Second Life user retrospectives

This may be the future, but Im looking at the past.

This may be the future, but I'm looking at the past.

The Second Life sixth birthday is looming. What, I wondered, were the changes, for good or for ill, that made the biggest impacts upon the community of users, since the last birthday? While pondering this, I had the following thoughts:

“Don’t worry, users can barely remember what happened last week. 12 months down the track, they’ll have forgotten the whole thing.”

We’ve all had this thought at one time or another: we’ve held the expectation that the majority of users will not only not notice the impact of the Second Life event that causes us so much elation, or grief, or confusion, but will surely not remember it in times to come. Perhaps the majority of users have not even held an account for that long.

Maybe that’s true.

But stop to consider this: a minority of users are deeply invested in Second Life. If a minority of users both notice and recall events that occurred with respect to Second Life, perhaps that’s ok. If the minority of users are the people who use Second Life more of the time, then the impact of their memories could be weighty indeed.

Let’s take that as read.

Now combine this with the fact that memories are elastic in time. Things that you felt very strongly about at the time will tend to linger in the memory, and can seem to be more recent than other, less charged, memories.

So, we have a minority of users who, with their investment in Second Life, are more likely not only to have long and sustained memories of things that affected them, but also to continue to talk about those things, and to pursue restitution where things have gone badly. Their effect upon Second Life and upon the community is greater than you might otherwise expect, in this specific fashion.

During the week, I asked readers of Tateru Nino’s Dwell On It blog, and others, to leave a comment containing their memories of Second Life, highlights and low lights, over the past 12 months. I also asked them not to do any research, but to work from their own memories alone. I felt that it was important to ask users who have enough investment in Second Life to read blogs about it, and to respond.

As you might expect, respondents remembered quite a number of things that had happened previous to that time as actually occurring in that year.

The other thing that struck me was the overall number of events that were recalled by each user; i.e. many, many more than I had expected, or could remember myself.

So, with those thoughts, I present to you the list I compiled from the responses I received, in date order, with links to interesting and pertinent information.

Age verification: announcement to implementation.

4 May 2007 Age and Identity Verification in Second Life

5 December 2007 Age verification arrives on the Second Life grid (updated)

Ageplay: in the media, getting banned.

10 May 2007 Child Porn Panic Hits ‘Second Life’

30 October 2007 Virtual Ageplay Still Too Real

The gambling ban.

25 July 2007 Wagering In Second Life: New Policy

The banking ban.

5 January 2008 Virtual Banking – Linden Lab intervenes

Bay City announced.

22 February 2008

Trademark issues.

25 March 2008 Linden Lab asserts control of names and images

Havok4 released on the main grid.

31 March 2008 Cry “havoc” and let slip the squirrels of war!

Mark Kingdon, new CEO.

22 April 2008 Announcing our New CEO!

Second Life fifth birthday: who and what is not welcome?

21 May 2008 Calling All Cultures to the Second Life 5th Birthday Celebration

30 May 2008 Calling all cultures? Not any more.

30 May 2008 Shape-Based Exclusion [Updated]

5 June 2008 M-rated avatars disinvited, then re-invited, to Linden’s birthday bash

16 June 2008 LL Hopes For Nipple Free 5th Birthday Celebration


“M Linden’s speech at SL5B viewed by many as a slap in the face of early adopters.” Marianne McCann

“The Linden Prize was also at SL5B. I remember how everyone was anticipating the “big news from Mitch Kapor”, and then scratching their heads at what it turned out to be.” Jacek Antonelli


21 August 2008 Mono Launch

Burning Life 2008.

Ran from 25 September to 5 October 2008

New City Sims.

20 October 2008 New City Area Discovered

Immersive Workspaces.

20 October 2008 Linden Lab and Rivers Run Red launch Immersive Workspaces 2.0

Openspace controversy.

28 October 2008 Openspace Pricing and Policy Changes

28 October 2008 Lost in the void

Big Spaceship.

3 November 2008 Transforming the Second Life Experience


28 November 2008 Winterfaire! Coming December 19 – January 5

13 December Win a Space in the Second Life Holiday Marketplace! (The Holiday Marketplace got underway shortly before the holiday period was over).

