The Second Life That Wasn’t

The official guides for Linden Lab’s online world offer a time capsule of optimism and delusion.

With the start of the end of the 2019 year I thought this would be a good read on where we’ve been and where we are headed in our Second Life. Thanks to Mark Hill for this Article.

In 2006, Bloomberg published a deep dive into the then three-year-old Second Life called “My Virtual Life.” Written as though a traveler had just stumbled into a bizarre foreign city, the article describes the “seriously weird” Second Life as the “unholy offspring” of The Matrix, MySpace, and eBay. It also compares Second Life to World of Warcraft, otherwise apparently known as the business world’s “new golf.” In the most dated prediction, we’re told that virtual worlds like Second Life could become “far more intuitive portals into the vast resources of the entire Internet than today’s World Wide Web” and could even challenge Windows as a framework for presenting software to users. It also highlights the money being made by users and the corporations rushing to invest. It’s a perfect summation of the hype that was impossible for Second Life to live up to and that “My Virtual Life” was far from alone in creating.

To put that hype in context, Second Life’s 2003 launch preceded World of Warcraft’s by 17 months and came when only 54.7 percent of American homes had an internet connection. The idea of socializing in an expansive digital world, and using built-in scripting languages and modeling tools to fill that world with your own content, was still new to many people. Today, the average child learns about these concepts (and their limitations) through games like Minecraft or Roblox, but SL looked like a mature, broad, and high profile step-up from EverQuest, which targeted hardcore gamers, and the cartoonish simplicity of Habbo Hotel, which was aimed at teens. There was confusion and uncertainty over what SL could and should be used for, so an assumption grew that it could do anything.

But by 2007, as Second Life was appearing in CSI and The Office, Wired was turning bearish on a service they had previously proselytized. In 2009, Forbes declared that the Second Life hype had “fizzled.” And by 2011, Slate and TechRadar were running “Hey, whatever happened to Second Life?” retrospectives as though it was a relic of antiquity. Reports of Second Life’s death were as exaggerated as claims that it would revolutionize technology, as it continues to chug along today for the benefit of a hardcore fan base. But between 2006 and 2009, as the Second Life hype was building the steam it would need to dramatically barrel over a cliff, five guides to Second Life were published by Wiley with the official cooperation of SL developer Linden Lab.

The books are time capsules of the hopes of dozens of SL users and Linden staff interviewed for them, and looking back on them today reveals a medley of the mundane, overoptimistic, and insane. There are predictions of long term government and media presence mixed with basic etiquette tips mixed with a look at Second Life’s sex work community. Of the four “organizations who earn substantial amounts of money blogging about Second Life,” one URL now sells steroids, one is now home to an IT company, and one stopped publishing in 2013 (but briefly resurfaced in 2016 to write a bizarre interview with the obnoxious neo-Nazi troll weev).

A general purpose book called Second Life: The Official Guide came first, in 2006. It received a second edition in 2008, the year that also saw the release of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life: Making Money in the Metaverse, Creating Your World: The Official Guide to Advanced Content Creation for Second Life, and Scripting Your World: The Official Guide to Second Life Scripting. The series closed with 2009’s The Second Life Grid: The Official Guide to Communication, Collaboration, and Community Engagement. Glossy textbooks of 300 to 400 pages each, together they can take a reader from learning the basic concepts of a digital world to programming their own tip jars for the Second Life business they might decide to open. Some of their predictions for the future of Second Life are reasonable, and some make “My Virtual Life” look restrained. So what did these books get right, and what did they get horrendously wrong?

While some of the users and locations they mention are still active, they’re mostly a collection of dead and dormant links that serve as a testament to the same raw speed of the internet that the books warn you about trying to keep up with. The web presences of Amethyst Rosencrans and Nyteshade Vesperia, quoted for their expertise in running Second Life sex businesses, have both petered out, although not before Vesperia was able to debut 2015’s X5 Cock with “incredibly realistic mesh design” and “unparalleled BDSM owner control.” Genvieve Hutchence, who in The Entrepreneur’s Guide gives advice on Second Life escort work, has only a Facebook page with nothing but four 2008 photos from SL to her digital name today. Professor Sadovnycha, owner of the BDSM education Princess Reform School is also MIA, as are Second Life fashion blogger Celebrity Trollop, owner of “one of the virtual world’s oldest and most popular clubs” Jenna Fairplay, Second Life real estate moguls The Otherland Group, “founder and CEO of … one of the largest content creation companies in SL” Aimee Weber, and many, many more.

