Putting a Second Life First
Still, some question if Second Life can maintain its momentum. "The track record is not good for general-purpose, virtual-reality sites," says Clay Shirky, who teaches about online communications at New York University. Worlds with more of a focus, such as shoot'em-up games, give users more incentive to master the technology, he says. Rosedale concedes that perhaps 10 percent of the 2.7 million registered personalities are regular players, with many put off by Second Life's complexity. "We think it's getting better," Rosedale says. "That's what seems important."
Rosedale developed Second Life after leaving as technology chief at RealNetworks, which had bought a company he started developing in high school, a time when he also began dreaming of creating a virtual world. After launching in 2003, Second Life slowly gained players, only to take off last fall, propelled at least partly by publicity about high-profile companies setting up shop in Second Life, including Nike and Amazon, to hawk virtual and real goods. But marketing to residents isn't the main point, says Linda Zimmer, a consultant who hosts conferences in Second Life on its business possibilities. Companies want to understand how they might use virtual worlds, she says. "What is it forfor commerce, for training employees, for prototyping, or what?"
That, she says, is the beauty of Linden Lab's plan to open its servers to others. Conceivably, a company like General Motors might establish an island with its own rules and purpose, while wanting to retain links to a larger world. If Second Life becomes the universal grid, maintaining its standards and rules of commerceand its cut of transactionsits future is bright.
Opening up its software came at a great time, Zimmer says: "It was the peak of its buzz." The buzz will inevitably die down, at least for a while. So then the question becomes how many lives there will be for Second Life.