Xstreet and OnRez.

20 January 2009 XStreet SL and OnRez to Join Linden Lab!


22 January 2009 Improvements to mapping and upgrade to

Linden Blog.

18 February 2009 After much ado with half-measures, the new Linden Blog is released.

Content Ratings.

12 March 2009 Upcoming Changes for Adult Content

21 April 2009 Update – Upcoming Changes for Adult Content

27 April 2009 What do Second Life’s new content ratings actually mean?

Second Life and Open Source.

30 March 2009 Intensifying Open Source Efforts

Finally, I noted that we noticed several Lindens leaving (Robin, Zee, Ginsu, Katt), but barely noticed those who came to take their place.

See this, Linden Lab? Users matter, and they have long memories.

Poll on adult content changes in Second Life

Over at Dwell on It, Tateru Nino is running a poll on the proposed adult content changes, to gauge the spectrum of feeling on it. It’s had a significant number of votes to date, so add your one by going here.

For what it’s worth, I tend towards the idea that the policy has flaws that need fixing before giving support.

Content ratings, age-verification and secret words

tan-linden-lab-secret-keywordsLinden Lab is now in the final legs of adding a new content category to its virtual environment, Second Life. Being added to the existing PG and Mature categories is the new category, Adult, which permits some content which has hitherto not been permitted in Second Life. The new content category is anticipated to go fully live in July.

Of particular interest, though, are the keyword lists and also age verification. Linden Lab is going to be maintaining a secret list of keywords, the presence of any of which in any descriptive text will prevent that item from appearing as a search result to those who have not (a) undergone age verification, and (b) do not have Adult search results enabled. Accounts which have not undergone verification will not be able to access Adult regions at all, or to enable Adult search results.

That list is being kept a closely guarded secret. What that essentially means is that it’s pretty trivial to determine which words are on it, and some users have already done so. The list may change, but it is a matter of only minutes (and a little database pummeling) to determine the exact contents of the keywords list.

Linden Lab have chosen to keep the list a secret, so that people will not be able to work around it. Unfortunately, by its very nature, it needs to be about the worst-kept secret around. It would be kinder to the database just to publish the list, so that people don’t have to brute-force a solution — because they will. I fully expect to see a public and frequently updated list online that publicizes the Adult keywords list before long.

But hey, you’ve got to age-verify for that, right?

That involves either going through the Identity-Verification system that Linden Lab has engaged Aristotle for (which has proven to be unworkable for many, or of otherwise dubious utility), or putting payment information on file on your Second Life account.

Yes, it’s really that simple. So simple, a child could do it. Literally.

What payment methods, exactly constitute verification of age, exactly? According to a spokesperson for Linden Lab, “Any payment method we currently take. PayPal accounts used on XStreet SL will need to be Verified PayPal accounts.

Last time we looked, credit card providers expressly prohibited the use of credit cards as an age verification mechanism in their merchant and payment-processor agreements. That makes this somewhat of a dubious stretch, contractually. However, Linden Lab outsources payment processing, so while their payment-processor might be at risk of reprisals from card-companies, there’s probably no real barrier to the Lab using credit cards as an age verification mechanism.

Aside from the fact that possession of a credit card nowadays is independent of age, prepaid credit cards are available to all ages (some major card companies are issuing prepaid cards to infants), and regular credit cards are available to anyone old enough to hold a job flipping burgers or sweeping floors. In fact, there may be more minors with cards that are indistinguishable from traditional credit cards now than there are adults with them. But there’s always your mum’s purse if you’re hell-bent on tradition.

Linden Lab, however, is out of the liability loop on all of this, so long as they do not make public statements warranting the effectiveness of their age-verification system, or statements that the users are in a legally safer position than they were before. Either could land the Lab with some expensive and embarrassing lawsuits the first time little Suzy gets caught out with Adult content.

Second Life offers enterprise solution

It’s been rumoured for months now, but Linden Lab have finally confirmed that they’ve entered the alpha phase of “a server solution that is completely disconnected from the main Second Life environment with all of the rich functionality in the box.”