There are scattered exceptions to the exodus, like Nexeus Fatale. Introduced in The Entrepreneur’s Guide as “one of the leading DJs in Second Life,” Nexeus worked the SL launch parties for Popular Science and The L Word, among other high profile gigs. In the book, he lauds the ease of interacting with his audience and the variety of music that residents appreciate, while advising aspiring DJs on how to avoid scams and copyright pitfalls. While his DJing days ended in 2012 he’s still an SL regular, telling me, “What keeps me active is that I get to explore. I try new things out, I do absolutely no-work-what-so-ever. But I appreciate it more because I’m a part of a bunch of communities. And that’s what I think Second Life has really begun to turn into, kind of a virtual Reddit.”

So while it’s easy to flip through these books and conclude that the world has long since moved on, but Second Life didn’t die so much as it quietly powered through the insane expectations that were created for it. In 2019 the Second Life community forums saw a spirited discussion on “Tipping Guidelines for Gentlemen Clubs” (in another throwback, one employee of a Second Life club comments, “Most of the women I work with, myself included are professional phone sex operators”). In the game’s subreddit just shy of 6,000 users share screenshots, discuss their favorite in-world creations, offer shopping deals with slick videos, and troubleshoot technical problems. Complaints that Second Life is dead and requests for tips on getting into SL can be found on the same page.

As of 2017 there were a reported 600,000 active accounts, with contemporary concurrent users hovering around a maximum of 45,000. Even accounting for some bot activity, that’s better than a legacy MMO of comparable age like EverQuest. No SL user will again grace the front page of Business Week because of all the money they’ve been making, but no one is predicting an imminent plug-pulling either.

The Official Guide’s 11 credited authors include Wagner James Au, who was Linden’s “embedded journalist” for Second Life’s first three years and who still covers SL and other virtual worlds on his blog. He compared the “hype phase” of ’06 to ’08 to the “recent euphoria over Bitcoin and social media and Fortnite, all mashed together into a single package—because Second Life had all those aspects.”

So when you see that all the heralded government, corporate, and media clients left Second Life almost as soon as they entered it, it’s hard not to view their retreat as a sign of failure. Vestiges may remain, but the NBA no longer monitors its “basketball fan’s paradise” where fans can view “real-time 3-D diagrams of games as they’re played,” Coke isn’t still slinging merchandise, and the SL Reuters bureau is long dead. But, as The Second Life Grid writer Kimberly Rufer-Bach explains, the reality was more complicated.

“When the first real-world organizations came into SL, they were mostly educational institutions quietly doing small research projects. But then came the marketing projects, which generated and lived on hype. It was not realistic to figure a copy of a real-world store was going to make big bucks selling virtual shoes or shirts. There weren’t yet enough avatars in SL to make enough money. Plus, they were competing against established brands in shops run by SL [Residents].

“Similarly, I don’t think anyone figured that the SL user base would visit a company’s virtual shop and then run out to buy real-world items. Leveraging the hype was all about getting press for your organization by being one of the first to enter into this cutting-edge virtual world. For a while it was a sure thing; hire some SL developer to establish your organization’s presence, and you would reap lots of profitable press coverage. Because of this, SL unfortunately experienced a flood of carpetbaggers promising clients unrealistic things that couldn’t really be done with the platform, while underpaying Resident content creators, sometimes disappearing without paying at all.”

That’s not to say that Second Life was a hapless victim of corporate bullies. The Official Guide encourages you to “Go on a scavenger hunt on Microsoft’s island, take a Sentra or a customized Solstice for a spin around a race track, go surfing on the Weather Channel’s beach, hang out with fans of Showtime’s The L Word in a re-creation of the show’s locations, then play around in IBM’s code station developer sandbox. … These companies and their experiences be joined [sic] by countless others, providing residents with a chance (if they’re interested) to merge real-world consumerism with their second lives.”

In an interview for The Entrepreneur’s Guide, Linden Lab CTO Cory Ondrejka went further in painting a picture of Second Life as a corporate utopia. “Even with video conferencing, you can’t really get up, move around, pace. … And Second Life helps with [that]. You have place, embodiment, and a method for having real-world style conversations a la a cocktail party (i.e., multiple, parallel conversations). I think the first new opportunity is going to be helping companies that have dispersed work forces save money on recruiting, on-boarding, training, and collaboration. This is a lot like what IBM has said they are working on. But they are just scratching the surface.”

