Second Life is going through a troubling phase. It has entered young adulthood, but is still acting like a teenager – occasionally like a teething two-year-old in a tantrum. Unfortunately, Linden Lab has a very different view about where the Second Life product stands with regards to its consumers: they believe that they are providing a frontier product to the disorganized nomads of the virtual worlds. I believe this is far from the case, and that in fact the frontiersfolk have long since passed into obscurity and myth, and that this rustic product is now being peddled to a bunch of sophisticated townsfolk.
Second Life‘s frontiersfolk, the early adopters of the adoption bell curve of Kapor’s speech, have been leaving Second Life to become the early adopters of other technologies since mid-2005. The townsfolk or pragmatists have long since taken over; and though there are still hopefully many more of them to come, the townsfolk now represent a majority. It’s possible that Kapor managed to alienate both the frontiersfolk and the townfolk when he said, in essence, from the town square, “See here, all you woodsy hicks, y’all have to move over and make way for the townsfolk who’ll be moving in.”
So here we all are, a bunch of townies, doing our best with hides and stone knives to build a comfortable living for ourselves. It’s not easy, but despite the tools we’ve been given, we’re making our way nicely, thank you. We’ve workarounds galore to overcome limitations in the product (insufficient personal profile and group tools, etc), although there are still many problems that we must simply endure – an ongoing lack of stability, a poor permissions system for functional collaboration, a set of tools that are feature-rich for individuals and feature-poor for groups, and many, many others that simply make life less easy (feet sinking through terrain, poor Search functionality, the list goes on).
Microsoft, for all their other failings, did a good job of matching their product maturity to the adoption curve. Linden Lab is failing to do this. Windows versions up to 3.0 were for the innovators and early adopters. Increased stability and an increased feature-set were designed to encourage the pragmatists to buy and use their 3.1 version, and so on down the line. Linden Lab is still throwing version 1.0 grade features at customers who are expecting 3.1 quality. They are ramping up to pave the way for their 3.1-quality product targeted to attract new customers, however many of these people are already using it or have already tried and failed.
The townies are crying out for quality and beauty in their town. We like our solid buildings and manicured gardens, and a sign saying “Welcome To Our Town”. How does this translate? Aside from addressing the problems from above, two things come to mind: more social networking tools and superior orientation. If Second Life is to be truly hailed as a social networking haven, it needs the tools to support that boast, instead of people finding that they can work around the restrictions of the system. For Second Life to be welcoming, the whole orientation system needs to be addressed. Right now, no orientation at all would be better than what is currently available.
If Kapor, Kingdon and the rest of the team up at Linden Lab still think that we’re just passing out of the early adoption phase, we need to be prepared for a continuing disconnect between the Linden Lab view of the product and the consumer’s view – that is, how the product is actually being used.