is unreasonable.
    2. There are those of us who feel the shoddy decisions Linden Lab has made doesn't include some of the features you don't like.
    3. Ultimately, and I say this with 7 years of SL history behind me, SL is pretty much the same place it was when it was under 10,000 people. I think your analysis is a bit overreacting.

    Specifically, reacting to your post:
    “An increase in the version number …. SL 2.0”

    Disagree. The major changes I've seen have varied. Some do come with version numbers – the addition of music to parcels was one, certainly the tier / prim allocation changes of 1.2 were major. But most of them had to do things like:
    – Second Life getting serious media attention, bringing in completely different types of users into the environment.
    – Changes to Linden Lab's support of businesses and educators, affecting the major entities working professionally in the environment. There has been a lot of innovation due to both.
    – Policy changes. For example, the gambling ban was not attached to any release number.

    And there's many more. The world evolves with or without release numbers. They're just convenient milestones for some.

    “the establishment of Zindra.”
    … as well as integrating teens was literally half a decade in the making. That is a VERY long-term change, not a release-number change.

    … (continued on second comment post)

    -Ron / Hiro

  2. … (continued)

    “SL is doing, and will to continue to do, everything it can to 'go mainstream'.”

    Was there any expectation that a for-profit company would attempt to do otherwise? I don't agree with many of Linden Lab's attempts to go mainstream, but the way you write about it, it's like you're shocked at this. (Maybe I'm reading you wrong?)

    RE: Kingdon: (including Grace's comments)
    I have two sources that tell me that he was canned because he didn't ask permission before axing the Enterprise division and firing 1/3 of the staff. Did lack of patience play a part in it? Sure. I was shocked when I heard this – I had assumed the Board was just using Kingdon as an executor of their will, but it becomes clear that maybe the Board isn't too much in agreement with what it is they actually want.

    RE: “The authors”
    This is a smart question to ask. I hear over and over again from insiders, ex-Lindens, and others that there has been at least two major camps inside Linden Lab for a long time, at odds with each other. It's still unclear who-wants-what, but it is clear that Philip has moved on, and only came back this year temporarily to restore user faith and to make sure his investment was secure. He's said his vision, and he's waiting for the world to embrace it.

    “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 -“

    Realize all of these were done when the number of residents were still counted by a 4 digit number. I think using this as an example to your overall point works against what you're trying to assert.

    “The lesson is the same: The Lab Owns The Grid. Whatever they set their collective single-mindedness to is inexorable and inevitable.”

    Us oldbies learned this years ago. :)

    It's funny to me that your supporting evidence doesn't support this conclusion, however, your conclusion is nevertheless correct.

    So. Welcome to being platform agnostic. Use SL when it's convenient, OpenSim when it's not, or perhaps BlueMars if you are running a high-end machine and want uber graphics, Teleplace if you just want to do meetings, etc etc. There are dozens of virtual world platforms each with their benefits and drawbacks.

    And it SHOULD be this way. Rosedale has acknowledged over and over that Snow Crash was his inspiration – and truly, it was a lot of our inspirations. However, a lot of us took the metaverse set out in that book far too literally. Above all else, the metaverse SHOULD NOT BE ONE SINGLE PLATFORM. And that's a mistaken assumption Linden Lab continues to make.

    But now, Lalo, you're free from that assumption. It's a bright day in the multi-platform metaverse, and you're better off for seeing it. :)

    -Ron / Hiro

  3. Lalo u said:”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.”

    Yes, today second life is just one grid amongst hundreds of grids. We have our freedom at last. No more monopoly, so we dont have to care, anymore

    Great post! =)

  4. This is an interesting time for Second Life. As I posted today, if I ran their marketing department I'd be pushing like hell to roll out the web client and integrate with Facebook. The good news is that although the Lab owns *their* grid, it doesn't own *the* grid. So for those of us who want to enjoy the type of pseudonymous-friendly culture we've grown up in, there will be an increasing number of hypergrid-connected options, along with other non-OpenSim platforms. I personally believe that if Linden Lab can pull off mainstreaming Second Life into the larger social network circle, it would serve the long-term greater good.

