Dec 06 2011

Why Second Life Has Succeeded Beyond Anybody’s Wildest Expectations

""){ ?> By Valkyrie Ice


A recent article on Slate proclaims “Why Second Life Failed.”  Assuming you buy into the author’s overall viewpoint, it makes a decent case. In essence, SL was touted as a “revolutionary solution” for a job it really wasn’t qualified to do. The problem is that this viewpoint shows a profoundly limited understanding of what Second Life is compared to what it was hyped to be.

Giulio Prisco and I have discussed this previously in commentary on his blog, and he makes some very good points about why businesses didn’t do well in SL — causes ranging from a lack of needed controls over their “space” to prevent griefing to a need for greater stability to better conferencing, but there is one very big reason that I believe explains why most current “business models” failed in S. It’s one I’ve discussed in my H+ article on 3d printers adding our way to abundance. SL is a prototype of an economy of abundance, and as such, inherently hostile to business strategies based on scarcity. It is not a “business tool” that the majority of current corporate structures can use simply because those structures are dependent on levels of centralized control and restriction to access to product that are impossible to maintain in a world in which everyone has access to the same basic ability to manufacture any desired item.

Modern businesses are essentially based on the “gatekeeper” model. They offer a “product” that they know you want, but which is either not easily made by you, or which cannot be obtained except through them. The example used in the Slate article is the “Milkshake.” We could easily make milkshakes at home, provided we had the ingredients and a blender, but the effort involved for most of us is prohibitive. It’s simply easier to go to the local fast food place and buy one than it is to go to the store and get all the ingredients and make them ourselves. As silly as saying that may sound, it’s true. (yes I know that is not the point made by the example made in the article, but I’m discussing factors that they are overlooking.) The point is the “business” provides “access” to something in a manner that is more convenient than making it ourselves, setting up a “tollbooth” between us and the item we desire.

This same “gatekeeper” model underlies nearly all current business models. It works so long as the “product” is easier to get by going through the “gate” than by making it ourselves or acquiring it from some other source. It’s this business model that doesn’t work in SL because in many cases the “product” is easier to get by either making it yourself, or by finding a nearly identical product offered by a different “vendor” for less than the prices demanded by the “Brand Names.” In fact, given the innovation and ingenuity displayed by some designers in SL, many of those “Brand Names” came up severely lacking. Coupled with the lack of those features Giulio discusses, I am not surprised that the originally hyped dreams for what SL would become failed, and failed miserably.

So yes, if you buy the model used in the Slate article, it is easy to claim that Second Life “failed.” But if you look at it not as a business platform, but as what it truly is — a “Virtual Reality Prototype Testing Laboratory” in which many of the issues we will face in the not very distant future as VR, nanotech, genetic manipulation and robotics technology begin to invade our day to day reality are already under investigation, then I would have to say that SL has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

No, it is not a perfect “prototype” because it does indeed fail to incorporate many activities that have become commonplace, like the social networking abilities of Facebook, or the ability to add in modular “apps” and such, but considering that those “products” came into existence after the creation of Second Life, that’s forgivable. What is remarkable is the prescient way in which the 3D manufacturing/nanofactory revolution is present in the object creation system, enabling anyone to have access to the “means of production.” While this system does require knowledge to use, the availability of online tutorials is phenomenal, and many of them use Second Life “actors” as tutors. Additionally, as time has passed and enhanced features have become available, such as better scripts, sculpted prims and the latest addition of meshes, the range of items that can be created has expanded enormously. And despite the massive variety of items and scripts already available, there are still nearly unlimited possibilities for a creative designer to create a unique and desirable product. This ability is the very reason that the “gatekeeper” model of business is impossible to implement in Second Life.

But even that pales compared to the social impacts that morphological freedom will have on humanity, and it is so integral to Second Life that even the Slate article mentions it in passing. I’ve discussed this frequently in other articles, but it bears repeating. There is no better laboratory in the world today for exploring the potentials and consequences of the ability to reshape our bodies as we wish. There are endless articles on “Digital people” and other “non human” entities that populate Second Life, offering us insights into what the reality of such “shape shifting” abilities will bring. Indeed, we are already beginning to see such “pop icons” as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, (and, of course, Rachel Haywire) sporting hair styles and fashion designs that seem very SL inspired.

So yes, if all you think of Second Life as is a “business platform”, it’s easy to view it as a failed technology. But if you look beyond such a shallow framework, and look at the deeper implications of this “prototype of the future” it’s hard to see it as anything but a very rare and valuable opportunity to study the challenges and promises of a future beyond anything we have ever experienced in all of history. It’s the closest thing we have to a “working model” of Post Singularity reality, a simulation which could enable us to foresee the perils and pitfalls, to make mistakes and find solutions, all without suffering the consequences of making those mistakes in “First Life.”