Ondrejka went on to speculate on international business relations, saying, “In the real world, if you want to do a business meeting, you’d hire a simultaneous translator. In Second Life, you could have a HUD attachment that allows you to request translation between language A and language B which hits a web service, pages available translators, and tells you their rates per minute. They log in, stand with you, and now you conduct the meeting just like you would in the real world. But that would just be the start. … Think about using Second Life to set up a direct connection to tailors in Asia. You build the outfit you want in Second Life, they pull it from the client, combine it with your real-world dimensions, and FedEx you bespoke clothing. It could be cheap for you in terms of custom clothing—say US$100 an outfit—and still be very profitable for them.”

Ondrejka left Linden in 2007, before The Entrepreneur’s Guide was even published, and in 2010 Linden killed Second Life Enterprise, which offered secure, troll-resistant environments to companies like IBM that had, by that point, largely vanished from SL. One corporate client dubbed its use of the platform a “costly mistake.” Slack, a vastly simpler workplace collaboration tool, has over 10 million active users today.

It turned out that business in Second Life worked when it involved Second Life, when you were selling cool clothes, running a fun social hangout, or offering more erotic animations. But no one really wanted an elaborate digital facade for their non-SL business dealings. In a section called “Helping Outside Customers Understand What Second Life Is About” that now looks prescient, a user recounts a story where “an outside female client came into Second Life and happened upon a Gorean slave girl. ‘It was not pretty,’ Foolish said of the client’s reaction to seeing a female avatar in a slave-like situation. ‘But the fact is, if she was warned and educated about the fact that nobody in Second Life can really be forced to do anything, the situation might have been avoided.” That may have been true, but why talk your clients into conducting business in an environment that also caters to Gorean slave girls in the first place? SL doesn’t host business meetings anymore, but people are still “Looking to get into GOR” today.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide was written by tech journalist Daniel Terdiman, who was one of the most prolific writers on Second Life at the time. Reflecting on his book, he told me, “SL was one of the most-exciting topics in technology. Every big name you can think of was opening up in SL, and while there were obviously major problems (usability being the most threatening), it looked like it could grow to be a major platform with millions of users, tons of brands, and a flourishing economy. That notoriety was why I was able to get a book contract very quickly. Of course, with every hype cycle comes a crash, and in SL’s case the crash came so quickly that by the time the book came out we were already well past hype and into the skepticism cycle. Brands were pulling out, and we had trouble selling the book.”

The unsustainable hype was produced in part by the fact that, to outsiders, it was never entirely clear what you were supposed to do in Second Life. Articles like “My Virtual Life” continually lumped SL in with MMOs like World of Warcraft even though WoW’s “endless medieval-style quest for virtual gold and power” had little to do with SL’s social and business aspects. Even the terminology was confusing. Do you play SL? Use it? The press tended to say “gamers” or “users” even as Linden pushed “Residents.”

But confusion for some meant a blank slate for others. Dr. Karen Zita Haigh, who co-wrote Scripting Your World, had “literally never heard of the thing” before a colleague asked her to collaborate on the book. Haigh, a software engineer whose extensive resume includes work for NASA and DARPA, was intrigued by a virtual world that revolved around construction instead of weaponry. “It seemed like a really cool environment. I liked the idea that people could build their own things. My sister-in-law, she lived in the States, but her mom lived in Poland. They got on Second Life together to go shopping. Women playing computer games was not statistically common. I take a look at the abstract, and I thought they needed someone with a little bit of a different perspective than nerdy guys.”

Scripting Your World is the most technical of the books, walking readers through programming basics using examples like a bee that searches out flowers in your virtual yard. The need for the book seemed clear: “From a documentation perspective, [Second Life] was crowdsourced, so the documentation wasn’t reliable as you wanted it to be. That’s why you needed a textbook.”

Haigh highlighted two key aspects that made scripting in Second Life accessible to the masses: It was relatively easy to jump in and start learning, and it let users produce fun outcomes. “They did event based programming really well. That’s one of the things that’s really tough for new programmers to understand, this idea that you’re not in control, something else is. I had never run into an event-based programming language that was well-documented, they sort of assume everyone is going to understand it. I certainly had never been taught it, I picked it up as I went along.”

