I got a lot of interesting comments from hardcore SL users when I mentioned last week all the troubles I was having running Second Life on my Alienware laptop from Dell (a brand owned by nearly 1 in 4 laptop users). Most of them have the same underlying theme, and point to a fundamental Second Life problem. Roughly summarized, they were:
- Buy a better laptop to run SL.
- Get a better graphics card to run SL.
- Stop using a Dell/Alienware to run SL.
- Stop using Windows 7 and install Linux OS to run SL.
- Use another third party viewer (made by non-Linden staff) to run SL.
- Stop expecting SL to work like a mainstream product and just learn to run SL.
- Here is a long and detailed technical explanation on how to fix your problem that would be nearly impossible for an average consumer to follow, but you should do so anyway to run SL.
I definitely don't mean to criticize any SLer who made a comment like this, for on one level, they show a lot of passion for the community which is admirable. But it's important to point out the troubling, unifying theme:
Unprecedented tolerance and willingness to accept technical troubles that would be intolerable in just about any other context. Second Life is not a non-profit open source project, and it's not running the latest, most cutting edge graphics. In either case, some of these suggestions might be understandable. However, we are talking about a product nearly 10 years old, put out by a very profitable company, which somehow can't consistently run well on a computer that 1 in 4 American consumers own, and offers little or no clear assistance (let alone automatic fixes) for addressing these issues.
Now, I myself am willing to work on my technical problems when I have the time, but only because I still write about Second Life professionally, which in turn is because I still believe it's an online community worth writing about. But I hope it's clear how this attitude helps relegate SL to being a niche -- or what a Forrester analyst called the Iron Law of Oligarchy. No software product with such fundamental problems can succeed on a mass market, or even a large niche market of several million users. Few new users will spend 5 minutes, let alone 5 hours, trying to fix a Second Life technical problem, especially when they can play something like Minecraft on the web. But if a company's hardcore userbase doesn't leave, no matter how long these problems persist -- to the point where they're willing to spend dozens of hours or thousands of dollars working around them -- then the company has little incentive to devote as much resources as possible to address them. Which is where we are now.
I suggested as much to SLer Fred Beckhusen, who sent me a couple e-mails over 1000 words long, patiently and generously explaining how to get SL to run on my Alienware:
"Why," I asked Fred, "are you putting so much effort into trying to fix technical problems created by a for-profit company that it hasn't gotten around to fixing in years? Dell/Alienware are popular systems, don't you think Linden Lab should have figured out how to make SL work with them?"
"You ask a fair question but I have an easy answer," said Fred, "I'm not doing it for Linden Lab, I am doing it for your readers. You really do represent about 28 million people. If SL loses you, we all lose something wonderful. And that's not acceptable to me." First, I wish there were 28 million people out there for me to represent, but realistically, most of them have come and gone, most or many for technical reasons. And second, Fred, you big adorable dude, you are ultimately doing Linden Lab's work for them, picking up the slack where they are still failing. And finally, as much as it pains me to say, it's this kind of willingness to accept the unacceptable which threatens Second Life's survival. Because by not holding Linden Lab to its promise from 2010 to make SL fast, easy, and fun, we continue to allow the userbase not to grow, not to gain new users, and instead, to dwindle by natural attrition year by year. And that's not acceptable to me.