Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What If You Threw a Party and Locked People Out?

This week marks the seventh anniversary of Second Life, which truly does serve to illustrate its place as a successful virtual world (rather than "online game")—seven years for anything like SL is pretty remarkable. To note the occasion, Linden Lab has rolled out a number of sims where residents can show off stuff and hold events on the theme "unexpected collaborations," which I guess is intended to highlight how SL can bring people together to create new things who otherwise might never have crossed paths.

Linden Lab Chairman Philip Linden aka Philip Rosedale
(not) speaking at Second Life's seventh birthday kickoff.

To start the festivities, Linden Lab held a kickoff event at a "four corners" amphitheater build they set up: sims are 256m&exp2; squares, so a four corners is an attempt to great a large meeting space with the center of the stage being at the corners where all the sims meet, with the hope of spreading the load of all the avatars across multiple sims. The featured speaker was to be Philip Rosedale, aka Philip Linden, the founder and former CEO of Linden Lab. He's still the chairman of the company's board and apparently still has a hand in how Linden Lab operates, but toodled off last year to work on a new project called Love Machine, kind of a whuffie application for businesses, I guess.

So. I've always shied away from Second Life's official events. I figure I'm not a paying customer so I have no business being there. But, dammit, I do rent virtual land, I am responsible for some small amount of virtual currency changing hands, and I've been mulling whether it would be irresponsible of me to consider taking on actual paying work in Second Life, so I figured—what the heck. The the timing for this event kinda works out, so I'll try to go. I was particularly curious what Philip might have to say in the wake of Linden Labs' recent announcement of a 30 percent cut in staff, the poor response to Viewer 2.0 from existing residents and power users, and persistent reports that Second Life was getting ready to move into 21st century 3D technology by enabling meshes, a more organic way of handling 3D rendering and object creation than the standard geometric prims that can be created in the Second Life client.

So, I got to the event site 25 minutes before the keynote was scheduled to start. Mind you, that was after repeatedly being unable to get into the four-corners area for some time because the sims were at capacity. Once I got in, it took me over 30 minutes to traverse about 40m to get into the amphitheater area, at which point Philip's presentation was already apparently underway. However, from comments of avatars around me, I picked up that he was attempting to give the talk using Second Life's in-world voice system, which is sort of a VoIP solution powered by Vivox. Or, at least, it would have been, if anybody had been able to connect to the voice system. I've almost never been able to get Second Life voice running even just to listen to things, but apparently other people around me weren't able to connect to the service at all. Since Philip's avatar was typing, I struggled to get within 20 meters of him, figuring maybe he was entering the text of prepared remarks as open chat. We trivia folks do that kind of multitasking all the time.

Philip wasn't. By the time I got within 20 meters, this is the chat I picked up:

[2010/06/21 11:21] Philip Linden: Thank you all!


By this time, I had been there nearly an hour and the amphitheater hadn't rezzed. The screenshot above is taken from after Philip concluded his remarks; the "Away" avatar hover-sleeping in the background is the famous Torley Linden.

Linden Lab has posted a transcript of Philip's remarks for anyone who wasn't able to attend or hear them. And I'm guessing that's pretty much everybody.

Philip Linden did address the layoffs, essentially saying that jettisoning some 30 percent of the Lab's employees is cost containment that puts Linden Lab solidly in the black. According to Philip, the Lab's focus going forward will be one shoring up Second Life's usability and operational fundamentals: getting the core of the Second Life experience to operate smoothly and very well.

Philip made another seemingly impromptu speech at SL7B today, stepping in for Linden Lab CEO M Linden who was dealing with an "emergency" of some sort. I was not able to be in-world. A transcript can be found at the same page above, including an explanation of his avatar's technicolor crotch.

All I can say is that if the SL7B "celebration" is any indicator, Second Life has a long way to go to get its fundamentals in order. I was able to connect to SL for the event using a (very) high bandwidth Internet connection. (I didn't have "more bandwidth than God" but I for darn sure had more than most Internet users.) I used nearly every trick in the book to reduce lag on the client and my avatar's load on the server. I arrived early. I made every effort to attend and participate, and went to lengths that non-technical Second Life users would not be able to do.

And for all intents and purposes, I was completely shut out of the event. It was a waste of my time, and a glaring illustration of the failures and limitations of the Second Life platform.

Happy birthday.

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