And picking it up was exactly what the book let otherwise novice programmers do. “We got comments from reviewers saying ‘I never did any programming before in my life, but I was able to do it.’ It was typically something simple, but they could do it. The nice thing about Second Life as a teaching construct is that you got immediate feedback on how well your system was working. And it was tangible, it was interesting. The whole way they handled particle effects was really cool. You as an end user could control very ephemeral things. That [had previously been] really tough to give a user access to.”

But Haigh soon lost interest in Second Life once she had solved the technical puzzles it offered. “I really enjoyed seeing how far I could push the rules. [For example], how small can you make things and still make them useful? Once I had exhausted all the possibilities I logged on a few times, I set up a little shop. But my interest was the scripting, the programming, the making it do cool things. But it was sort of like ‘Now what?’ I didn’t have a new challenge I could tackle.”

Answering the question of  “Now what?” is where Rufer-Bach’s book, and the book James Au worked on, came in. To the extremely online, a book that has to introduce the concept of furries and cyberpunks feels like a tutorial for your baffled grandparents. Sentences like “Clad in fashions of a bygone time, usually in black or other dark colors, and perhaps accessorized by large jewels, vampires tend to live in richly appointed, atmospheric regions where it’s always night,” read like comical anachronisms.

But the books had to normalize a culture that was building for years before it hit the mainstream. Rufer-Bach, who was an active content creator in Second Life, explained, “My book was intended to answer the questions that I was asked all the time by my clients. I would get questions like, ‘What’s a Furry, and is a Neko a Furry or something else, and can my avatar somehow shake hands to greet the Neko that is coming to the meeting, or do we bow or something instead?’ [My clients] were very aware that there are cultural differences in etiquette in real places, and probably in virtual ones, too. No one wants to accidentally have bad manners.”

A somewhat typical Second Life dance party
Credit: Liden Lab / Virtual Worlds for Adults

Rufer-Bach stressed that her clients had productive fun playing around in Second Life. Not coincidentally, the kind of clients that she mentioned, such as “immersive language-learning projects, particularly the British Council,” were making inherent use of the medium instead of just being there for the sake of it, and were therefore not the kind getting a lot of media attention. Again, The Official Guide is proud to highlight celebrity appearances by Bruce Willis, Arianna Huffington, Duran Duran, Oasis, Frank Miller, Cory Doctorow, William Gibson, Kurt Vonnegut, and a host of politicians, leading to a beautifully ridiculous photo captioned “Judge Richard Posner and a Furry fan.” But it’s unlikely that Kurt Vonnegut was sticking around after his interview to buy virtual Reeboks.

Second Life‘s Duran Duran destination
Credit: Linden Lab

It was instead people like Nexeus who stayed and embodied SL’s core user-base. Describing himself as someone who wanted to be a DJ from the time he was a kid making mix tapes with an FM radio and a cassette recorder, Nexeus DJed in Anarchy Online before taking the skills he’d learned to SL, which offered him an infrastructure and tools that he otherwise never would have had access to. “Virtual worlds fascinated me because of their ability to be living, breathing storybooks. These worlds often didn’t have a voice and style similar to mine, [so] I felt that not only could I provide something unique to help enrich the storytelling (in the case of Anarchy Online) or to enhance an experience (in the case of Second Life) but I could also try something ground-breaking.”

The appeal for Nexeus was that the game’s social spaces were defined by the users, not built into a game with its own rules and lore. “I would be hired for a fashion show, where there’s planning [of a model’s pacing and clothes], and a reaction based on how that was all presented. There were also events where people performed as cover bands of popular artists, but had a DJ [for] the pre and post-show. Then there were club parties and special events hosted in themed locations. Unlike a game environment, I would never know what the crowd would look like or how they would react. If I were performing an event that was underwater, and playing a song that was slow and dark, I could tell the audience to change into something that glowed. H&R Block had me do a few events… there wasn’t anything really normal, everything was unusual because at the time everything that was being done was new.”

DJ Nexeus Fatale
Credit: Nexeus Fatale via Facebook

That Nexeus found himself doing shows for both SL regulars and a tax preparation company highlights the push and pull SL experienced between the hype and the needs of its dedicated base. “The hype was exhilarating. WoW made virtual worlds, as a concept, easy to grasp. It allowed for Second Life, a world where you can build and be anything you want to be, just that much more enticing. It really felt that we were all the pioneers of something that had arrived. The media hype felt justified. The problem was while they would cover some of the amazing things within Second Life, they would also find the clickbait that revolved around sex and sexuality. It was a double-edged sword. Second Life allowed people to express themselves creatively, professionally, but also sexually. That last bit was often [the focus]. I personally felt [that was misguided]. Some of us were very annoyed that, while all of these brands were entering the space and we were doing amazing creative things, the hype would hover around THAT.”

