Looks like all those problems in the big empty known as Second Life — the virtual world's confounding user interface, poor graphics, and high attrition rate — aren't going to get fixed anytime soon. Word comes via tipster that Linden Lab chief technology officer Cory Ondrejka, the dude who ostensibly runs the virtual world's tech, has left over "differences in opinion." The official line from founder and CEO Philip Rosedale states that Ondrejka is leaving at the end of this year "in order to pursue new professional challenges." As Rosedale poetically put it, their paths lie in different directions. Ah, the road not taken — like a path to a meaningful business. Anyone have more deets?
While other startup founders have to stay home and, you know, work, these guys have the time and the spare $3,000 to spend hanging out at a zero-agenda conference in Hawaii. (For the record, we're jealous.) Spotted in Yahoo executive Bradley Horowitz's Flickr stream: Benchmark entrepreneur-in-waiting Nirav Tolia; "stepped-up" LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman; FeedBurner founder Dick Costolo, who's rolling in Googlebucks; Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale; Evan Williams from Twitter; Mashery's Oren Michels; and
Kevin Rose (and his new haircut) from Digg with Joshua Schachter from the Yahoo-owned Del.icio.us. One question: Is this really Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg? I don't recognize him looking so unnerdly. (Photo by: bradley23)
Remember Second Life, the metaverse that seems to garner more mentions in the press than actual users? Well, CSI: NY treated us all to a lamer version of reality last night, incorporating Linden Lab's lonely virtual world into its plot. What we want to know: Why can't CBS understand that all we want from it is some Jessica Fletcher and a few sunny-skied pharmaceutical commercials?
The Library of Congress, busying itself with a videogame archive, faces a conundrum in preserving Second Life, because Linden Lab doesn't track user conversations. An archived copy would just be "bunch of very beautiful buildings with nobody in them." Not much different from the real thing, in other words. The good news: If the librarians are searching for ways to preserve it, that means they're aware of Second Life's impending doom. [Kotaku]
The British government may dirty its hands with regulation of Second Life, as it sees issues like child pornography, identity fraud, money laundering, and copyright infringement as "causes for concern." Linden Lab's hands-off approach to policing its virtual world is only fueling inevitable government involvement. The only problem? As other, less boring metaverses steal Second Life's buzz and users, the bobbies may find that they're working the wrong virtual beat. [Times Online]
Second Life's charm offensive is reaching epic proportions. Back in January, Valleywag emeritus Nick Denton noticed a rather disturbing trend: mounting Second Life hype. For three years after the virtual world's launch in June 2003, it remained, thankfully, widely ignored. But a BusinessWeek cover story on the first virtual millionaire, with the help of a workhorse PR agency, spurred a record 700 mentions, including press releases, as tracked in the Lexis-Nexis news database. Coverage has failed to abate, despite highly questionable user numbers and failed marketing campaigns. Why?
Second Life is well past its prime on the hype cycle. Which makes it, of course, just the right time for the sluggish broadcast-TV networks to discover it. The producers of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" have determined it's time to investigate the crime-scene-in-the-making of virtual worlds. Two college girls get sucked into a fantasy playscape — a fictional Second Life clone, Another Youniverse.
After four years of running a virtual world, Linden Lab is finally committing to a long overdue upgrade to its physics engine. Havok 4 should, in theory, make Second Life a little less clunky by reducing crashes, minimizing lag, and improving collision detection (physical interaction between objects) and the world's actual physics. Of course, this engine is already a year old, Havok announced the newest iteration last month. [Worlds In Motion]
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — John Lester, Boston operations director for Linden Lab, the maker of Second Life, is giving the standard sales pitch for the virtual world. His claim: "It's full of people." We wonder if Lester (pictured) would so readily say that to Second Life's corporate-marketer customers, who have found their 3-D Second Life "islands" to be virtual ghost towns. Or to Second Life's disgruntled users, who are stymied by the service's struggle to increase its population capacity. "Our brains crave it," Lester claims. His former job? Creating online communities for patients with neurological disorders. That speaks volumes about Second Life's user base, doesn't it?
Here we go again. Google is, apparently, terraforming Google Earth, its 3-D flythrough of the planet, into a virtual world. Rumored for more than a year, particularly since the acquisition of 3-D modeler Sketchup, confirmation of Google's new "My World" comes in the form of a beta-testing questionnaire circulated among Arizona State University students asking, on behalf of a major Internet company, whether they were into games and social networking, and already had an avatar and a Gmail account. If anyone can pull off a virtual world that's actually interesting, it's Google. But this is like prospecting in the old West. Everyone from Sony to Linden Lab on down is attempting to cash in on the hot new "virtual world" frontier. Eventually, they'll figure out that it's dry, dusty, and mined out. It's just a question of how long that will take.
