The importance of a quality social experience in SL

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…

photo by Charlot Dickins

photo by Charlot Dickins




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!”  

Photo courtesy of CNN

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.  

Photo by VeeJay Burns

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.  

Thoughts, anyone?

4 Responses

  1. Just a tidbit… something I said as a piece of advice talking to another performer… that has now over time become a mantra

    The one and only thing every single person in Second Life has in common is lag. Lag is the commonality among all of us, and is the only thing all of us unanimously have the same opinion about….
    So, if you want to unite everyone around you, just start talking about lag.

  2. Great point, DD. Couldn’t agree more.

  3. interesting piece!

    Regarding lag at Garden of Delights event, there are some content issues and some experience issues to try to balance. On the one hand you can have a packed sim of like 100 av but on four sims would be 400 avatars concurrently. But then you need to scale down content and interactivity. So people could dance like at a club. Then other side is rich content but not so many people–maybe none. But then why create non-social experienced content in a virtual online world?? Better to use another platform.

    Having said that, still one of the biggest lag factors impacting SL users is their viewer settings/video card capabilities. In general people over stress their video cards (but it does look nicer if you have the patience).

    We are running a new art experience called Viva La Vida ( which is running an a void sim. Actually I gotta say the performance is not bad at all. I guess, but wtf do I really know, that the Linden Lab load balancing actually cannot reduce CPU down dramatically less on a void than on a full sim. The big problem on a void is handoff between sims, but once you are there seems about the same performance–but obviously fewer prims. This art installation is not heavy on physics, but does have a ton of viewer side effects, media and textures.

    So–issue is still how dense is the real-time interactivity possible on the SL grid. And then if it is fairly low, then what is the big deal about 70K concurrency? SL is clearly not a single community and a lot of the server stress is related to supporting areas that are closed off to the public.

  4. Thanks for quoting me on the Glam World opening post I did on way back, but my name is Sapphire Jetaime – not Sapphire Metamine!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: