I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the interest in Vig’s Unified Theory of Second Life ™. (Hat tip to Hamlet Au, who I’ve never met but appears to be a reader of this humble blog as he put the spotlight on my theory.) Thanks to all those who have offered comments.
I’ve been mulling this theory over for a while, and the words chosen were very deliberate. For all of its technological wizardry, Second Life is a social space. It is a place for people to access and meet other people, enjoy shared experiences and interact with each other – in a host of formats and venues. If you pull the people out of Second Life, you have Photoshop in 3-D. (Conversely, if you pull the virtual world element out of Second Life, you have a live chat service.)
Problem is, the Second Life culture celebrates the exact experience which places the greatest strain on the Second Life system – the shared user experience, of which I will offer examples after the fold.
Despite the lag and other inconveniences, we hardcore users struggle on despite the hassle – recognizing that lag and other technical glitches are the price of admission to hang out with our friends, create and be inspired by others’ creativity. But what of the new users? Will they drop into the metaverse and find themselves in a quagmire…and want to stay? Is Second Life THAT compelling?
My feeling is that it is not. I also have a feeling that a lot of other people agree with me, which is why Second Life’s recurring user count has leveled off. And I’ll stick to my guns in stating that that number won’t go up until Linden Lab makes Second Life as stable as, say, your run-of-the-mill XBox game or World of Warcraft. This is all the more profound when considering that virtual worlds (including Second Life) are on the downside of the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies:
Think about this when considering these examples…
Burning Life – Check out this photo, “Burning Lag.” I also have to mention this poignant blog entry from one of Second Life’s finest artisans, Charlot Dickins, who said, “It sure looks as if they burnt life thouroughly, or did they forget to burn lag?” – it just breaks my heart that someone as talented as Charlot couldn’t take part.
Garden of NPIRL Delights – Another festival where the density of avatars is compunded by content overload. This combination led Crap Mariner to say, “The problem was rather simple: such a show needs to be spread out, decentralized, and put on openspace sims so that the clutter effect does not lag people into immobility, and works are not cross effected.” Crap goes on to say, “As for lag, I’ve found that reducing draw distance to 64 helps a lot there.” Doesn’t that mean that one needs to scale back the technical experience to have a tolerable social experience?
The Relay for Life – A wonderfully well-meaning fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, is designed to build community and raise a lot of money for cancer research. Eladrienne Laval blogged, “We fought through tremendous lag, but it was so touching to see the folks lined up alongside the track to cheer us on.”
Great musical performers offer concerts designed to expose as many avatars as possible to a musician’s performance, in theory building positive traffic for the hosting venue and both exposure and income for the artist – not to mention a pleasant cultural experience for the guests. Of course, concerts bring lag – generally the better the performer, the bigger the audience and….the more lag. A trip to a Komuso Tokugawa or Max Kleene show is a guaranteed lag experience (but their talents make us persevere nonetheless), but other artists feel it as well, like Syd Siran:
Grand openings of new stores, where Sapphire Metamine shared in late 2007, “…Glam World was THE place to be. But being on the lazy side, I just couldn’t fight the lag, so I grabbed the complementary Loelle hair from Maitreya and ran!”
Cultural events like the SL Shakespeare company, whose performance in March 2008 led CNN iReporter Maxie Mostel to say, “Though the costumes did not quite materialize due to lag, the voices were clear and well-rehearsed.” Take a look at this picture. Is that what we want to have in our virtual world?
And, lastly, even events of the highest order in Second Life – the ones where Linden Lab Chairman Phil Linden comes inworld for a conference. Yeah, the Macarthur Foundation event crashed on him, too. Now, that’s a meaningful social experience.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing these events for their ambition nor motivations. I should know, I ran Oyster Bay and was hampered by lag and other tech glitches all of the time. We try hard, and the servers can’t keep up.
Love it or leave it, that’s how SL operates – the marketing machine (both Linden and user generated) drags people to a central place and then the SL technology infrastructure makes them miserable. I just can’t see how SL can meaningfully grow until that infrastructure catches up with user demand for satisfying group experiences.