What's endured in Second Life after the hype, how's the media coverage of it evolved, and where will it go in the future? I discussed those topics with Mark Glaser for his excellent Media Shift article, but as often happens with sprawling articles, a lot was left on the cutting room floor. I expanded on my opinion of Reuters' failed SL news bureau in a previous post; after the break, some more edited excerpts. Much of it will be familiar to regular NWN readers, but as an overview of where Second Life is now and in the future, hopefully worth a read:
What are some of the enduring trends that have outlasted the hype?
What's outlasted the hype is a creative development platform with an infinite variety of use cases. Essentially, Second Life is a 3D version of Photoshop which the users live inside. In recent weeks, I've written about the US Army using Second Life to create a combat simulator, IEEE to teach robotics, an Italian filmmaker to incorporate into a feature movie, a geographic information systems coordinator with the City of Berkeley to create a 3D planning map of the region, and a Carnegie-funded project to improve Western-Muslim relations. Equally important are the grassroots SL innovators working on an equally professional level of skill, making, for example, utterly beautiful machinima shorts, amazing musical instrument avatars that harmonize, and high-quality videogames within SL itself. Just as wonderful are the incredibly diverse people who join SL for a variety of reasons, from a gorgeous Brazilian graphics designer who uses it to create art, an Iraqi professor based in Babylon who believes SL is the next evolution in human expression, to an 87 year old Holocaust survivor who goes in-world to tell people her story.
Has Linden make the world a profitable business, and where do they stand as a business?
Company officials have reported that they've been profitable since 2007. I did some back-of-envelope calculations last year, and from known revenue sources, they're probably bringing in about $100 million a year, which is likely even more now, since land acquisitions continue (notwithstanding a big user rebellion over pricing recently.) How much of that translates as profit is unknown, but I think $10-30 million is a reasonable guess.
That's sort of the paradox, as compared to Internet darlings like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, which have way larger user bases, generate much more excitement among Silicon Valley types... but still have yet to turn a profit. Fundamentally, most of them can't figure out why Second Life is doing so well, and rather than deal with that, it comforts them to pretend the whole enterprise is a failure.
Other thoughts on how SL has evolved and the media coverage of it?
We're at a point where I see more media stories about particular use cases, and those which also assume Second Life's existence as a given, a funhouse mirror image to the real world...
This year, I think two stories will predominate: Linden Lab is now under new management which has little memory of the company's origins (founder Philip Rosedale stepped down as CEO last year), and their challenge is turn a utopian experiment and a successful niche development platform into a true mass market medium. Is that even possible? At the same time, the company now has direct competition in the form of OpenSimulator, an open source, reverse-engineered version of SL which has attracted serious interest from major companies. That's going to bring up some very interesting conflicts, with an element of "son against the father" drama about it. Who will prevail?