Update: 2010-08-14 (at end of article) – I’m depressed. Gwyneth Llewelyn wrote Good-bye, meshes! Gwyneth works in the RL virtual worlds service fields and apparently has contacts among the Lindens. She writes about the status of the supposed coming Collada meshes. Seems they may not just be delayed but canceled for the foreseeable future. Bummer. (Her blog changed appearance, a nice new look.)
Gwyneth describes why this is likely to become a major disadvantage for Second Life’s ability to compete with other virtual worlds. I think it is so important that it may mean the end of SL, not tomorrow or next year, but…
With the USA poised for deeper recession and now China seeing an economic down turn India can’t be far behind. This means funds available to pay tier are going to be decreasing. Those funds are going to become precious and people will be looking for the best deal they can find. Businesses will have to advertise where they see a quick return on promotional dollars and that likely will not be virtual worlds. Educational institutions are also facing shrinking budgets. They are going to have to get the most for their dollars. Without Collada meshes and high tier that is not going to be SL.
Gwyneth also points out how Linden Lab’s rethinking the use of meshes removes a road block for OpenSim (OS) development. Until now OS developers were waiting to see how Linden Lab would handle meshes and then be compatible. This has left OS lagging behind SL. Now there is no reason to wait. So we may see OpenSim and other virtual worlds moving ahead of Linden Lab. So much for Rosedale recapturing the technological lead in virtual worlds.
Gwyneth points out the Linden Lab’s only competitive advantage at this time is reliability and stability. I have to agree. I’ll add a customer base, people to buy things, as another major advantage. The various OpenSim worlds are not that stable. My OSGrid region runs on a workstation in my office. The region goes down when I need the machine for CPU intensive work. But there is no additional cost to me for having 4 regions. Plus the added scripting language features makes many things work way better.
I’ve read several articles by long time residents of Second Life. Some were writing they have been listening to Rosedale’s nearly exact same speech for years. I give them more credence now.
I play in Cyan Worlds’ Myst Online and I am interested in what makes games succeed or fail. Will Harvey was interviewed by Sramana Mitra in Learning From Failures: IMVU Founder Will Harvey . Combine that with the study by University of Michigan, Chun-Yuen Teng and Lada A. Adamic. Longevity in Second Life (related discussion Why Myst-Uru Didn’t But Could Make It) and we may have some insight to Rosedale’s thinking, or not. One would likely think LL has the feedback Harvey discusses but LL types may not see it. There view could be, ‘Yeah, this works for those here but what works for most of those 10,000 per day that do not stay in SL?’ That pretty much explains why LL cannot just listen to residents.
Also the Longevity study shows that content and features like meshes are not as important as the social interactions. It could well be that is the basis Rosedale is making decisions on. Facebook is booming and Twitter is a big deal, still, and Twitter has no content, which gives more weight to the importance of social interaction. Gwyneth’s points move those considerations into the real world and its competitive pressures. I don’t pay for Twitter and I don’t run a Twitter-like server. The content of SL and OpenSim draw me and others to those worlds. The content is a foundation to draw people. Social interaction is the glue that keeps people there, or so I take from the Longevity study.
It appears that Rosedale and the Lab’s management team may be making a serious mistake in setting priorities. On the other hand, the current loss of stability in SL removes their prime competitive advantage. So, that has to be fixed and there is little choice. The broken search is killing merchants and that has to be a major priority. Can you imagine what would happen if Google broke? All my clients depend on Google for customers. There is no doubt that the Lab is not making the best use of existing content and new users are obviously are not finding it. That has to be solved. There are impediments to social interaction in SL. Facebook and numerous other social networking sites are major successes, based on popularity. Some aspects of those are needed to improve person-to-person connections and interaction.
So, I can see why meshes would get put on the back burner. But Gwyneth is right about what the loss of meshes means for Linden Lab’s competitive advantage. It is eroding quickly. The question becomes can the Lab move fast enough to survive?
Another big question is what do the Third Party Viewer developer’s do? Imprudence and Hippo are supporting the OpenSim worlds. Emerald Viewer has OpenSim support. These viewers and the OpenSim worlds are moving toward the Hypergrid (Hypergrid ties the virtual worlds together, something LL and IBM got started. One can go from world to world and take their stuff along.) If Linden Lab thinks they are going to have major open source support and gives up on the fun stuff to develop, will those developers move over to OpenSim? I suspect they will follow the technological leader. While social tools may be a major key in player retention and longevity I don’t see where they are that exciting to develop.
Things do not look good for SL. Will Rosedale pull it out? Time is going to tell. For now I’m depressed and looking more to my OSGrid regions.
Also see: Emerald Viewer & No Meshes
Update: Phillip Rosedale gave the keynote address at SLCC-2010 today 8/14. There are some announcements that are big news. Others are from his earlier speech in SL and are nothing new. The teen grid is closing. New users will be dumped in with the general population rather than the Help Islands. Group chat and SIM crossings will be fixed before the end of the year. Meshes are to be in Beta by the end of the year. Fixing search is a high priority.
Certainly sounds good. But, how many times have you heard Teen Grid would not be merged with the main grid? Ok, that changed. Meshes were in the Beta grid… may be just the closed beta areas, I’m not sure. The people at the core of the mesh project have been let go. So, how that is supposed to work and whether LL will continue with Collada meshes or move away is not clear. If they had kept Qarl I would expect them to stay with Collada. But, without him… who knows? And rumors from inside LL don’t support what Phillip is saying. So, it is wait and see.
See a bullet list of Phillip’s speech: Recap of Philip Linden Keynotes Address at SLCC 2010