Three interesting events have happened in the Second Life arena over the past few weeks, and together they make a compelling case that the place is growing up, but not without growing pains:
- First, Linden Lab announced that it is planning to introduce an opt-in system for users to be able to confirm aspects of each others’ real-life identities, such as age and jurisdiction.
- At the same time, Linden Lab also announced that it will no longer “abet” in the advertising of casinos in Second Life, because these have a questionable legal status in some jurisdictions.
- Finally, a few days ago,
Linden LabsElectric Sheep Company introduced a new web-based search tool for Second Life, coupled to a bot that scrapes every public space about once a day for items made by users that are for sale (on the assumption that these are therefore intended for public consumption — it is possible to opt out, however). It works much better than the in-world search function we’ve had until now. Just look at what a search for “swedish” brings up.
Before I draw some general conclusions, there are some interesting reactions to the introduction of search in SL worth noting: SL blogs in the main have lauded it, as do I. It greatly increases the findability of SL objects, and hence the usability of SL as a whole. It truly does to SL what the advent of decent search engines did to the web in 1996.
But on the web in 1996, it also took some getting used to the fact that search engines made holiday snapshots or a CV on your obscure home page accessible to all. To others, this newfound search efficiency cut out profit opportunities for business plans that relied on information opacity. And so it is in SL today: Large SL stakeholder Anche Chung has forbidden the bot from all her properties, and residents are realizing they have public objects listed for sale that they thought were out of the public eye, simply because there was no easy way to find them previously.
There are some larger trends afoot, I think: The coming ability to verify identities will make it easier for businesses (including casinos) to be run legitimately in SL, just as they are on the web now; this is just another step in the process of SL becoming a mainstream 3D medium — a 3D immersive web rather than a self-sufficient alternate community.
The introduction of search also sees
Linden Lab Electric Sheep take on a relationship to Second Life which is not unlike that of Google to the web.
What about a Google analogy for Linden Lab? It is to Second Life what Google is to the Google Earth Community and YouTube. Both these places contain user-generated content, but Google also hosts the content, and thus has an ultimate legal responsibility — witness recent dustups in Turkey and Thailand over YouTube content deemed illegal in these countries. Gambling in Second Life present a similar exposure for Linden Lab.
The long-term solution to such dilemmas is to open-source the software that serves Second Life content, or at the very least to license it — and this will be easier to do once protocols are in place for proving one’s true identity. In other words, everything is proceeding according to plan in the metaverse roadmap:-)