There was certainly no shortage of sex gossip, with one 2007 column declaring “Whatever brings you to SL, you’ll soon find that sex is everywhere” and a 2008 piece gawking at a marriage that was supposedly ruined after the husband “romped with two virtual floozies” standing out as lurid examples. But the final two chapters of The Official Guide, “A Cultural Timeline” and “The Future and Impact of Second Life,” further highlight Linden’s own divided focus between SL’s core users and its media darling status. The timeline is introduced with overwrought claims like “‘I’m not building a game,’ Philip Linden once said, ‘I’m building a new country.’ And in many ways, the history of Second Life thus far resembles the first centuries of America itself.” But when Linden is able to get out of its own way, there’s also legitimately compelling information, like SL becoming a surreal battleground between supporters and detractors of the Iraq War, how SL came at the right place at the right time to attract a furry community, and how the co-owners of an adult animation and toy store became a real life couple.

The speculation on Second Life’s future opens with an acknowledgment of the residents that power it, saying, “As long as the residents themselves are creative and inventive, then there will be new things to see, new places to go, and new concepts to explore.” Then it’s implied that SL’s growth “could well be world-changing” and speculated that “It’s quite likely that 3D spaces will become an integral part of the online experience in the very near future, for a very large number of people.” The example use case is “being able to click through a [news] story and get launched into a 3D re-creation of the location where the story took place, where you could walk around and discuss the events with other readers who happened to be there at the same time.” Today the idea of a walking comments section with real-time access to voice output sounds horrifying.

Linden’s own hype reaches its loftiest with comments like “Imagine being able to access from SL from literally anywhere [with wearable computing], holding conversations across worlds, or overlaying your friend’s SL avatar on them when you see them in your first life,” and “What excites me the most about the future of Second Life is its potential to fundamentally improve the human condition.” Second Life may not have improved the human condition, but it certainly highlighted certain aspects of it. Terdiman referenced an infamous 2006 interview that was invaded by a horde of trolls wielding flying penises. In 2016 Justin and Griffin McElroy’s YouTube series Monster Factory dickishly (but hilariously) crashed a serious philosophical discussion group with their demand for dogs to be given the vote. Early attempts at high-minded self-governance also ended in failure and the installment of regulations by Linden, like a libertarian city-state suddenly realizing that it needed tax revenue to function.

But that emphasis on the users who will be doing the work remains, even if the heroism of that work was wildly overstated. According to Rufer-Bach, “The hype washed over and through the virtual world, but the sorts of projects that preceded the hype had strong roots and didn’t all wash away, and some are still flourishing. Residents are still doing what Residents have always done in Second Life.”

Just what are Residents still doing? James Au provided some highlights. “The majority treat Second Life like a kind of Sims-type dollhouse for their avatar, tricking it out with the latest user-made fashion/skins/accessories/housewares. Second Life users who create and sell content make as much money from Second Life as [Linden] does. Probably the second biggest niche are roleplay communities, who’ve created roleplay regions inspired by Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Fallout, etc. Then third is likely a sub-niche of extreme adult roleplay, some of which has led to a huge lawsuit. There’s also a small but very active community which reflects Second Life’s glory years, when it was embraced as a platform for creating art and imparting 3D-based education, and for using it as a tool for real life therapy. For instance, there’s a community for using SL to address Parkinson symptoms.”

Nexeus, who for a time transferred his skills to real-life New York City bars, stepped back from nine years of online DJing when the money dried up, and when it just stopped being fun. “[When] the big real world companies I was working with [left] I had to go back to DJing community events [all the time]. Which was fine for a while, but the value that people had for DJs decreased. Maybe this is egotistical of me, but I think I set the bar for a lot of DJs in Second Life. I wrote a few articles that were widely read, I mentored many DJs. When I head to events now, I hear [DJs] using the exact same formula I would years ago, and I don’t think I helped people realize that DJing, like all things, evolves. I also lost sight of the prize. I got involved in many things that drew my focus from what I was enjoying in Second Life. I think if I stuck to being the community guy who provided entertainment I would be happier about my experience in the platform.”