As far as virtual worlds and enterprise, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. The announcement has a bunch of significant implications:

1. Key security issues / intellectual property issues minimised

The ongoing and legitimate criticism of Second Life for business is its limitations in ensuring security of information. I constantly cite the power of Second Life for prototyping, but most businesses aren’t going to put key intellectual property on the public Second Life grid. The new solution will allow all the development to occur internally, with the company then potentially able to do some more public testing if desired.

The more obvious security benefits come around improved monitoring of activity and on-site backup of key data. I’m assuming the ability to do roll-backs will come with the package, which gives business greater peace of mind that they alone are ensuring their own information can be retrieved in the event of problems.


2. Enterprise virtual worlds now have a crowded marketplace

The proposed new product is far from assured of being the dominant player in the enterprise marketplace, but its brand recognition will certainly help it get a substantial foothold. OpenSim is the obvious competitor on the face of it, but no-one would be claiming they have a viable enterprise solution yet. The more realistic competitors are platforms like Forterra’s OLIVE, the open-source Project Wonderland and business function specific offerings like NoviCraft. The advantage most of these incumbents have is an ability to argue direct business outcomes, whether it be improved remote training, better team-building skills, or some other outcome negotiated as part of the enterprise-specific installation.

Where the new Linden Lab product will gain true traction is where it’s able to compete on ease of installation and the all-important price. It’s hard to imagine Linden Lab will launch something that’s more expensive than current offerings unless they can make the case for markedly superior features. I’d also expect some third-party vendors like Rivers Run Red are well underway in their preparations to offer development services for enterprise once this launches, and there’s probably a bunch more that will seriously look at expanding into development in the space now that the uptake is potentially more widespread.

3. Another nail in the mirror world coffin?

If the Linden Lab solution does gain traction, it really starts to squeeze out any enterprise arguments made by mirror worlds such as Twinity. The ability for business to run a grid internally and the large user base of the public grid to leverage from makes the smaller worlds vulnerable to losing the businesses they may have already attracted. That said, enterprises that are in the virtual world space for purely marketing purposes may still find worlds like Twinity a worthwhile investment.

4. The unknowns

At this early stage there’s more not known about this new product than known. The key questions I’d like to see answered are:

a. What interoperability will there be with the main Second Life grid?

b. Will there be off-the-shelf capability to connect to other enterprise grids?

c. As mentioned above, what will this cost, and will there be discounts for educators or other non-profit entities?

d. What support mechanisms will be in place. Will those mechanisms be Linden Lab driven or outsourced?

5. The sum up

It’s hard to put anything but a positive spin on this development. At worst it may lead to some loss of variety as smaller players have difficulties. At best it may be a catalyst for more widespread adoption of virtual worlds for enterprise. The most likely outcome in the short-term is slight growth in interest by business and some strong encouragement for Second Life developers.

What are your thoughts? Do you see the announcement being a game-changer?

And the earth moved in Second Life

In regards to Second Life, it doesn’t get much bigger than the announcement made in the past few hours (Tateru Nino has an excellent summary of the announcement over at Massively).

Essentially, Linden Lab have decreed that any adults-only content on the mainland of Second Life will eventually be relocated to a new continent. For the sake of illustration, let’s call the new continent Bonk. To access Bonk you’ll need to have gone through a yet-to-be determined age verification process (probably the current one which doesn’t work that well). That’s the easy bit to explain, although that alone is an enormous change to the Second Life grid.


There’s a bunch of other potential implications that are yet to be clarified, but will be in coming weeks and months:

1. What’s defined as adult content?

2. Will there be exceptions made for educators – or will the childbirth simulation end up sandwiched between a nude beach and a Gorean dungeon?

3. Will we see an eventual homogenisation of the current mainland as huge amounts of adult content is transferred to the new continent?

4. Is this the next step in killing of the Second Life Teen Grid as a totally separate entity?

5. Will there be any roll-back on previous decisions around gambling and in-world finance?

6. Are Linden Lab giving another free kick to OpenSim grids who can claim greater freedom, or are they taking a necessary governance step that will actually provide a competitive advantage?

