Third party viewer developer Tonya Souther recently pointed out a very important March interview on Treet TV with Linden Lab's Open Development director Scott "Oz Linden" Lawrence, which includes a crucial passage I initially missed. It's so important, it needs to be highlighted here. At about 33 minutes into the conversation, Lawrence says this in relationship to the official Second Life viewer as compred with Phoenix and Firestorm, which are third party SL viewers made by The Phoenix Viewer Project team, a large consortium of SL users (none of whom are well known by their real names):
"Our own viewer users are a minority. A significant minority -- we're the number three viewer behind, behind the two... Phoenix is far and away the number one viewer, although it's quite steadily losing market share these days, has been for some months now. And Firestorm is the newer technology viewer from your project, is the number two, and it's gaining market share... And our viewer is number three behind Firestorm."
This admission came in March, as I said, so I checked with Linden Lab if it remained true:
"The 'market shares' of various Viewers isn't a data point we're currently sharing," spokesman Peter Gray told me. Still, it's unlikely the shares have changed drastically in two months, and based on what Oz says, along with what some SL insiders have suggested elsewhere, I think the following is a very plausible estimate:
Up to 65-75% of SLers are now using Phoenix or Firestorm, and 65-85% of total SL user minutes are on those viewers.
So my original estimate of Phoenix usage from yesterday was way off, and I've corrected it as much as possible (short of just replacing the whole post with a picture of Keyboard Cat, which I'm tempted to do). But that to one side, Oz's words lead to some pretty extraordinary conclusions, among them:
Linden Lab has little control over Second Life as it is actually used by most of its established userbase, and has little chance of re-gaining the market lead. The SL viewer has seen a number of usability improvements since Rod Humble became CEO in early 2011. However, rather than that expanding the userbase for the company's own software, usage among existing users seems to have slipped. Emerald, the dominant third party viewer from 2010, accounted for only half the user hours then. Now the disparity is even greater.
Linden Lab should no longer develop a viewer for the established userbase, but create a radically re-invented viewer for new users. While pathfinding and game-making tools are great additions for the existing userbase, the company needs to devote all its viewer development resources to a user-friendly viewer that casual, new users will like, and which caters not at all to existing users. For thanks to Oz Linden, we now know the advice offered by me and other ex-Lindens is even more valid and crucial:
Make bold and radical changes to Second Life. You have nothing to lose. As long as the grid keeps running, your existing userbase will not leave - they never have, even at the worst of times. Now, your survival is all about finding a new audience for SL to join the existing one. But to do that will require brave, dramatic, vastly different approaches to the product than what you are doing now. Start making those moves before it's too late.
For in a very real sense, most of Second Life's users have essentially given up on Linden Lab as their software provider. (As their service provider, they have no meaningful choice.) From one point of view, this is a sad and shocking thing; from another, this is a great opportunity to go after an entirely different audience that might join the one which is happily taking care of itself.