  5. Ron/Hiro ~

    Thanks for the detailed analysis.

    By stating that version numbers are more significant than many of us — myself included — have allowed, I didn't intend to also imply the corollary: all significant changes to SL come as (or included in) numbered releases. I did mean to emphasize that the change from 1 to 2 is vastly more than a redesigned viewer, which is a mistake I feel I was not alone in making.

    On 'mainstreaming' — No, I wasn't shocked. I was hoping against hope, as the phrase goes, that success in a niche would come to be favored over the “one virtual world, and we own it” model… which brings us to your final point: the literalist interpretation of Snow Crash as if it were scripture.

    Wizard Gynoid likes the term “Omniverse”, and I agree: borrowed from cosmological physics, it names the full collection of possible universes under the “many worlds” hypothesis.

    I'm waiting patiently for Aurora, or something like it, so I can go grid-hopping in comfort and style when I'm not in my InWorldz home.

  6. Botgirl ~

    One possibile future I can see is SL as a “fast, easy, fun” introduction to the avatarian point of view. Who groks that will move out into the wider Omniverse. Who doesn't… well, they'll have their own kind of playground.

  7. Lalo, you may eat these words:

    “This may very well be the last post I write about the meta-issues of Second Life.”

    I know I have said essentially the same thing; on the other hand, you may possess self-control I do not.

    As for Hiro's remarks, one point strikes me as particularly salient: when we get a metaverse a la Snowcrash, it may not be one big grid but a constellation of them linked together.

    I've linked my rickety wagon to a star called OpenSim with Hypergridding. For educators at least, that's going to be the future, not walled-garden grids. We share our IP already and cite others' work, since the currency of academia is ethos even more than money. So having the ability to host grids on our own campuses, rent space, or some combination and link them makes all kinds of sense for the “gift economy” market where I work.

    Linden Lab didn't need many of us, after a point. Educators, artists, traditional businesses, nonprofits do not justify their ROI, I reckon. Roleplayers and social users might.

    I now believe there was a plan we never saw until one element after another rolled out. When Rosedale said that the Burning Man era in SL was ending, I should have listened better.

  8. Iggy ~

    I've seen some talk lately about “walled gardens”, and how ebil they are… and I'm not buying it. For one thing, they're a great place for solace and concentration; for another, they offer at least a sense of security, if not so much in actuality.

    The thing that people on both sides of that issue seem to forget is the very theme running through these comments: even if you make a home in one, it's not a prison. The assumption, left over from when SL was the only game in town: if you choose a virtual world to call home, that's the only place you ever go. For some people, that's never been true, and with hypergrid, it's becoming increasingly less so.

    The apartment complex I live in “for real” is fenced and gated, too, but it doesn't prevent me from going out visiting.

    [aside: Pathfinder's choice of name was prophetic, don't you think?]

  9. Well, Lalo, I hope you'll be writing about the grid – not just LL. I know it was strange and weird when Beverly Hills Internet became GeoCities… but then I was free to host at several places and didn't have to keep within GeoCities' “lines.”

    For those people pointing to Snow Crash as a seminal informing text… it was pretty clear in the novel that the multi/omni/hypergrid universe was made up of many neighborhoods, tech sectors, hideaway bars and all the other digital equivalents of a RL and diverse country. There wasn't one big all-embracing “grid”; the allgrid was a linking together of many separate electronic spaces. An even clearer prediction/description of such a gridverse is in Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy or the writings of Vernor Vinge or Rucker… most of the “cyberpunks” in fact.

