The emergence of Second Life (SL) and its coverage in the popular media reminds me of Web 1.0 in the mid-1990’s. There was an amplified media focus about how the Web was going to IMMEDIATELY change the world even though the technology was under developed and plagued by barriers, such as bandwith, poor security, and less than optimal computing power. Back then, Web site traffic was measured by the nonsense metric, “hits”, instead of unique visitors, and the media consisted of reporters with widely varying degrees of knowledge or expertise in tech and the Web. This was further coupled with the Web being pumped up even further by “gold rush” fever within the business community. Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to the current attention and state of SL?
However, looking back, we see that many of those predictions about the potential of the Web to change many facets of our civilization did become a reality…it just took 10 years for the technology to evolve to an acceptable level and cost and for Web sites to truely deliver services valuable enough to attracted a huge user base. I expect the same will happen with Second Life (or a competitor like Google) because of the broad potential benefits and diminishing learning curve for developing in a 3-D environment.
To focus on how many people are logged in now as a predictor of its future success is rather irrelevant because SL is in its infancy. Clearly, the bigger questions and challenges that will determine the broad adaptation of SL will be Linden Lab’s ability to: 1) develop a stable technology environment and infrastructure to support a broad userbase and their assets; 2) mainstream the user experience; and 3) validate the applications of the SL model (e.g., education, commerce, healthcare research) as feasible and cost-effective adjuncts, replacements, or alternatives to the Web.
The Second Life’s challenges and benefits today are a mirror image of the Web in the 1990’s…we should anticipate some similar successes with SL or a competitor. Ultimately, I believe the World Wide Web will naturally evolve from its current 2-d environment to 3-d…”Web 3.D”… and that will truely be exciting.