Second Life and OpenSim blogger Ener Hax claims Second Life founder Philip Rosedale has pronounced SL "dead", citing a recent interview he gave to the New York Times, talking about his new start-up, Coffee & Power:
“The problem with creating an immersive 3-D experience is that it is just too involved, and so it’s hard to get people to engage,” he said. “Smart people in rural areas, the handicapped, people looking for companionship, they love it. But you have to be highly motivated to get on and learn to use it.”
Ener interprets this (wrongly, in my view) as, "If you are a horny and smart physically-challenged person living in Hicksville, then SL is for you!" I've seen other SL bloggers also interpret Philip's statement as a slam against the userbase, so it's probably worth addressing.
As it happens, Philip's statement is not negative or an obituary, but just the way things currently are. Here's why:
It is true, for example, that SL users are disproportionately from rural areas and smaller cities. It's also true there's a significant percentage of physically or mentally disabled people who use SL. (Which to me, is one of the greatest, most inspiring things about Second Life.) And so on. What Philip is talking about, in my opinion, is the extremely high learning curve and technical barriers that have prevented some 99% of the folks who've tried SL from staying. For the most part, only those users, the kind Philip describes, have been willing and able to surmount those very high barriers -- especially when there are so many other games and entertainment/social media platforms that offer similar features to Second Life, but in a more accessible (if less immersive) way.
So I read what Philip's saying as good news: It's clear that he understands the challenges SL faces, and it explains why he's passed the reigns of its day-to-day operations to Rod Humble, who has managed to make a 3D virtual experience with user-generated content -- i.e. Sims 3 -- into a mass market phenomenon. For many years, Philip and other Lindens insisted the high learning curve and the 3D graphics and the heavy client and all that wouldn't hurt SL's growth. (I said as much myself.) But Second Life can only grow if its developers recognize who is using SL now, and what it will take, for people outside these smaller segments to embrace it.
Yes yes, I cannot claim to know what is in Philip's heart, but I did spend time with him last month and in September, not just talking about Coffee & Power, but also Second Life, and he speaks about SL with just as much passion as he has in the past. Perhaps there's some disappointment that it hasn't grown as much as we all hoped, but that is a very different sentiment.
All that aside, I'm not surprised some SLers would interpret Philip's words, and the fact he no longer develops SL on a day-to-day basis, in the most negative possible way: It's another example of how many SLers hate and fear change. But change is necessary, and that means recognizing Second Life's limitations, along with its many strengths.
Here's a more accurate assessment of what Philip Rosedal thinks about Second Life, which he posted in a comment to that recent Heath brothers article claiming that SL had failed:
Hang on there about 'failure'! Second Life's L$ economy provides income for 1000's of people worldwide with a GDP around $600M/year. Hundreds of thousands of people login daily, and tens of thousands of new people SIGN UP daily. The company is profitable, employs 200 people, makes more than $75M per year, and is more than 10 years old. I'd like to see a list of all the founders/products that have reaches that scale or larger. It's a short list. I hope my new company fails the same way.
I see no obituary or loathing there -- only pride and hope.