Still, Nexeus seems content with where the aging platform is at. “In many ways it feels like it kept the original goal of the platform. It still has a vibrant community, which I find surprising and interesting. There’s a lot to improve, but I don’t think there’s the pressure it had to do it now or else. Things can be thought through, communities can be developed and people [can] make the decisions about what they want to see and enjoy and have. Its technology still has the same limitations, [it’s] still a resource hog. It still relies on downloading a program to run it. I couldn’t give someone a link to hop on and join my events. But I think part of its legacy will be when you see truly immersive experiences that aren’t gimmicks, that provide value for users and marketing for companies.”

Ironically, accessibility is perhaps now Second Life’s biggest problem. There’s 16 years worth of history, geography, and terminology intimidated newcomers need to absorb, and code can spaghetti into a nightmare. Au explained that “Many of the content creators, being novices, don’t always optimize their mesh models; consequently, Second Life is extremely difficult to use as a social experience, because the frame rate has been utterly borked by high poly mesh content.” Second Life essentially still exists to cater to long-time Second Life fans.

These books were all massive projects for their writers. Rufer-Bach described a year-long writing process that involved pulling completed chapters out of the hands of her copy editor so she could revise based on sudden changes in SL. Terdiman worked for six months on top of his day job, an “extremely challenging” process that at points was “significantly behind schedule.” And Haigh worked “every weekend full time for eight months. The really frustrating thing was that after all of that work, the book comes out, it’s gorgeous, all of us are super thrilled with how it looks, great reviews were coming out, people seemed to love it. And a month later it got [pirated]. It popped up everywhere, and it [killed sales].”

But in reflecting on the legacy of both their own work and Second Life, they saw far more positives than negatives. Rufer-Bach, who saw The Second Life Grid be adapted as a university textbook, said, “From that community have come friendships, marriages, and children. A friend of mine redecorated her virtual house over and over, then homes of friends, then other avatars’ homes. Eventually, we didn’t see her inworld so much, because she learned so much that she closed her virtual interior decorating business and started a real-world interior decorating business! I watched friends without previous experience learning to make avatar dresses or write code in SL, until they learned so much they ended up with new real-world careers as artists or programmers.”

Haigh, whose book was also used in schools to teach introductory programming, saw Second Life as laying the groundwork for games like Minecraft and Roblox that rely on user-created content. “I think it impacted the gaming industry, broadly. I don’t know if Minecraft would exist without having Second Life come before it. There’s a lot of things that they broke ground on. And by making it essentially crowdsourced, people who wanted a capability would build it. People, as a society, tend to be far more creative than the engineers you hire for a company.”

A museum for Second Life in Second Life
Credit: Linden Lab

Terdiman also highlighted the platform’s open-ended nature. “I think SL will always be remembered for being extremely innovative when it came to allowing users to create and do whatever they wanted. If you had the technical chops to achieve something in SL, the platform more or less allowed you to do that. That no-rules approach made it seem exciting and unusual. In the end, that same approach probably got it in trouble. But there hasn’t been another virtual world that has given users the creative freedom SL did, and I’m not sure there will be any time soon. Platform developers are scared of the consequences of unfettered creative freedom, and I can understand that. It’s just a shame we haven’t seen more of it.”

The Final Chapter of The Official Guide closes with the bombastic: “People will use this interface to help manage and publish their lives, explore distant places, identify and support problem areas, re-create local landscapes in the real world, make informed political decisions, and better understand the movement of people, ideas, and money—as well as don giant fire-breathing monster avatars and slog through virtual cities. Christopher Columbus, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Godzilla, and the Mario Brothers would be equally blown away.”

But the book opened with a simpler statement: “Second Life is and always will be a representation of the world as we know it. It has been conceived by and is being created by humans, and people tend to do things in a certain way. It doesn’t matter whether the world they’re in is virtual or ‘real.’ … All these banal truths become even more true in Second Life. It lets you concentrate single-mindedly on the pursuit of your own, private happiness.”

Second Life never blew away the Mario Brothers. But in a way Second Life is and always was what it claimed to be: a digital environment for users to do whatever they want to do within it. It just took a while to figure out what that was.

Have a great Week From all of us at Zoha Islands/ Fruit Islands

THE RETURN OF LAST NAMES

THE RETURN OF LAST NAMES AND CHANGES TO MARKETPLACE, EVENTS & PREMIUM

As the end of the year approaches we’re working hard on improvements to Second Life, including your most-requested features such as Name Changes, enhancements of the Marketplace, Events, and Premium Membership. Here’s a rundown of what to expect, including some important fee changes which will soon take effect.

