Ann OToole tweeted a link to Hamlet Au’s latest article over on New World Notes. Now, I’ve always viewed a lot of Hamlet’s writing with a critical eye, I’ll admit. While there have been times I’ve agreed with him – there have been equal times when I’ve found his views overly biased and, well, wanting.
In the case of his latest post, I have to say I find him not so much wanting, as flat-out wrong.
It is Hamlet’s contention that the real reason that Second Life is flatlining in terms of growth is down to no other reason than – wait for it – we the users ourselves. We are apparently so frightened by the concept of change, that we are in effect preventing Linden Lab from making the kind of changes that are needed to “save” the platform; that the Lab is somehow paralysed because any attempt at change is instantly met by a howling outcry that rules against ideas being implemented.
As evidence of this, Hamlet cites two of his recent posts – one of which was a contentious push of his own Facebook agenda. Leaving aside his attempted change-of-focus of that article when he refers to it in his latest piece, Hamlet fails to appreciate that the perceived “backlash” against his post was not so much because it demonstrated a reluctance among users to accept and embrace change, but rather against his position that the only way for Second Life to survive is to get a lot closer to Facebook.
Arguably, the reverse is actually the case. While many might not agree with him at times, John Dvorak makes a reasonably good case for Second Life keeping away from Facebook.
In repeatedly calling for “closer ties” to Facebook, Hamlet seems unable to grasp something: Second Life IS already a social medium. It’s also something, in fairness, that is lost on some at Linden Lab.
Where else can one experience such a rich and diverse world of entertainment, interaction and culture in such a free-form, immersive manner? Facebook? Not likely. Second Life encourages more than yet another point-and-click, “do as we say” approach to digital interaction. It inspires creativity; it encourages a deeper social interaction – of actually making friends rather than simply forming a small, closed circle of (generally) family and close friends. It gives wings to the imagination for those who wish to soar – prims and (soon) Mesh give rise to magnificent and engrossing worlds and environments that go far beyond the two-dimensional point-and-click ethos of Facebook.
Almost a year ago, Philip Rosedale spoke about “breaking down the walls” around the Second Life garden. It was an impassioned address. While there may have been various nuances to his speech, I really don’t think he was talking about replacing one set of walls for another. And make no mistake, by comparison with the richness the depth that can be found in Second Life, Facebook is a constrained, restrictive world of glass walls. This is not to say it is without value for those who use it – far from it. But when compared to Second Life, it cannot come across as anything less than shallow by comparison.
Certainly, there are areas where links between Second Life and Facebook should be explored and accepted: while it is unlikely that Second Life is going to have a mass appeal with Facebook users, it is nevertheless true that some Facebook users could very well find Second Life attractive. As such, there is benefit in leveraging Facebook as a means of advertising Second Life and reaching out to a wider audience. But again, this is way different to (as has unfortunately been the case) – trying to drive Second Life users into the waiting arms of Facebook.
Leaving the Facebook issue aside, it is hard to see where Hamlet can definitively state the existing user base is stagnating Second Life. Yes, there are at times very vocal minorities. Yes, people do at time dig their heels in at changes. However, I’ve yet to see either of these actually stop Linden Lab for the most part from implementing changes. Outcry didn’t stop the OpenSpace farrago, the Adult Policy Changes debacle and the like. And in many instances, changes are actively being cried out for – like Mesh.
There are many issues with Second Life, sure. There is much to be sorted out, technically and in terms of policy and direction. But to suggest that the problems associated with moving SL forward start and end with the current user base is to shoot very, very wide of the mark.
Whether Hamlet likes it or not, the established user base is actually passionate about the platform. We care about it and its future. It’s why many of us are here after years of highs and lows that have seen us at times battered and cajoled. Fact is, we probably have a clearer idea of what could make Second Life swing than any single individual caught by his own bias and – dare I say – feeling a little hurt at the reaction to his repeated flogging of the Facebook pony.