~~~Here's a picture I took of my friend Aldo climbing Total Lunar Eclipse's magnificent Mt. St Helens model. yeah..It's a metaphor of some sort. Aspiring to something higher, or some such fucking nonsense.
In the last few days a couple of different pieces have shown up on the interpipes that to my mind typify the perceptions that are held at the extreme ends of the spectrum of opinion regarding what is going on in Second Life at present, and what its future holds.
In one of these pieces that I am referring to, the respected and beloved M Linden weighs in at the “happy shiny avatars holding hands” end of things in his New Year’s message to his partners on the grid. Meanwhile, a delightful gentleman named Barry Collins has trotted out yet another “Sl is dying” effort under the dreadfully misapplied tab “analysis” at PC Pro UK.
Cheese and crackers, boys and girls! I am going to have to talk to my British friend Headburro about why there seems to be an unfortunate pattern among the British bloggers to simply repeat the same sort of negative opinions without really seeking to actually investigate the circumstances in anything more than a very superficial way? They are entitled to their opinions, but it should be emphasize that whey=t they are generating is "opinion" and not "journalism." If someone wants to really see some serious journalism being done about SL, I highly recommend Randall Hand's excellent new new series of reports on VizWorld starting with this one:
Of course, the people who, like Mr. Hand, are thinking most clearly and realistically about the platform--and many related issues ranging from the development of virtual education opportunities, to the evolution of virtual economies, to the growth of virtual literature and the new publishing models--fall somewhere in the vast area in between the extreme views of SL. But there do seem to be an awful lot of folks drinking the kool-aid at the one end, or wallowing in the slough of despond at the other.
Why is that?
Well in M’s case, I think he jolly well has to, and I admire him for giving it a good shot. I would think he wasn’t doing his job if he didn’t believe things were getting better and try to sell that to the masses. He has to have that vision of a bright and grand future, because that’s what a guy in his position is supposed to do. Yeah, as Rostand’s Cyrano pointed out, tilting at windmills may cast you down into the mud, but their long arms also might launch you up among the stars.
Look here, boys and girls, those of us who look at the platform realistically know that SL is a “festival of unintended consequences” (and yes, I am inordinately proud of that phrase, thank you very much). Whatever the residents or the Lindens do or try, the standard outcome is gonna be Something That We Didn’t Expect. So M might as well go ahead and preach his vision for a gorgeous, interconnected, massively-adopted future for SL, because, by golly, that outcome is probably as equally likely or unlikely as anything else any of the rest of us are envisioning at present.
That said, I just can’t say that I buy into a lot of what he’s testifyin’ to. But rather than picking at the bits that don’t make sense to me or quite ring true, I want to focus on two things he says that I think are kinda important.
First off I note that he says the following about their new trend in showing us “roadmaps” to addressing SL issues:
“So, what’s ahead in 2010? Before I jump into this, a caveat is in order. Linden Lab is not a traditional software company. Historically, roadmaps were simply not part of the Lab’s DNA. This kind of project planning is new for the Lab. That being said, we are trying to share our plans in advance, in the form of dialog with the community because we know many of you are building your businesses on our platform. “
Hold on a just a gol-danged minute there, Shirley! Are you tellin’ me the Labsters didn’t do project planning before this?
Well, that certainly explains a lot about why it always felt like they were jolly well makin’ it up as they went along. The old Linden way of doing business after the initial launch seemed to meander from being pathologically laissez faire to flailing around with knee-jerk reactions to the threatened lawsuit du jour. If there was a plan, it must have been some kind of mystical bushwah that required an oracle to decipher. Or maybe Phil really DID let all his secondary employees just do what ever gave them a Big Smile, and said "pooh" to the customers’ needs.
So if this is the case--that they are in fact actually thinking this stuff over before they do something, if they are actually moving towards a more proactive stance on issues, AND they are going to run things past us (even if it is just for shits and giggles)--I want to applaud this concept. Planning is sort of essential in most modern enterprises, and the idea of lettin’ your partners (ie, us customers) in on the plan and giving us a chance to react and share our thoughts is a pretty darn good idea.
There are many really thoughtful, creative people using the platform. Yeah, an awful lot of us are knuckle-draggin’ idiots and some of us have embraced the zen of being “less than genteel.” But all told, they could probably learn alot from the folks in the trenches. Even some of us who are not genteel.
The other thing that I was struck by was that in a couple of places M said the following kinds of things:
“We’ve also been working on improving the support we give to the ecosystem of content creators, merchants, landowners and solution providers since they/you are the lifeblood of Second Life. Finally, we’ve been working on platform projects to improve stability, reliability and quality of the Second Life experience which is top-of-mind for all Residents.”
And the final point under “So what's ahead in 2010:”
“Last but not least, 'Technical Must Dos' that improve inventory management, lag and other sources of Resident frustration through a global infrastructure, parallelization in the simulator, enhanced viewer to simulator data communication and improved caching.”
