Writing for Ars Technica on Monday, October 23rd, Samuel Axon, the Senior Reviews Editor, tells of his time Returning to Second Life. It’s a lengthy, involved piece, and perhaps one of the most broadly integrated write-ups on Second Life to have appeared in a good while.
Mr. Axon is no stranger to SL, having been dipping in and out over a number of years up until around 2012. As such, he brings to the piece first-hand experience based on more than just random exposure to the platform. In addition, he spoke directly with Peter Grey, the Lab’s Global Director of Communications, and Bjørn Laurin, Vice President of Platform – who has responsibility for both Second Life and Sansar. But that’s not all, he also sought out a number of Second Life creators to gain their insights as well.
The opening paragraphs encapsulate Second Life on a number of levels: the early hype around it being the “Internet 2.0”, the media hysteria of 2006/7, and an attempt to explain, as quickly as possible, was SL “is” for those who might view it as some kind of MMORPG.
From there, the article weaves a fairly comprehensive tapestry of several aspects of Second Life: commerce, creativity (and their relationship), social interactions and the changing face of discovery in SL, and more.
For example, with commerce and creativity, he brings together several threads: how both have given rise to what might be regarded as “unusual” (to the outside world) markets – such as breedables; how creativity has changed thanks to mesh and (for many) the move away from prims to external tools; the influence this has had with commerce, the rise of the Marketplace, and its impact on land in in-world stores.
The article also doesn’t shy away from issues. It delves into the question of why Second Life failed to become as all-encompassing as the early days seemed to promised. Here the finger is pointed squarely at social media being a major reason (outside of the overall hype surrounding SL), and I wouldn’t dispute it’s validity. Back when SL was at the height of its hype (2006-early 2008), Twitter was just starting out, as was the iPhone, Android had yet to arrive, and even Facebook had yet to start its meteoric rise in user numbers (2008 onwards). Thus, there wasn’t really anything out there by which SL’s real potential could be measured and the hype around it countered.
Sex in Second Life is also dealt with head-on, with a very tidily written sidebar to the main article. In it, Mr. Axon offers one of the most considered and well-balanced ripostes to those who insist Second Life is, to its larger extent, “all (/just) about sex”.
There are one or two elements in the article which might have been tackled a little differently. The changing face of discovery – where to go and what to do in Second Life – is examined, with a degree of lamentation that the kind of exploration possible when SL was more mainland / very large private estate oriented (i.e. pre Homestead) no longer seems to be the case, with the bias now towards “siloed” activities on isolated private islands or “big public” calendared events, with information on them effectively coming through word-of-mouth.
However, rather than lamenting the change, I’d perhaps liked to have seen it examined more along the lines of how we tend to imprint our physical world activities on Second Life. It’s fair to say our social activities in the latter are “siloed” between our homes and public venues / calendared events. We visit family and friends via the most direct means possible, rarely taking time to explore what lay between; we rely on specific “word of mouth” to get news on events of interest – websites, social media, clubs / organisations, etc. So is it really that surprising social activities have evolved in a similar manner in SL, particularly as some of the tools – like Groups – naturally lean in that direction, and are very effective in their reach?
Later in the article, Sansar enters the equation – as might be expected, given there is much concern about how it might impact Second Life. Here, those concerns are confined more to the technical / fiscal: that Sansar will draw off resources / investment from Second Life to its detriment.
While these – and other – concerns are valid, right now none of them are coming into play. On the technical / fiscal front, for example, we know the Lab is still recruiting skills specific to Second Life, and we’re still seeing user-visible capabilities added to the platform, Animesh being the most recent (albeit on a test basis), with things like the Environmental Enhancement Project and Bakes on Mesh (see my CCUG updates) following it down the pipe. The Lab is also continuing its overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning Second Life, up to and including an attempt to move SL services to the cloud. If nothing else, and providing other factors don’t come into play, all of this work should help towards SL’s continued longevity.
I could go into greater lengths, but really, suffice it to say that in Returning to Second Life we have an informed, balanced piece on the platform, which reasonably attempts to reconcile past with present and offer honest insight into why, fourteen years after its public opening, the platform still has appeal, as well as offering viewpoints from both the Lab’s and users’ perspectives. As such, it is more than worth a read in its own right, and if you haven’t done so already, I urge you to do so.