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  ‘Second Life’ Crumbles Under Own Weight, May Bar 2nd-Class Citizens  
 
 
Posted 2007-02-18 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
It looks like a long-predicted tipping-point for Second Life is finally upon us: The virtual world platform, not being scalable in any useful way at present (despite earlier claims to the contrary), is beginning to crumble under its own weight. The population explosion of 2006 and early 2007 is crippling the system, resulting in frequent service interruptions.

Linden Lab, maker and maintainer of Second Life, has announced "Contingency Measures to Ensure Service as Second Life Grows." In short, Second Life may be the exclusive playground of its first-class residents during peak usage times. While the contingency plan is active, users who have not paid for services from Linden Lab will be locked out of the company's virtual world, and new users will be unable to sign up for accounts, whether they want to pay for services or not.

If Second Life shuts out second-class users during peak times, how will the educational landscape be affected? Last week I pointed out three Canadian colleges which have built homes in the virtual world. Will students be forced to pay a "Second Life tuition" to access distance-learning programs? How will sales of virtual land, Linden Dollar virtual currency, or virtual goods and services be affected by barring newcomers? I can't imagine real-world businesses charging customers to enter their stores, so I can't see how this approach could work for the virtual world.

Linden Lab's contingency plan, while solving the immediate problem of Second Life's inadequate infrastructure, doesn't bode well for the virtual world's future. The company has said that it plans to re-architecture Second Life's grid, but there's no clear indication of when this might happen. There is already a high churn-rate among Second Life users--most first-timers never return. With an activated contingency plan, there's even less of a chance for a good first-time experience with the virtual world. Those users who want to try--but not buy into--Second Life will be turned away. With a harder emphasis on monetizing its user base, the quality and even the availability of a "free" experience seems to be at risk.

It's often been suggested that Second Life represents the future of the internet, but at this point, the virtual world is looking more like the internet of old, where gated communities AOL and Compuserve temporarily thrived. With competing virtual environments building up steam, Linden Lab's move to shut out free accounts can only mean a boom in business for its competitors. The move also casts doubt on the ability of independent server operators to establish their own successful Second Life systems in the future--a possibility arising from the hinted-at (but not yet transpired) open-sourcing of Linden Lab's back-end architecture.

Earlier commentary on this Linden Lab's contingency plan can be found at 3pointD.com and The Second Life Herald.
 
     
 
   
 
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  6 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by Ordinal Malaprop
February 18, 2007 @ 4:03 pm
     
 
To be honest, I think this is a symptom of LL's "premature PR" condition. They haven't said that they will be closing down unregistered users on a regular basis; they haven't even said that they will definitely do it. They've just said that they are considering it as a possible option in emergencies. Maybe.

_Why_ have they said that? I don't think that they are trying to send any sort of message, I think that it is just a PR failure. We've had these premature announcements before. Clearly it would be immensely damaging to any outside group wanting people to just be able to come in and use their stuff, TV channels, IBM, educational bodies etc, if unverified accounts were to be routinely banned.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
February 18, 2007 @ 4:25 pm
     
 
"If Second Life shuts out second-class users during peak times, how will the educational landscape be affected? ... Will students be forced to pay a "Second Life tuition" to access distance-learning programs?"

Don't students often have custom last names? Seems like if the institution has paid for the names, they've effectively provided a means by which LL could ensure these people are not restricted. If they're not using names, it would still seem trivial to resolve.

"How will sales of virtual land, Linden Dollar virtual currency, or virtual goods and services be affected by barring newcomers? I can't imagine real-world businesses charging customers to enter their stores, so I can't see how this approach could work for the virtual world."

I see this as a bigger question. At first thought it might be a bad thing, but if these businesses are putting up good money for relatively complex builds, then having a grid that allows their content to function would seem to be an important consideration. Furthermore, some businesses don't want certain kinds of people simply loafing around. No doubt they want to make the determination about how does and does not qualify themselves, but if they don't have the option I'd venture restricting freebie anons wouldn't worry them too much.

That said, this does point to the eventual desire for businesses (or their contractors) to have their own servers hosting their own microworlds. I assume there will be a push for this and we may see LL doing for someone in the future what they didn't do for Wells Fargo.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by rvdkaaij
February 19, 2007 @ 7:08 am
     
 
a reaction of LL (though 'not official') can be found here
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 19, 2007 @ 9:40 am
     
 
Ordinal, I agree with you that there's some premature PR going on. While the official posting states that LL hopes not to use the contingency plan, other parts of the posting suggest the plan is more of an inevitability. Beyond this, I don't know how a system message reading "Grid Status: Restricted" is self-explanatory, nor how such a message would encourage a repeat visit.

Csven-- yeah, I didn't give a very good example with the educational institutions, I should have added more detail, or maybe just omitted that part. In cases where the college has a Linden-accepted campus, probably all the students are Verified. But in cases where a college has built a structure to show off to its students, faculty, and potential applicants, there will likely be a higher number of Unverifieds. But that's a problem for anyone trying to cater to the "public" in Second Life under the Contingency Plan. As far as self-hosting goes, I think this isn't going to work well with the current architecture (the same scaling problems exist).

rvdkaaij, thanks for the link.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
February 19, 2007 @ 3:40 pm
     
 
"As far as self-hosting goes, I think this isn't going to work well with the current architecture (the same scaling problems exist)."

But those issues don't exist if the micro-world *isn't* connected to the SL grid. Recall that while Wells Fargo was "separate", they were still actually part of the same, singular grid... and it was that connection that apparently had them leaving. I'm suggesting entirely separate outposts with no connection to SL. Perhaps at most a kind of SLurL system that might close one and open the other.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 19, 2007 @ 10:34 pm
     
 
The idea that unverified accounts only drag on the CPU and lag the servers is silly, as many of them are alts to mains who have money shipped to them; Europeans who can't use PayPal but make and spend money inworld; dependent people of various types from wives to college kids who have others paying for their SL and giving them money. They are part of the economy.

Concern about lag is mainly related to clubs who use camp chairs; the owners of those sims should be charged for hogging the CPU and vetoing the FPS for everyone. The minute LL starts charging for CPU draw, we'll instantly see the camp chairs evaporate.

My bet is that the temptation to start a separate grid, even more exclusive than the blingtarded, blighted, laggy grid where we all hang, will prove enormously tempting, and the Lindens, given their history of feeting and privileging, will cave into it. It will be rationalized as "educational" or "for big business" at first, and then pretty soon "all the right sorts" will be on Second Life 2.0 and the rest of us will not be able to enter. They may even make it a condition for "host your own" status some to have higher fees or some other restrictions to enter 2.0.

My bet is that they will do this in the year; the absolute simplest thing in the universe to solve all of the problems in the metaverse is just to open up a second asset server, do a nice clean boot with freshly-updated software on clean sims with new avatars with no inventory -- and away we go.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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