It’s basically a matter of whether your only concern is immediate profit or the long term benefits it could provide to the entire human race.


  • By Khannea Suntzu, December 8, 2011 @ 1:02 am

    The oyster is the ultimate sandbox, but so far the swines have not accepted the outcome. They will, soon enough. And that day they’ll fly.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, December 10, 2011 @ 6:30 pm


    The current model of “employer/employee” is part and parcel of the industrial revolutionary business model that is in the process of self destruction. I recommend reading both most of the rest of my articles, in particular: as well as “The Lights in the Tunnel” available as a free PDF.

    You fears are based in the false idea that the existing models of business will continue to have validity in the world that is developing.

  • By Hambot9000, December 11, 2011 @ 9:45 am

    I find your articles as well researched and convincing as I find UFO contactee reports.

  • By Ossian, December 12, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    Good article… I only wish you’d used a more up-to-date picture. Avatars are a lot better looking now.

    Also, Hambot needs some help with his analogy: he implies that he believes in UFO contacts, but dislikes the way the reports are written.

  • By Hambot9000, December 12, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    Trolling that is as radically un-funny as yours should be used to put down sick old cats.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, December 13, 2011 @ 5:53 am

    @Ossian Don’t mind Katherine. I’ve become convinced that her personal vendetta against me and inability to use the same name more than twice is merely a symptom of her jealousy over the size of my breasts.

    R.U. will be along soon and delete her.

  • By ENKI-][, December 15, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    Of all the massively multi-user online virtual environments I’ve used, Second Life is certainly one of them. It is not the earliest, nor the best, nor the worst, nor the most hyped — though it may be the one that was consistently hyped for the longest (it was opened up to the public initially in 1999 and I didn’t even hear about it until 2005, then it became a media darling in 2006).

    My point, though, is that the successes and failures attributed to Second Life are not unique to Second Life but instead are present in all MMUVEs with economies and object copying. In fact, Second Life also does not excel in the area of object copying or an economy of abundance: after every transfer of ownership, an object reverts to a default permissions state that prevents the next owner from modifying or copying the object. An object cannot be scripted to give an object to a user except by ‘paying’, and vending machines that distribute free objects get around this by setting the price to zero lindens.

    In terms of design, Second Life is notable primarily in the lack of it. Perhaps poor design is the primary way in which Second Life is notable. Unlike sensible applications, second life does not use TCP/IP. Instead, the second life protocol involves a poor replica of TCP/IP using UDP/IP. Second life furthermore has arbitrary hard-coded limits (prims per region, maximum region height, maximum teleport distance). Having been a part of several projects involved with reverse-engineering, cloning, or interoperating with parts of Second Life, I can truly say that it’s unclear whether any significant amount of thought was given to design, and that trying to work with Liden Labs’ mistakes is by far the most difficult part of the task.

    So, are MMUVEs in some sense successful prototypes of a post-scarcity economy? Sure. Is Second Life a good example of this success or any others? Not particularly.

  • By rogerharris, December 16, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

    Second life is great opportunity not realised. If there had been some vision and good graphics programmers recruited, by now they would have pulled in all the leading aspects on modern games and web browsers. video embedding, browser embedding so the pages are in VR mode. stereoscopic configuration panels, surround sound would have placed it in a good position to run on todays high power graphics and straight into a 3dTV operated through a PC type kinect (which could have been made and branded to help fund it).

    Look at the almost photo realistic worlds of modern games. That are running on a standard PC with a $100 graphic card update. These graphic engines are licensed and constantly upgraded. Even the last generation graphic engines would be a big improvement.

    If there had been a major tech investment this could have been a platform ready to move in to virtual reality territory and take web to a higher level.

    I guess the second life owners just didnt see it coming. i.e Blu ray 3d, 3d movies, 3dTV IS virtual reality. If second life had integrated all this it would be mindblowing winner takes all migration platform.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, January 8, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    @ Enki and Roger

    Quite valid and true on all counts, and SL is indeed so much less than it could be.

    It is, however, wrong to look at SL as a “failed platform” for business, when SL was never really a good business platform to begin with, regardless of what the creators might have thought it would be. As a “Proof of concept” 3d virtual environment, it was phenomenal, and still is a valuable “prototype lab” for the future, though it is showing it’s age badly these days.

    I do hope that someone soon creates a new platform which incorporates the latest technology which will allow me to transfer my SL inventory wholesale. It will be tedious to remake myself again in a new environment considering the years already spent doing so in SL.

    I am however resigned to the likelihood of having to do so. *sigh*

    And thank you for such intelligent responses, sorry for taking so long to respond 🙂

Other Links to this Post