THE RETURN OF LAST NAMES — UPDATE & CONTEST

We heard you loud and clear. Soon it will be possible to change the name of a Second Life account. This is one of our Residents’ most requested features and we’re working furiously to make it available by the end of January.  Name Changes will be exclusively for Premium members at an additional fee. Changing one or both of your First and Last Name will be available as a single transaction. Last Names will be picked from a list, which you can help us curate.

What’s a last name you would choose for yourself? We’ll soon hold a contest seeking your contributions to the pool of last name options. From all of the suggestions, we’ll pick five, and those five lucky Residents will be able to change their names completely free of charge! You will not need to be Premium to participate or to win. The contest will run December 16 through January 15th, and participation details will be announced shortly.

MARKETPLACE CHANGES & FEE UPDATES

Effective December 2, 2019, Marketplace Product Listing Enhancement fees will be reduced by 10%. Listing enhancements allow merchants to promote their items by displaying them as “Featured Items” on Marketplace pages.

On December 2, 2019, commission rates on Marketplace sales will become 10% of the item price. This will be the first commission increase since the Marketplace debuted a decade ago. This new rate remains significantly lower than most digital content commissions across the industry. Apple and Google charge a 30% commission on sales in their app stores, as do many other popular virtual worlds, VR and gaming platforms, such as Oculus and Sinespace.

This fee change helps offset our costs as we invest heavily in new Marketplace features and improvements, which remains the Internet’s largest user-created virtual world Marketplace with more than 5 million items. Over the past year we’ve added a store owner’s ability to designate other Residents as Store Managers, who can help merchants run their businesses.  Recently we have taken steps to clean the Marketplace of outdated or inactive listings so that higher-quality listings are more visible to purchasers.  We’ve also added long-requested features like customer-initiated redeliveries, a Revenue Distribution page, Wishlists, Favorite Sellers, and much more.

More changes are coming in short order. The ability to filter limited quantity and demo items is just around the corner. A number of improvements for navigating shopping and order history for shoppers, and a way to prevent limited-quantity item redelivery for the Merchants.  Mobile-friendly layouts are coming. Additionally, we’re working to improve the ability for Merchants to issue refunds. We’re also planning to give the Marketplace a facelift later in the year, and we’re looking into a way to develop a native vendor system that better connects inworld sales and tracking with Marketplace transactions.

EVENTS FEES & CHANGES

Improvements to the Events pages are in the works for 2020, too. You’ll soon see more functionality and a new look, such as the ability to set an alert on an event you want to attend, to follow your favorite event hosts, to share your event calendar with friends, and to see the latest event developments in a news feed. Here’s a peek at a concept design (subject to change):

events_concept.png

Pictured: Early concept for redesigned Events pages

We’ve heard many complaints from our Residents about duplicated event listings and spam. To combat this problem, we’re introducing a nominal fee which will help discourage spamming and encourage higher-quality events from committed event hosts. Basic members will be charged L$50 to create an event listing while Premium members will pay L$10. On the heels of this change, we will introduce the ability for Premium members to schedule recurring events.

PREMIUM PLUS

Changes are underway for Premium Membership. In 2020, you’ll see a new membership level, Premium Plus. This new option will join our classic Premium tier as an additional choice for Residents who want to get even more value from their Second Life.  We think that many Residents will appreciate the new benefits and features of Premium Plus.

Speaking of Premium … some astute Residents have noticed a lot of Mole activity around the Belliseria continent.  Could something be afoot? Speculations abound! We are happy to confirm…

NEW LINDEN HOMES

Yes, it’s true! A new Linden Homes theme is on the way. On the heels of our recent additions of new Traditional, Houseboat, and Camper themes, the final touches are being put on for the next theme.  You’ll be able to get an exclusive first peek at the newest Linden Home offerings at the SL Christmas Expo, held Dec. 5-25 in Second Life.

It’s Just Around The Corner!

Do You Believe In The Magic Of Christmas?

Do you Believe in Tinsel and Garland?
In Jinglin’ Bells?
Trimmed Trees and Sparkling Lights?
Stockings Hung With Care?
Peace on Earth and Good Will?
Do You Believe in The Magic of Christmas?
It’s Just Around the Corner – The 9th Annual SL Christmas Expo
Helping the American Cancer Society and Children With Cancer!
Mark Your Calendars for December 5th to 15th
And Give The Gift Of Hope this Holiday Season!