    It's usually this way, in my RL experience: artists and forward-thinkers arrive in some edge-space (an old neighborhood; a former industrial park; a bit of overlooked city) and colonize the area, coalescing into a community, redoing the area, adding their perspective and artist's eye, renovating, building… until it becomes desireable to outside forces (I lived through the transformation of Melrose Avenue this way; from a funky, kinda-iffy but interesting section of time-passed-by neighborhood to the trendy, chic boutique-trap it was in the late 90s-early 2000s). At that time the arts/explorer community gets tired of the invasion and hoists sails to the next frontier…

    So Get Yer Grid On! Get a bunch of them. Start planting flags, sending settlers, fearless frontier-mappers like Pathfinder, hearty merchants like Abranimations and the like and some feisty and keen-eyed journos like yourself and Ambrose Bierce out into that wide country we all are watching being born.

    “Specialization is for insects” – Robert Heinlein

  10. Lalo, closed grids have their place. For now, they are a good way to (try to) protect the IP of builders. I don't consider the walled-garden metaphor to be a pernicious one. It's just a way to describe a certain practice.

    For academics like me who give away my 2D Web content under CC licenses, however, closed grids are not the most likely future, especially when I cannot export content out of world. As you probably heard from others in education, some granting agencies demand backups of all deliverables, even if they cannot open the files! For that reason, some colleagues went to OpenSim right away and not to SL. I doubt that we'll even rent server space in a few years; as the skills-base rises on our campuses and OS evolves, we'll be hosting our own linked-together grids and maintaining them, as we do other applications. That's been the trend in higher ed and K-12 in the States since the mid-90s; the landscape is littered with hosting services that were once popular for certain applications. Now we have Blackboard servers and run Apache on our own boxes for the Web. Blackboard remains a largely closed system, however….but I don't think even it will last as Open Source alternatives like Moodle save us money and colleagues try them out.

    In any case, I'll be looking forward to my InWorldz visit soon and will take up your kind offer of a tour.

  11. To expand on Iggy's thoughts:

    @Lalo:
    “I've seen some talk lately about 'walled gardens', and how ebil they are… and I'm not buying it. For one thing, they're a great place for solace and concentration; for another, they offer at least a sense of security, if not so much in actuality.”

    I think there's an important distinction to understand between walled gardens individually, and the overall “walled garden mentality” which so many virtual worlds subscribe to.

    I absolutely think personal rooms are important – the same way people use 1 on 1 chatting, for example. And I've long since lobbied Linden Lab for an offline locally-served place where I can test scripts / etc and not need to pay for my own sandbox space.

    But realize this key thing: These individual walled gardens can, and I believe *must* exist *in the context* of a linked metaomniverse of virtual worlds. I should be able to exit the front door of my private virtual apartment that's run on my home PC, walk out into a common city street that is run on another server, linked to both public and private spaces. And all of these spaces should have the ability to link one or both directions with web resources / sites / social media / etc.

    In contrast, virtual worlds like Second Life and Blue Mars are so focused on zomg-our-space-is-teh-bestest that they lose sight of the fact that their platform ought to be joined and be a continuation of a larger Internet-virtualworld digital realm.

  12. Hiro ~

    You're talking about interoperability, and for the moment that means Hypergrid. Give it time… and hope it doesn't become one of those “The Future isn't what it used to be” things that Iggy and I are known to lament, like the proverbial flying cars, or controlled nuclear fusion reactors.

    The Lab blew their chance to take the lead in “interop” when they were the 800-lb gorilla of VWs. They may still be that gorilla, but they're interested in nothing but bananas now.

  13. @Lalo:

    Totally agree. Really, that's what “avoiding a walled garden approach” means.

    But it's more than interoperability. It's about integration of software – the kind that social media does so well. Not just switching from one place to another, but giving an overall continuity or at least some sort of overall metaphor.

  14. I'll be thankful, this week, if we avoid some uncontrolled nuclear fission on the Korean peninsula.

    My flying car can wait!

    Funny how these sorts of parlor-chats take a back seat to RL events when the shots begin to fly, isn't it?

  15. @Iggy

    Indeed, but if North Koreans were plugged into the Internet, and could talk to South Koreans, I'd venture a 2000% smaller chance that there'd be conflict.

    One thing I agree with Rosedale about – virtual worlds (and social media) are a route toward significantly reducing world conflict.

  16. Pingback: Three Years On | Telling: Like it Is

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