LL’s next generation platform and the mainstream market

There can be a broad gulf between niche and mainstream. Bridging it isn't easy
There can be a broad gulf between niche and mainstream. Bridging it isn’t easy

One of the aims the Lab has in developing a new virtual world(s) platform is that they hope to lift it into mainstream adoption, with not hundreds of thousands, but potentially hundreds of millions of users.

It’s a lofty goal, to be sure; but the Lab isn’t alone in talking in these terms. Brendan Iribe over at Oculus recently talked in terms of a virtual world / MMO (he seemed to be using the terms interchangeably) with a billion users – although granted, he also couched this in terms of being a decade or more away.

But how realistic is it for a virtual world to achieve figures of hundreds (or even tens) of millions of users? The gap between niche and mainstream isn’t an easy one to bridge. It’s fair to say that the Lab hasn’t managed it so far, although they’ve certainly had both opportunities and attempts at broadening their mainstream appeal in the past – which is not to say they yet can’t.

Bridging the gap involves dealing with a number of key issues. Three of these might be said to be relevance, identity and ease-of-use.

Loki Eliot's Main Stage, SL11B Community Celebration
Loki Eliot’s >stage desgin at the SL11B Community Celebration

If people don’t see a virtual world as having relevance in their lives and the things they do, then it’s going to be hard to persuaded them as to why they should consider using it. In this, it doesn’t matter how snazzy it looks or how clever the technology behind it.

This need for some real value proposition is perhaps most clearly exemplified by Pamela in the 8th segment of The Drax Files Radio Hour. She dismisses any involvement in a virtual world because she sees no advantage in it compared to what she can already do in her day-to-day physical life. Her reaction may have caused some of the mirth seen at the SVVR Creating the Virtual Metaverse panel, but it is one that is unlikely to be in the minority. Laughing such opinions off doesn’t actually make them go away.

Pamela’s comments also touch on the issue of identity.

Handling issues of identity for groups of people with very different views on the subject may not be easy
Handling issues of identity for groups of people with very different views on the subject may not be easy

For those of us engaged in Second Life, the ability to define our identity howsoever we wish by virtue of the anonymity we enjoy, is intensely liberating. We can be who we want to be and what we want to be; it gives us the willingness to express ourselves more openly and creatively.

However, as Roland Legrand points out when discussing the Lab’s new platform, for many people out in the mainstream world / market the Lab would like to reach, it is downright creepy and off-putting. They are intensely uncomfortable around the notion that the people they may meet in a place like SL may not be entirely as they present themselves.

How this might be dealt with in a manner which gives them the level of comfort they need while still allowing others complete freedom of anonymity, isn’t a straightforward matter. On the one hand, it must allow people to define themselves howsoever they wish; but on the other, it requires that the platform provide some form of assurance that the person with whom you’re interacting really is who they say they are.

And so to ease-of-use.

The new platform needs to provide an intuitive UI which presents itself as easy-to use and offers the greatest flexibility of use, be it with a keyboard and mouse, or an Oculus Rift and STEM system. It also needs convenience of use as well, if it’s going to be made available through mobile devices.

Allied to this is the need to ensure that incoming users are presented with compelling experiences which encourage their use of the platform, and increase their desire to explore it further. This includes ensuring those who come to it with an idea of what they want to do and what they are seeking can find it and similar-minded users quickly, while those who arrive out of curiosity are entertained and /or engaged.

Taken together, these three elements provide a substantial challenge to anyone attempting to drive a virtual world product into the mainstream market. So far, no-one has successfully managed to tackle all three with a single virtual world product and bridged the gap into mainstream acceptance, including Linden Lab. As such, it’ll be interesting to see if the Lab do indeed rise to the challenge, or whether they opt to channel their efforts in other ways, such as towards deeper penetration of vertical markets by offering multiple “worlds” via a single platform. That, however, may be the subject for another blog post.

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12 thoughts on “LL’s next generation platform and the mainstream market

  1. LL replied to our Support ticket asking if Region names would be reserved so that businesses can move form SL1 to SL2 and keep their names. Surprisingly they answered that they will not protect region or brand names. So if you fancy the look of something doing very well in SL, all you have to do is logon before they do in SL2 and you can steal the names. I urge every business to get in contact with LL and seek clarification on this, because at this time, it appears they have no interest in protecting existing clients and your IP is very much at risk.

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    1. Not protecting region names is unsurprising; it’s unlikely that the concept of “regions” (at the very least as we understand them now) will existon the new platform.

      The business name / brand response is surprising, and one which may not have actually been correctly answered. I’d be very, very surprised if business owners aren’t offered a means of protecting their name / brand. So yes, this is something which does need to be clarified by the Lab, and sooner rather than later.

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      1. There’s an aspect here regarding the business name/brand issue. To the best of my knowledge, the Lab is not an authority that registers trademarks and business names. So, maybe they’re effectively saying that this is something to be taken to the appropriate authority and then, once the trademarks and brand names have been registered, they’d be protected under the auspices of the ToS?

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  2. Not agree with Pamela, its inmportant to seperate RL and Virtual life. people can decide at there own what the want to share. Thats one of the reason why facebook is so bad.
    I thin secondlife maby lose its sparks because to much RL get mixed in. everything need to look like RL, that can lok very nice to.

    Easy to use, that still means good chat support and a readable gui. that means that Linden Lab need to think about people that have problems with eyes etc. and build the viewer with that in mind so font etc. are good scaleable from the beginning. This is a common error by most programmers btw. “it looks good on my screen so its fine for others”

    Voice is still not the best way to communictae, not as long there’s not a good automatic voice translator. voice optional yes. but never force user to it. Voice have also other bad sides.
    It dont bother me who or what you look at, but if the voice is then complete different is `weird` in this case male in female avatar.

    ” it requires that the platform provide some form of assurance that the person with whom you’re interacting really is who they say they are.”

    Thats impossible task, that would mean forcing everybody to bring RL into secondlife and be the correct avatar. that tricky with furry’s. and what does it matter if you have male or female at the other side. just dont use voice !

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  3. Having a reason to use any platform is going to be its primary attraction. Then it’s going to be ease of use, if you can’t get those two issues straight then there’s no going forward.

    In terms of identity I find the Facebook model creepy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t intend to assign any particular notion of priority to the issues. Identity came econd in the list as it naturally followed-on from relevance, given the citing of Pamela’s reaction. That said, your own comment on Facebook again underlines the potential issue for the Lab in trying to deal with both sides of how people look upon identity.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. In the past, I’d written about whether SL (and other virtual worlds like it) actually needs to become “mainstream” or not. Virtual worlds, like many other products, can thrive just fine as “niche” products.

    Honestly, I think all this brouhaha about “going mainstream” is just a ploy to attract venture capitalists by telling them what they want to hear. Also, let me go on record for saying I’ve little respect for the “mainstream audience”. History has showed us that these “mainstream” people have eagerly and easily supported the worst policies on the planet. From witch-hunts in the Dung Ages to the austerity fanaticism of recent years that’s eating through Europe, from Hitler and other nationalist regimes to the increasingly visible oppression of women in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other such places, from the Apartheid states of the past and the present to Guantanamo, it was always this “precious” mainstream audience that eagerly, willingly and easily gave its approval, support, participation and complicity to all of this ugliness.

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