Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008: Iggy Looks Back at Second Life

Location: Richmond Island

I had the chance to read carefully Tenchi's post about SL's future. There are a few areas where I disagree, but I think our experiences as users have been quite different. Here are where I see the promises and challenges for Second Life in 2009.
  • More stability for our content. Virtual worlds must include user-created content to retain educators like me. Right now, there is still to much instability in lost items in our inventories, gridwide crashes, and more.
  • De-escalating system requirements. Educators could, for the most part, care less about the fanciest graphics. I do not think Linden Lab is being wise in constantly ramping up the minimum specs for RAM and video cards. It has always been heartening to see a company provide cross-platform clients, but it does little good for me or my students when we begin losing access mid-semester. I realize (I was hammered for this on an e-list) that Linden Lab serves an international clientele and must roll out critical updates and cannot wait until the North American semester ends. It might be reasonable, however, to recall that Windows boxes tend to have a three-year lifespan, and Macs a five-year one, before their vitals become too old to run most current software.
  • Advertising to grow the user base. This is not needed for educational users: SL is already well on our radar, and with the EDUCAUSE recognition of virtual worlds as mature technology for the classroom, Linden Lab can try to expand the user base for social users again. I'm not a marketing guru, but SL needs more efforts like the CSI: New York campaign from last year.
  • More for Premium Users. That $72 a year probably does not add up to much, but we'd pay even more if we got more. I discount the cost of the 300 Linden Dollar/week stipend because most Premium users I know use the stipend to buy items in-world. I suspect that much of this "cash" never leaves SL but circulates like Monopoly money. Why not give Premium Account-holders off-grid data storage for inventory? Why not give us a little bit of non-transferable free land again? An update of the old First Land program comes to mind.
  • More partnerships with premium builders. The departure of Svarga's creator bodes ill for SL, as do the diversification of efforts by companies like Rezzable and Electric Sheep. We need these geniuses to make the sort of content we mere mortals cannot.
  • A better first hour. I know that the Lab is working on this, but the old Orientation Island experience, and the current SL interface, are not intuitive for newcomers. That's why, in my opinion, 90% of new SL users do not stay around.
All of these are tall orders for Marc Kingdon and Linden Lab. I hope they pull most of it off, or I fear that 2009 will be a year of steady declines for Second Life. That's why I'm already looking at other virutal worlds: this technology will mature and become stable. In 2009 we will find out if Linden Lab can figure out a way to survive in the new era.

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