It’s all obviously conjecture and Linden Lab have promised greater definition of the process in coming weeks – what is certain is that there’s going to be lots of debate on such a fundamental change to the way Second Life operates.

Linden Lab gain two more executives

Read all about it here in CEO Mark Kingdon’s post, but the upshot is that Linden Lab have gained a VP of Strategy and Emerging Business (Judy Wade) and a VP of Core Development (Brian Michon).

Both positions aren’t unusual in a growing company. Both will be tested in coming months in an environment of improving infrastructure and the need for a coherent growth (or maintenance) strategy. I’d say both new positions will actually be spending a little time together as it’s hard to imagine there being too big a gap between the overall strategy and the primacy of effective infrastructure.

Second Life: a monopolistic marketplace?

Today, Linden Lab announced that they’ve acquired two third-party, web-based marketplaces, Xstreet SL and OnRez. On the face of it, such an acquisition is likely to appeal to current Second Life residents and provide a more intuitive virtual goods purchasing option for new users when they register. What caught my eye however, was this statement:

As we go forward towards a single, unified Second Life marketplace, we are excited to build on the work that you, along with Xstreet SL and OnRez teams, have done.

Is a single, unified marketplace a totally desirable thing? It’s not usually and it’s hard to get excited about the prospect of a lack of competition. Other competitors may pop up, but the likely dominance of the now Linden Lab driven marketplace is going to make alternatives difficult.

With the burgeoning interest in virtual goods, Linden Lab’s move makes good business sense. That doesn’t mean it will benefit the wider populace of Second Life beyond simplicity and arguably greater security. It’ll be fascinating to see if this development increases what is already a healthy virtual goods throughput, and if so, whether prices are impacted adversely by the lack of larger, organised competition.

Second Life infrastructure: progress continues

In what I think is his third update on progress in improving the infrastructure that underpins Second Life, FJ Linden (Frank Ambrose) has outlined where things are up to.

As always, his explanations are saturated with terminology and geek-speak, but the upshot is that February should see some improvements that will be noticeable to all. There’s also an admission that the past month has seen some significant stability issues – here’s hoping (again) that some improvements are on the near horizon.

Am I safe in assuming we can forget 2008 being the year of usability for Second Life and that the mantle has been passed to 2009? Given it’s mid-January 2009 and all.

Education Faire and School of the Air

At The Metaverse Journal we’ve repeatedly discussed specific education projects in virtual worlds and also argued that Australian educators are key drivers in the adoption of virtual worlds in a widespread way.

Tateru Nino at Massively asks the question: does virtual education have to get dreadful before there’s widespread adoption by those who determine budgets in the education community? She uses the well-known Aussie icon, the School of the Air to demonstrate how education funding can be used in innovative ways. It’s generated quite a bit of discussion and links to our prediction that there’s unlikely to be a mainstream adoption by the tertiary sector this year.

Monash University’s Virtual Learning Research Project

Whilst the budget and policy-makers drag their feet, Linden Lab are holding their Inaugural Education Support Faire. Aimed at educators and those who provide learning support, it’s being held on the 25th-30th January this year. Linden Lab are inviting educators to present / demonstrate at the event as well.

Over to you: if you’re an educator, how do you see the barriers being broken down at the higher levels so that the self-evident opportunities of virtual worlds become clear to those not at the coalface?

Linden Prize applications close soon: 10K up for grabs

Linden Lab have posted a reminder that applications for the Linden Prize close on the 15th January. All the details of the prize can be found here.

With ten thousand US dollars up for grabs, it’ll be fascinating to see what comes out on top. The core criteria are:

  • Work in Second Life that also achieves tangible, compelling results outside of Second Life.
  • Distinctive, original work using Second Life that clearly demonstrates high quality, execution, function, aesthetics and technical sophistication.
  • Work that has the capacity for inspiring and influencing future development, knowledge, creativity, and collaboration both inside and outside of Second Life.
  • We’d love to hear from any Australian submissions – are there any out there?

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