Gwyn Llewelyn replied to my post on the restructuring at LL, and while we differed in some views, she nevertheless raised a point that has taken a while to percolate through the grey fluff between my ears and mingle with something I posted regarding the sudden launch of the heavily revised ToS.
At the time the new Terms of Service came out, I asked if LL might not be putting the paperwork in order, suggesting that they might be moving towards a hiving-off and licencing of the server-side software.
Despite all the soft assurances from Mark Kingdon about the health and vitality of Linden Lab, as circulated in his recent e-mail, could it be that the announcement of the restructuring be a further step in that direction?
If I’m honest, Prokofy Neva spotted the parallel before me; although she takes a slightly different angle.
In the ToS, LL have pretty much redefined SL as software as a service (SAAS). This helps make the platform itself suitable for licencing – letting other companies come in a take on the task of hosting the platform, as I’ve previously mentioned. This benefits LL from the need to invest massively in additional hosting efforts elsewhere (such as in Europe) with the aim of reducing latency. It also relieves them of the burden of supplying customer support services, since this would fall under the remit of the licensees. At the ame time, LL generate income through a licence structure (based on the server count? the number of actual sims?) that also enables them to retain the IP on the software and thus control its development.
Certainly it is doubtful a purely “land sales” model is sufficient to keep LL afloat, and licensing deals have traditionally been far more lucrative to software companies, so I’d be very surprised if a shift towards such a model hasn’t been considered by some at the top of the LL tree.
They could even hive-off the operations they currently have into a holding company, as Prok suggests, which in turn could operate a number of sub-leasing deals.
Again, moving towards browser-based accessibility for the platform (or possibly offering as an option alongside the Viewer) fits this scenario, again for reasons I’ve stated: it encourages those who would otherwise fight shy of “trying” SL to do so, simply because it no longer necessarily requires them to download and maintain software.
The browser approach also increases the potential attraction business and education may have towards SL as a platform. A shiny new toy delivered direct to the desktop within an browser’s existing functionality is far more attractive than buying a “virtual world modelling tool” which requires you to install and maintain a clunky client front-end on every single desktop PC in your office / classroom environment.
Licencing the platform also offers potential benefits for LL’s business hopes: a couple of strategic “partnerships” with suitably focused hosting services could see the development of Justin Bovington’s longed-for “business oriented Mainland”: a secure environment to which companies using Second Life on the business front can meet and intermingle via “shop fronts”, as an example. Again, LL win in that they lose the overhead of running the service, but gain on the licensing of the platform and in the potential consultancy spin-offs.
Turning as well, for a moment, to Mark Kingdon’s e-mail to residents on the structuring, and risking going off-topic from the above speculation.
I’ve previously-suggested that the structuring PR may have been poorly-worded, giving people the impression that LL were going to overthrow the Viewer in favour of a purely browser-based method of access SL when in fact they may have meant the browser option might be in addition to the Viewer.
Mark Kingdon’s letter to users suggests this may well be the case, as he states: By bringing new people to Second Life, and by increasing the ways in which people can interact with the world and with the people, places, and things within it. Note the emphasis. Not “changing the way in which people can interact”, but “increasing the ways” – this really does suggest to me that the browser approach is intended to be in addition to the Viewer.