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When an asteroid approaches your virtual world…

27 Jun

Now that the US is through to the next round of the World Cup and I can take a break to focus on other less important things, I’ll toss in my two cents about the new virtual world Linden Lab is building. I’ll also link to other writing on this topic below.

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If you have no idea what I’m talking about, in brief: LL CEO Ebbe Altberg has made a few comments recently about a new virtual world that the Lab is working on. This post by Inara Pey is useful to get caught up. Ebbe has stated that Second Life will still exist while it remains profitable, though the majority of LL resources will be working on the new platform and they are hiring 40-50 people to add to that pool. This has led to a wide range of conjecture and near-hysteria on forums and in the SLogosphere (Like that? “Blogosphere” is lame to begin with, but I think SLogosphere hits new depths of lameness. Love it!) My reactions come from specific perspectives, so I’m separating them that way.

As a Second Life resident for almost 9 years: I’m concerned but optimistic and hopeful. Second Life needs a rebuild; I enjoy it and the current system meets most of my needs, but some of it is old code being held together by duct tape and chewing gum. As technology moves forward, it isn’t always possible to put patch on top of patch. LL should have many learned lessons from the past 11+ years and with some intelligent planning about flexibility, future-proofing, and not reinventing the wheel, a new platform could be outstanding. I would love to be part of the beta testing (or even early alpha, wink wink, nudge nudge) and once it is openly released, the people closest to me and I will probably move over. In a recent discussion, several residents talked about splitting time between SL and “SL2”. That sounds good in theory, but it’s already difficult enough to split time between RL and SL. I doubt that I will want to divide my life among RL, SL, and SL2, but if the worlds are connected in the hypergrid (or something similar), I’d happily move between them to visit friends and favorite places. Like many others, I would like the opportunity to use my SL name in any new LL world. My avatar names have become part of my identity. I am not a creator, so I expect that the tens of thousands of items in my inventory folders will not be usable on another platform. I’ll give virtual kisses to my favorite things and move on. They were purchases for entertainment and exploration, not investment. My ego will twinge at the loss of my “old-timer” status, but this is a chance to get in at the very start. Also, I get a good feeling about Ebbe. I’ve seen him at public events in SL and read some of his interactions, and I’m glad he’s at the helm now. It gives me more confidence than I would have had at an earlier date.

As a former software project manager, married to a software engineer: I looked at the current job listings for Linden Lab and was immediately disappointed. Shouldn’t a virtual worldbuilder support a virtual office space? With one exception in Seattle, the jobs listed today are all in San Francisco. First of all, successful companies I’ve known “eat their own dog food” — they use their own products. Why aren’t remote working options a possibility in a company that should support virtual culture? I’ve worked remotely and with teams spread around the globe; it takes some institutional support and culture change, but it’s technically easier now than ever. Secondly and more personally, my husband far exceeds the qualifications for some listings and has been in SL almost as long as I have; my opinion might be biased, but I think he’d be a great fit there. It’s approximately a 35 hour drive from our home to San Francisco, however, so the commute would be hell.

As an anthropologist and writer: This is a windfall of observation opportunities. What do people really do when they fear their (virtual) world is coming to an end? Do they stop spending money? Do they leave pre-emptively? Does it effect relationships that may not be strong enough to endure learning a new system? Do people extend their SL relationships into other technologies so they don’t lose touch, and if so, do they move away from the virtual world? Do businesses scale back or profit by going gangbusters during the perceived End of Days? Do educators and businesses who must plan long in advance become wary about including virtual elements using SL? Who are the pioneers that are already eager to hitch up their wagons and move into the unknown? How does a company in this situation avoid the Osbourne Effect? I’m not sure what this means for my current research project evaluating the content of personal profiles on SL, but I’ll keep collecting data and hope I find a way to make it work during my coding and analysis phase.

A last whisper into any listening Linden ear (a gal can hope, right?): A new platform needs to attract new residents and not just the SL loyalists, so please listen to us, but don’t let the shrieking and rending of garments worry you too much. Please consider forming some advisory panels of current residents. Don’t just grab the loudest voices you usually hear: some of those have niche interests and little understanding of the world beyond, so the panels should include representation from other subcultures as well. Plan a user engagement strategy for the new platform from the start and try to be consistent; hire community managers or liaisons who can bridge between LL and the virtual world. Understand that residents want to help and are deeply invested in your success. Not all of us can see the big picture, but we occasionally have brilliant ideas.

Other places to binge-read on this topic:

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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in In the News

 

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