For all of Second Life's apparent freedoms, it certainly mimics the first. Linden Lab's virtual world is experiencing a bit of a land crisis — there's far too much readily available. In August, Linden Lab announced it was limiting new land creation due to falling prices. Now Linden is halting production while it implements a new auction system in the hopes that the recess will clear out caches. Second Lifers are none too happy. With the ban on gambling and flooded land market devaluing holdings, the economy is taking a nose dive. It looks like Lindens have realized they're buying little more than Florida swamp land.
Second Life, the virtual world we love to hate, announced it's rolling out the beta of its Identity Verification system today. Sick of the constant name-calling afforded by the virtual world's anonymity, Linden Lab is taking steps to police its surreal estate through a voluntary registration program. VP of marketing Robin Harper revealed that the identification system will "independently verify certain aspects of their identity (their name, age, location and sex)" and "establish trust by removing a layer of anonymity." The move, of course, essentially destroys that which is valued in Second Life — freedom to do anything (except gamble). Linden Lab's hope is that landowners will put age gates on their islands, and this system will prevent minors from entering sex dungeons. Of course, minors looking to enter sex dungeons will be too smart to volunteer that information.
So, did you attend the 800-person strong Second Life Community Convention in Chicago this weekend? No? Neither did we, but CNET reporter Caroline McCarthy (no relation) braved the hot air and hype at Chicago's Hilton hotel to bring a first-person account of the Second Life gathering. She also took some lovely pictures at the conference's Masquerade Ball. Prominent Second Life advertisers like Cisco and IBM might want to take a look at the gallery — seeing the players in real life, as opposed to avatar form, might help them to better tailor their "islands" — Second Life creator Linden Lab's word for private areas in Second Life — to potential customers.
The recent run on Second Life's Ginko bank, one of the virtual world's financial institutions, has prompted many residents to ponder whether their magical playland might not need some regulations after all. Their fears aren't fueled by lewd acts or incessant griefer attacks. Rather, they're about the one thing that truly matters: money. CFO magazine recently looked into the bank's failure as evidence that some form of outside oversight is needed to guard against fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, and incidents like Ginko and the recent theft from the World Stock Exchange. An excellent suggestion. But the article fails to deliver on its promise.
The reason why companies like Coca-Cola or H&R Block failed in Second Life isn't because it's a bad investment, it's because they didn't personalize the experience. At least that's what Antony van Zyl, cofounder of Chicago-based Second Life marketing firm Simuality, would have you believe. "When you walk into this virtual reality there should be a person who greets you and directs you where you need to go," he said. "It's absolutely vital that there is human interaction." Van Zyl's company, which offers a hodgepodge of Second Life services, is starting its own staffing service. Small companies that don't have a large enough staff to deploy them in Second Life can now order virtual receptionists to act as their Second Life presence. A bit counterintuitive — most people join Second Life to escape human interaction. And an empty front desk would fit the ghost-town theme.
Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale is learning, the hard way, how a charm offensive can turn, well, offensive. The man behind virtual world Second Life may have staged BusinessWeek's glowing visions of the future and Newsweek's virtual wet kiss, but now comes the backlash. Following Wired's recent expose on fleeting marketers, Time's Kristina Dell takes a crack at taking out Second Life.
When you can visit Second Life, why ever leave your home? Dynamedia, the marketing company that made it possible to order fresh pizzas from the confines of Second Life, wants to ease the virtual world's toll on your wardrobe. It's currently searching out companies for its VirtuReal project. Coming soon to a virtual mall near you, the ability to purchase real-world items. Just what we need. Shopping from the comfort of your pajamas? The Web spawned Amazon.com for a reason, and that reason didn't involve avatars flying around with shopping bags.
Why can't virtual worlds just die a quiet, dignified death? Because Businessweek Online has proclaimed them the future of the Internet, that's why. Google, IBM and Second Life creator Linden Lab are currently plotting to turn the entire World Wide Web into a virtual world. God help us all. Picture this: You go on a virtual shopping trip with virtual representations of your virtual friends to virtually try on jeans that you can buy on the virtual spot. After your avatar finishes her modeling spree, you can — *gasp* — brave the sunlight to purchase the exact same pair in a brick-and-mortar store. Never mind that your avatar is 10 sizes smaller than the real you. Details.