We all call it a birthday, but the reality is that June 23rd actually marks an anniversary: that of the public opening of Second Life in 2003 to anyone wishing to come aboard and find out what it is all about.
Second Life was actually “born” some time before that. Depending on your point-of-view it could be said that its “real” birthday was either March 2002, as Linden World morphed into a very alpha Second Life, or perhaps October 2002, when the closed beta started; or even April 2003, when the open beta launched.
Nevertheless, whether birthday or anniversary, reaching 12 years of public access is a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards when it comes to what is essentially an IT platform, and the fact is that Second Life – despite the doom and gloom and dire predictions that frequently pour forth as to its future – is still in pretty robust health and remains a source of enjoyment to so many, is something that should be celebrated.
Over the span of years, we’ve seen Second Life grow from humble origins to become one of the longest running and, arguably, one of the most successful virtual world environments yet created. Yes, the total number of active users may never have got much beyond the one million mark, but in some ways this hardly matters. The fact is that Second Life has become a strong, vibrant set of intertwined communities and groups; a place where creativity can be freely expressed almost howsoever we can imagine.
It allows people from all over the world to congregate, to share in experiences and activities and one another’s lives; it is a place where friendships – even relationships – can form between those who otherwise would never meet, much less spend time together. Through it, many have found an outlet for their digital creative talents, while others have found an audience for their singing and song writing, and others have found it a means of incredible artistic expression.
And throughout that time, the platform has continued to evolve, to meet the ever more complicated and broad ranging demands we place upon it. Thus, over the years we’ve seen the arrival of private regions, of better and more capable scripting capabilities, visual enhancements such as windlight and materials, support for different means of content creation – notably mesh, and so on. And it has remained a highly successful means for many to generate an income of their own.
What’s more, all of this has been done – particularly over the last five years – with little or no major upset to people’s ability to access a world we expect to be ready and waiting for us at any given minute of the day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
When you think about it, this is a level of availability that is quite stunning, and which many other services are hard pushed to provide. Even more so when you consider the overwhelming complexity of Second Life. Not just the simulators, and their need to support a wealth of content we, the collective residents, can between us pretty much change at will; but all the additional (and all-too-often ignored) back-end systems that must always be available non-stop in order for us to be able talk, share, buy, wear, render, and so on.
Of course there have been lows as well as highs over the years. Some of these have been over-exaggerated with the passage of time, others do speak of missteps along the way. There have been the inevitable upsets and times when the Lab and residents have seemed pretty much at odds with one another. But that’s to be expected where people feel passionately about something, and into which they have poured so much of their time, effort and talent.
SL12B Dreamitarium by Anthony (ADudeNamed Anthony), June 2015 (Flickr)
Perhaps the worst period in SL’s long history came in 2008/09, when it did seem there was a prevailing desire within some of those running the company to see the platform turned away from the open, creative and collaborative platform which has marked its success, and into something altogether more business-oriented in outlook and use. That year also marked the whole OpenSpace / Homestead region situation which caused considerable bad feeling, and which could be said to have gone on to have repercussions through the period 2010-2013.
But when taken as a whole, low points such as these are really in the minority. By-and-large, Second life has been for all of us who continue to engage in it, a positive and rewarding experience. After all, if it were otherwise, would we actually still be here? And that goes for the staff at the Lab as well, all of whom, I think it fair to say, are as enthusiastic for, and engaged with, the platform as any resident, even if we don’t often get to see it directly. After all, were they not, why should they keep working at the Lab?
Second Life has been – and remains a quite remarkable adventure; one that obviously retains a huge amount of appeal for all of us who come to it, often on a daily basis. It’s a place where a part of us, no matter how small, does find fulfilment and enjoyment. Hence why it is right that we do celebrate just what a technical and social feat Second life really is, and what it means to all of us.
And when you think about it, while 12 years a a long time, it still means Second Life has yet to enter its teens, so there is plenty of promise of life to come – and with it, dreams aplenty to share.
Happy Anniversary, Second Life – and here’s to many more!