When Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon first shared with me his vision for what would ultimately become the Second Life 2.0 viewer nearly two years later, he said he wanted it to be "delightfully usable". For established Second Life users, it is definitely that -- sleek, intuitive, and glistening with widgets that make the user experience more inherently enjoyable. (One personal favorite shown above: your friends and groups are now displayed with their profile picture.) From my perspective, here's how it will shift the market over the year:
Winners: The existing and casual userbase of Second Life
For the 800K or so active Second Life users, 2.0 is a giant win, sure to re-energize and extend their in-world activity, while drawing in light users who log-in only occasionally. As word of the revamp spreads, a significant percent of the 12 million or so people who've tried Second Life before but left for one reason or another will return -- and a fraction of them will stay. All told, this probably means peak concurrency growing from 80,000 to 150,000 over the next twelve months, and an active user base swelling toward 1.5 million.
Losers: OpenSim, Blue Mars, other 3D virtual worlds
With new features such as interactive web on a prim and Flash support, developers are sure to pile into SL, and innovate like mad. Hardest hit by this emigration of coders will be OpenSim, the open source spinoff of Second Life, which largely remains a hacker's passion project in alpha stage with an extremely small user base. Going forward, OpenSim projects will probably be broadly appealing only inasmuch as they are architected to interoperate with Second Life. Other virtual worlds will also feel the blow: still in Beta, it's difficult to see how Blue Mars can gain momentum, and even the casual 3D chat world IMVU is likely to lose users lured into Second Life. (The same can be said of other enterprise-level virtual worlds.)
Remains to be seen: Mass market adoption
Here I must disagree with Robert Scoble and others who suggest 2.0 will help drive mass adoption of Second Life. Beta is beta, and many additions and fixes are surely coming, but the viewer as it is now, while much more intuitive than what's come before, will probably not foster viral growth anytime soon. In essence, the viewer is much more user friendly for existing users who've already adopted Second Life on one level or another. For new users who don't create content or plan to be part of the virtual economy, who aren't excited by the idea of Second Life, or who aren't creating an SL account for a specific purpose -- and that covers pretty much 99% of the world -- 2.0 still provides little.
For them, a Second Life experience must always provide immediate and obvious answers to the big six questions: