To market, to market; Extending SL Marketplace’s relevance

Metaverse Exchange (MVX) is, it would appear, dead. The site has been down for around three months now – more than enough time for any outstanding fees, etc., to have been paid – assuming there was sufficient money in the coffer to cover costs.

It’s a shame; Metaverse Exchange was one of the better, smarter-looking alternatives to the SL Marketplace (SLM), and offered its services to grids other than Second Life. However, in its wake, dare I say, it leaves something of an opportunity for Linden Lab.

It is fair to say the Lab has a very odd attitude towards OpenSim Grids. On the one hand, the Lab will openly mention OpenSim, discuss ideas and so on, but on the other – most notably in the forums – stomps soundly on any mention by users of any specific OpenSim Grid; almost as if by doing so, they can hide the existence of such places.

But OS Grids cannot be wilfully ignored. They are gaining popularity among consumer users and content creators alike. Indeed, many of the latter have found that, sadly, creations they’ve made turning up on other Grids – Grids they aren’t involved in, forcing them to engage in DMCA take-downs; a depressing action to have to take. Even Kitely, which has been widely lauded through the likes of Twitter, allegedly has misappropriated content within it.

Several people have commented on the Kitely situation, from several different angles. Of them all, Botgirl Questi hits what is perhaps the most common sense tone. Rather than trying to hunt down and stop illegal content pirates on a case-by-case basis, we should, she suggests, seek to set-up “transworld marketplaces” that would enable goods to be readily sold across different grids.

It’s a grand idea – but not easy to accomplish, as MVX demonstrates. Not only does it require the ability to manage multiple virtual currencies with a workable exchange rate; it also requires a decent volume of traffic from the various Grids that join the system.  More particularly, it requires the trust of those using it.

Step forward Linden Lab.

While it still has problems, SLM is the most professional-looking of the web-based marketplaces available to virtual worlds plus the majority of merchants active across other grids are already well-established within Second Life. Therefore, a logical progression might be to extend SLM’s reach into other Grids.

Obviously, doing so would not be easy. There would need to be support for multiple currencies, magic boxes (or whatever replaces them) would have to support multiple Grids or come in various flavours, the product pages themselves would need to support currencies and offer a quick and easy means for additional currencies to be added / displayed. Similarly, merchants would need to select which currencies they wish to have displayed, based on the Grids where they have a presence.

This latter point might be something of a sticky wicket in some respects: it means that Linden Lab could be said to be promoting competition. However, if LL were to move in this direction, the benefits to the company and merchants alike would probably outweigh the downside. Just three such benefits could be:

  • Providing additional commission-earning opportunities to Linden Lab which – given the way the company have been pushing SLM, must be somewhat viable and worth extending
  • Offering a further marketing channel for Linden Lab; as other Grid environments mature, the chances are the number of users they have who are not also engaged with SL will grow – and marketing through the SLM pages could encourage them to come try out SL
  • Giving SL merchants an opportunity to extend their reach into other markets, an important boost in the face of the flat line situation many are experiencing in terms of SL in-world sales.

Beyond this – and while it would not totally eliminate content ripping – developing a “transworld” SL Marketplace could well help reduce the incidences of content illegally ending up on other Grid environments, as Botgirl suggests.

MVX managed to develop an environment that could span a number of Grids: Second Life, InWorldz and (dare I mention it) Legend City. It’s clearly not wise to try to support all OS Grids that come along; some won’t survive (again, as demonstrated by Legend City). As such, caution needs to be practiced in any engagement with them; but again, this should not prevent so cross-platform development from occurring.

At the end of the day, the one real weakness that doomed MVX was most likely that of publicity and reach, the former impacting the latter and thus keeping the use of the platform pretty much in the realm of happenstance – merchants would use it if they happened to stumble across it; consumers would learn about it as they jumped over to other grids as a result of hearing their favourite merchants were investing time and effort elsewhere. This isn’t an issue for SLM, which has an establishing branding behind it.

Beyond this is the fact that OS Grids are maturing and stabilising. Over time, they will become something of more keenly felt competition where Linden Lab is concerned – and people will jump back and forth in search of new opportunities – consumers and content creators alike. As such, someone is going to come up with a viable replacement for MVX that can reach out into these emerging digital markets and capture them.

So why shouldn’t LL look at the opportunities that may be had and claim the high ground first?