I hope this isn’t just lip service. I hope that M really believes this and he is doing the leadership thing 110% and making these priorities clear to all the his staff. The last year was characterized by a certain lack of leadership, reflected in what seemed to be happening around the middle of 2009 with lower level Lindens responding to the lack of direction by “going feral,” while the ones in the middle apparently started eating their young.
M, if you’re reading this piffle, then please, make a priority of that commitment to dealing with what we really want and need...and please kick some tookus and take names until the whole organization jolly well gets it.
And again, let me say that even if I ain’t sippin’ the Kool-aid like some folks, I have more empathy with M’s hopes and dreams--and I have more respect for his overly optimistic perspective--than I do for the utter piffle being spewed at the other end of the spectrum by people like this Barry Collins gentleman.
Here’s how an editor (or someone) introduced his “analysis” piece on Second Life:
“It's desolate, dirty, and sex is outcast to a separate island. Barry Collins returns to Second Life to find out what went wrong, and why it’s raking in more cash than ever before.”
Frankly, I think the reason they write stuff like this piece is for sensationalism value--put sex in the promo blurb, get people's attention, and then they all get stirred up and all the Second Lifers will bump up your site traffic by coming to trash the post or to argue.
As far as I can tell, that kind of thinking is the only possible motivation for publishing a piece like this, because Mr. Collins really didn't have anything to say. (although unlike the last gentleman who flogged this sort of anti-hype, Mr. Collins actually had some screenshots from SL to illustrate his post.)
So basically what this gentleman tells us that is that SL is different from what it was like when he visited in 2006 (that should have been a real "aha" moment, Sherlock). But he never does get around to explaining or even exploring why “It’s raking in more cash than ever before.”
You know one of the things I found interesting in M’s new year’s post was his reflections on all the wacky and important things and stuff that have happened with our expansion into the virtual during the last ten years. The virtual evolves faster than any other context these days--cycles are more rapid and it’s an intellectual, social and entrepreneurial pressure cooker. Just about any moron would realize that after a few minutes reflection. But this Barry gentleman goes back to SL three years after his first visit and is all disappointed that the virtual pub he hung out at and his pub friends aren’t there any more?
This is a surprise?
I find the gentleman's lack of perspicacity somewhat remarkable.
It appears that at the heart of his perspective is the same old meme that is current among the brain-dead techies who produce nothing and add nothing to either the virtual or the physical world. All this guy seemed interested in was the pixel sex, and reinforcing another variation on the same pointless meme that people who have a virtual element to their lives need to “get a life. My goodness gracious. Talk about being out of touch with reality...did this Barry gentleman actually think the same people would be hanging around in the same spots, three years later?
The grid is a darn sight more dynamic than that. Golly...the sport of curling is more dynamic that that.
Ok. I will say this one more time, and with a little clarification:
There is no difference between first and second life. If you are doing it...is is life.
The clarification? Yes...life ideally has to have balance between its various parts. If you spend so much time on SL that you forget to get enough sleep and the cat is fighting with the baby over the last bowl of kibble on the floor, then your life is out of balance and it is NOT HEALTHY. But the same goes for anything:
You can work at your rl job so much that your life is out of balance and you never see your kids grow up. That ain’t healthy either.
You can spend so much time watching TV that your hindquarters fall asleep and your circulatory system shuts down. Nope, not good.
You can sit in the basement masturbating so much that you injure your naughty bits. Definitely not good.
But that’s not what I am talking about--I am talking about creating for yourself a balanced, healthy life that may include a virtual element to it. All other issues aside, that virtual element IS part of your life.
People need a balance of things in their lives, and a reasonable amount of time spent on the SL platform, like a lot of very cool recreational stuff on the web, can make your life richer, more fun, and more complex in a positive way.
The thing that I think Barry Collins missed--and I hope M is not missing as well--is that the real genius of the platform is that a certain part of the population always keeps getting motivated to do more...to go that next level, to do something different that broadens a horizon or two. What you do in your second month, or your second year, or your sixth year for that matter, will most likely be far different from what you were doing in-world early on.
Of course the people from 3 years ago aren’t sitting in the same pub talking about the same sex clubs or whatever they were taking about in 2006--it would be appalling if they were. By now they’ve either moved on to a new experience, or they’re working at making stuff, or rp’ing vampire chipmunks, or something. But I can pretty much assure you that if they are still in SL, they’re there because they chose to aspire to something higher and more challenging--and they did so on their own and of their own free will, not with guidance or direction from above.
An Addeundum, 1/18/2010:
I note there are a great many new readers stopping by, particularly from the UK, directed by a link from Mr. Collins' most recent article on SL. If you found this discussion of interest, I respectfully invite you to also see a follow-up piece on this blog at
Another Addendum, 1/21.2010:
This blog is not written for everyone. But since Mr. Collins chose to link to this and we've drawn a great many readers who seem to come from more genteel circumstances, I have elected to re-edit the article so that their eyeballs will not melt from their heads. Wherever you see words like "gentleman" feel free to put your own noun of choice back in. Oh, and I also put in a link to Randall Hand's article. I would like people to see what real journalism looks like.