December 12, 2006

New Media. Second Life: Views of Founder Philip Rosedale


At the time of writing the biggest developing cultural / social phenomenon on the Web is the rapid growth of the Virtual environment Second Life. It was initially launched in 2003 around the time other web2 applications were beginning to revitalise the web after the crash of 2000. Until a few months ago its growth has been steady but not really spectacular. Already over one million people have signed up to become members and it is suggested that its economy is growing faster than many real countries.

Below I have summarised some of the key points to come out of an interview with Philip Rosedale the founder of Second Life with Oliver Rosedale from .Net magazine. (very old world having a paper based product :-) ). If you go to the other article on Second Life you will find links to several stories by BBC reporters on it.

Interview Summary

Currently (December 2006) about 10,000 people per day are joining Second life

In September it grew at a rate of 38%

About $500,000 (real money) is spent everyday

Current rate of exchange real dolloars to Linden dollars (the local currency) $1 – $250.

Inspiration behind the project: Neil Stephenson’s book Snow Crash

Rosedale: the combination of 3D graphics and broadband were the two things that seemed absolutely necessary to make the whole thing work

Rosedale on the differences between Second Life and other virtual world models:

...there’s no levels, no scores and, most importantly, the content in second life is user created (my emphasis)...Linden Lab just sells and maintains land – all objects are created by people inside the virtual world.

Herein lies the fundamental difference between Second Life and environments sucha as World of Warcraft. Second Life is about creating a country not a game.

The difference is that there are many more possibilities to explore. It can be entirely escapist or it is possible to test out products and developments as some businesses are already. Another difference is that people who are ‘stuck’ in the real world can create their own entrepreneurial opportunities in Second Life.

In this latter sense it can be seen culturally as the recreation of a frontier zone. It has shades of a revitalisation of the cowboy frontier ethic for the 21st century.

Perhaps it is part of the liberal free-trading culture which has been the root of American financial success (as well as some of its poverty some would say).

Web 1 or Web 2

Reuters in Second life

This application seems to blur the differences between Web 1 and Web 2. As Rosedale is arguing that Linden Labs purpose is to create a country they have provided an enormously interactive social environment which is a major attraction. another major attraction which gives it a Web 2 feel is that its future development is primarily based upon what users decide to make and to do.

Users keep the intellectual property rights on articles they make within the environment:

bq. People are using the scripting language to build something like a watch that your avatar wears, and when you zoom in on it, its telling the right time and maybe has an alarm on it(Rosedale interviewed .Net Jan 2007 p36).

Clearly this makes it an extraordinarily interactive and highly dynamic environment which is laregly contingent upon how the users decide to use it unlike the gaming virtual environments which often have regular and predictable features built into the software.

There is is even crime in Second Life however there is some serious thinkng going on from Linden Lab. Issues of control are community based informed by books such as the well known The Death and Life of Great American cities by Jane Jacobs. There are many experiments going on about how to govern.

One thing is currently missing that is present in the real world. That is the potential for monopoly contorl of commodities. there’s no cost of goods and there’s no manufacturing and distribution costs says Rosedale.

For Rosedale the most important feature of Second life is that it is _inherently social. When you navigate the web normally you are alone. although Second life is a website you are rarely alone in your ventures. Arguably this puts paid to those a few years ago who thought that the web would kill off sociality. It seems to be moving sociality into different space which is rather a different thing.

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