Singularity’s look at Sansar and Second Life

Writing in Singularity Hub, the on-line publication of Singularity University, Aaron Frank, principal faculty at the university lecturing on augmented and virtual reality, offers an interesting piece that covers both Second Life and Sansar.

New Virtual World Sansar is Ready to Pick Up Where Second Life Left Offwhich appeared on Friday, June 23rd, may have another slightly misleading title (see Sansar: thoughts around Kotaku’s hands-on), starts with a look back to May 2006, when the story of Anshe Chung’s rise to millionaire status marked her appearance on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. The event marked the start of SL’s broader rise in the consciousness of the media (and the general public), and Mr. Franks quickly runs through what followed, culminating in the so-called “failure” (i.e. writing-off by the media) of Second Life – before pointing out that for a “failed” venture, it is still here and still generating an economic throughput sufficient enough for some users (land owners in particular) to draw down a collective US $60 million in income from the platform in 2016.

Aaron Frank

True enough, nothing new here for those of us familiar with Second Life, and the Lab’s popular talking-points for the platform. These include referencing SL’s 2016 “GDP” of half a billion dollars, references to the use of the platform by Texas A&M University, which are again doubtless familiar to many SL users. But as well-trod as these point might be, it’s still good to see another writer willing to look openly at the platform within feeling the need to rub against the “seedier” (as others might wont to have it) side of Second Life.

After his look at Second Life, Mr. Frank takes a dive into Sansar – carefully noting it is the Lab’s new venture while avoiding any reference to it being in any way a “replacement” – because, as we’ve established elsewhere, it isn’t.

Here we’re again treated to a run through familiar territory: the description of spaces visited, the nod towards emerging mechanics on the platform (bouncing and throwing basketballs), the fidelity of the rendering, the spatial sound, etc. Before moving to equally familiar statements about the core differentiator between Sansar and SL (other than the former’s “built for VR” aspect) – the underpinning revenue generation model, before touching on the familiar analogies between Sansar and WordPress.

But within the familiar there are a couple of points worth noting, and which may have been missed along the way, despite being mentioned elsewhere. The first is the re-affirmation that Sansar spaces could be as big as four kilometres on a side – the equivalent of 16 SL regions by 16 SL regions.  While this has previously been intimated, it still seems to be something that is missed in some quarters, so seeing it referenced again here in no bad thing.

The SingularityHub article reminds us that spaces in Sansar could cover an area equivalent to 256 regions in SL: four kilometres on a side

The other element is the confirmation that scenes can be interconnected. This is something that has again been stated by the Lab in the past, but is also something that may have been missed in SL circles – a certain amount of the negativity towards Sansar has been the idea that spaces within it are all “standalone”.

Obviously, “interconnected” does not mean Sansar spaces are in any way contiguous with one another as Mainland and places like Blake Sea in Second Life are. However, it does suggest the ability to at least hop from one Sansar experience to another in a similar manner to teleporting in Second Life. In this, it’s also interesting to note that Ebbe Altberg himself first referred to teleporting between Sansar spaces in an interview a year ago, and it’s interesting to note Cecilia D’Anastasio referred to teleporting between Sansar scenes in her piece for Kotaku (linked to earlier in this article). Of course, this could mean going via the Sansar Atlas, which we’ve already seen – but “teleporting” does seem to suggest a more direct route than leaping via a directory of spaces.

Also noted in the article is something I’ve touched on before – that “creator” in Sansar has a wider meaning than we’re accustomed to seeing in Second Life. In the latter, “creator” is pretty much focused on those who ho design and make the goods we use to dress our avatars and furnish our land; it not a terms closely linked with those who obtain land in SL and design environments using the goods they have purchased from creators. Within “Sansar” the term clearly applies to both in equal measure, which also offers a broader scope for the idea of “democratising content creation” (after all, a region, even if designed using good purchased from others is as much a part of SL’s content as the goods themselves).

The Sansar Marketplace. Credit: Linden Lab, via SingularityHub

Towards the end of the article, there is a discussion on the cultural changes technology has brought about , with Mr. Franks notes with this that, “Society has become native to virtual living.”

And we have; the creative freedoms we have today to socialise across geographic boundaries, to share out thoughts through blogging, our images via photo sharing, our lives through video – and to combine all three – really didn’t exist on the scale we see today when Second Life started out. But that doesn’t mean that the world at large is ready to leap into Sansar (or any similar platform), be it with or without VR hardware, simply to carry on / do more of the things people are already doing through other means. As such, Sansar could  – in terms of the general populace and acceptance / use – face as big a mountain to climb as Second Life did.

But then, if Sansar lays claim to enough of those market verticals where it appears to have clear potential, and can leverage revenue from them, Sansar need not actually need to go “mass market” in the manner once envisioned for Second Life in order to be a success; it could do very nicely as a lead player in a variety of market niches.


2 thoughts on “Singularity’s look at Sansar and Second Life

  1. Aaron Frank’s article was good, the kind of article that gives a less biased idea about what you can do in virtual worlds or virtual spaces. A pity for its title indeed. I agree with what you wrote and your considerations. And the way Second Life was envisioned in the beginning was over-hyped, then backfired; so Sansar doesn’t need to make the same mistake by creating excessive or misleading expectations. Ebbe Altberg explains what’s about in a pretty simple and clear way. Still there are many people expecting Sansar to be a “Second Life 2.0”, and I won’t be surprised to read some disappointed comment from SL residents after the first public release, although there would be social VR experiences and entrainment. Sansar would be a success if it just become a niche market leader as you said.
    To become a mass thing it should be, at least:
    #1 easy accessible: in 2008 Facebook was easily accessible from any browser and machine, and readily usable. You didn’t have to download a special client, to learn how to use it, and the need of a powerful computer and a fast net, unlike Second Life, else we would have a 3D Internet now.
    #2 something that may appeal to the masses instead of niches.
    To get to this point it has maybe to be embedded into websites eventually and run on mobile devices too. Or used anyway as a widespread tool in the e-commerce market, to display – in a 3D and interactive way – previews of products, vehicles, tourism accommodations and so on, besides archaeological reconstructions, architect designs, projects etc… it cold turn into a VR Youtube then. A decade ago, the Internet was different, but also the hardware, the network and SL itself wasn’t ready to do similar things in an efficient and accessible way. Who knows what’s going to happen this time. After all, the computers and the net itself used to be niche things once. Sometimes tech product evolve in surprising ways. From what I saw so far, it’s likely that Sansar will stay a niche, unless they find a way to fit it into something else more widespread or something that we don’t imagine yet (think Back to Future part II – from 1989, there were networks already, but a couple of years before the WWW – and its 2015 Fax machines, compared to the today Internet). So I agree, there is potential in many ways, but it would be already a success as a lead player in market niches, as you said.


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