There’s been something of an ongoing discussion over the ever-excellent Metareality concerning the viability / attractiveness of a “new” Second Life – that is, a platform wherein Linden Lab starts over to present something new and overcomes the shortcomings of the SL grid as we know it today.
It’s an interesting – and entirely hypothetical – discussion point. Just how viable would a new Second Life be (if we assume the money was there to develop such a beast), both in terms of Linden Lab’s development of the platform and in people’s acceptance and use of it?
Well, some of the benefits that might come from such a product would be technical; doubtless things like the creaking mass of the asset server infrastructure could be addressed and made a lot more robust / scalable. Potentially the region / sim code could be completely overhauled to both improve stability and remove much of the “band aid” code that has, due to the nature of the platform, had to be applied to deal with various issues and bugs over the years rather than LL being able to dig deep and resolve them at source.
A new Second Life grid could also, I assume, be better geared towards handling the likes of mesh and other capabilities. Similarly, the Viewer could be revamped – and while this may draw boos and hisses – be kept closed, or perhaps licensed, to better control the growth of features and to ensure Viewer and server code remain better integrated.
There might also be the opportunity to directly address issues of accessibility through other means – tablets, web pages and mobile devices.
Social aspects might also be better integrated into the platform as well, for those who wish to use them. These are no to everyone’s cup-of tea, but that’s no reason to exclude such extensions / capabilities.
All of this could be massively to the good; but what about those of us already engaged in Second Life? Are we likely to leap onto the bandwagon of a “new” Second Life? Some undoubtedly would; but many of us probably wouldn’t for much the same reason as we don’t take a deep plunge into existing SL alternatives: we have an awful lot of what amounts to personal investment in our inventories, and if we can’t take it with us, the likelihood is, we aren’t going to go – not unless forced out of SL itself (which might easily see us giving LL the one-fingered salute and disappearing somewhere else entirely).
Of course, losing the current user base (or a good proportion thereof) might be seen as part and parcel of the risks involved in developing an updated platform – after all, with 16K-a-day sign-ups for the current platform, there is opportunity for LL to address initial retention head-on and harness a good percentage of that 16K and so not actually miss those of us who stay behind.
On the other hand, offering a migratory path from “SL 1.0” to “SL 2.0” would obviously be one way of alleviating issues around existing users, allowing LL to retain them and their loyalty while also avoiding initial issues of growing a new user base.
However, offering such a path might itself create issues. One of the biggest potential benefits in an “SL 2.0” would be the ability to incorporate the infamous “avatar 2.0”, which has been the subject of speculation on-and-off since around mid-2007. This is something that is unlikely to happen within Second Life as it is because of a myriad of dependencies means a dramatic overhaul of the avatar could break things. As such, developing a new avatar form for “SL 2.0″ could end up breaking compatibility with “SL 1.0” and render migration either problematic or (worse case) pointless.
Perhaps the biggest issue with any “SL 2.0” though, is not technical, but physical (so to speak). At the end of the day – and as Qarl comments in a recent Metareality podcast – a lot of issues relating to SL are actually centred on the relationship between users and Linden Lab itself. These take a variety of forms, some are justified (such as people feeling the company could be more forthcoming within consistent and more open communications and dialogue with the user base), others are completely unjustified (such as claims that LL are out to “kill” aspects of Second Life or that they act “maliciously” towards users).
Regardless of how justified or otherwise claims and arguments about LL are, the fact is that whatever the platform LL provides, the issues and arguments will likely continue. As such, there is a risk that any “new” SL could be taken to be “same s***, different shovel” by both sides of the relationship; users will continue to bemoan LL and LL will continue to feel they are in an uphill battle facing the same criticisms and complaints they face at the moment. This in turn could lead to both sides asking the question, “Why even bother?”
Over all of this, however, lies the biggest question of all: what, exactly, would LL achieve by taking such a route? It’s unlikely that “SL 2.0″ would achieve any grater success than the current Second Life has achieved or has the potential to achieve, allowing for all the new capabilities being developed. Thus, any new variant of the platform is liable to end up occupying precisely the same niche as the current product, with more-or-less the same attractiveness to users and possibly the same grumbles and gripes – and this renders any idea of an SL 2.0 developed by LL pretty much moot. Far better that they focus efforts on improving and enhancing the current platform and in maintaining / increasing its relevancy.
Nevertheless, the idea is still an interesting discussion-point – well, for me, at least!