MORE TO COME IN 2020

We’ve got more in the works for 2020, too.  Don’t forget that you can contribute your own feature requests for our team to review in JIRA. Simply login to create a new JIRA and select “Feature Request.”  Did you know that most of the recent improvements to the Marketplace came from Feature Requests?

Thanks for your continuing dedication and creative contributions to the Second Life community.  We are so excited for everything that lies ahead!

Have a great week and if your in the US Happy Thanksgiving From all of us at Zoha Islands/ Fruit Islands

Oculus CTO and VR pioneer John Carmack is stepping away

This directly impacts Sansar and High Fidelity and insures that they still have a long way to go before we can see mainstream VR on these platforms or it seems at least with Oculus.

John Carmack, VR Pioneer Who Once Described Developing VR as a “Moral Imperative”, No Longer Focused on Developing VR

John Carmack Oculus Rift CTO

Oculus CTO and VR pioneer John Carmack is stepping almost completely away from the company and virtual reality development in general to go in a totally different direction:

Starting this week, I’m moving to a “Consulting CTO” position with Oculus.

I will still have a voice in the development work, but it will only be consuming a modest slice of my time.

As for what I am going to be doing with the rest of my time: When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague “line of sight” to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven. I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old. I’m going to work on artificial general intelligence (AGI).

I’m not sure how many people in the VR industry grasp the significance of this move. The announcement comes only days after Carmack said this about the current state of VR:

“I’m often kind of grumpy around the office because I really haven’t been satisfied with the pace of progress that we’ve been making. When I’m in VR I see the magic there, but my brain is always throwing up these giant ‘to do’ Post-It Notes on top of everything, reminding me of all the work that’s yet to be done.”

Putting the two statements together, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Carmack has decided that virtual reality won’t or can’t be improved, or sufficiently matured into a mass market product, within the span of his career. And so instead, he’s devoting the rest of his work energies to developing AI.

The statements also stand in sharp contrast to how Carmack fairly recently described the importance of bringing VR to the masses — as “a moral imperative”.

As he explained  Wired article back in 2016:

 

“VIRTUAL REALITY WILL dramatically transform movies and gaming, but some see an even loftier goal for the burgeoning technology: Providing the world’s poor and underprivileged with a better life. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus Rift, and his chief technology officer, John Carmack, even speak of a “moral imperative” to bring virtual reality to the masses.

Carmack, a pioneer in 3-D graphics, has championed this mission for some two decades, but only recently has the underlying technology reached a price point where VR headsets can cost as little as a cheap smartphone. And that, he says, makes it possible for virtual reality to improve the real lives of people worldwide, even the less fortunate.

“These are devices that you could imagine almost everyone in the world owning,” Carmack says. “This means that some fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated for a much broader range of people.”

Somewhere since then, it seems, that moral imperative became less imperative. It’s possible he still believes in VR with the same zeal, but just lost interest in developing it on a daily basis. One insider suggested to me that Oculus’ development and launch of the Quest — a greatly reduced (if relatively popular) vision of virtual reality — might have been a touch too demoralizing for his aspirations. In any case, the VR industry is losing one of its leading lights.

Have a great week from all of the staff at Zoha Islands and Fruit Islands.

 

Can a Virus Really Destroy a Hard Drive?

Sometimes I hear from people who say a virus ‘destroyed’ their hard drive and they had to buy a new one. But are there actually viruses that can physically damage a hard drive? Is it even possible for a virus to damage hardware, or is this an urban legend? Read on to find out the truth…

Beware the Horrible, Terrible, Evil, Hard Drive Destructo Virus!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “A virus wiped out my hard drive, so I had to buy a new one and re-install everything.” When I ask what exactly they mean, the victim sometimes claim that a virus ‘fried the electronics,’ ‘crashed the head,’ or otherwise physically damaged the drive. In other cases, people were told by a repair technician that a virus had permanently damaged the hard drive, and they needed to purchase a new one.

My short and simple answer to the question is “no”. To the best of my knowledge, no antivirus researcher has ever discovered a virus that causes physical damage to hardware. You can be sure that such a discovery would have made headlines all over the world. It just hasn’t happened.

People who claim it has happened are wrong, or are being disingenuous. Or it could be what I call “Cousin Vinny Syndrome” — a modern day version of “I heard it from a friend who knows a guy who lives near the police department in a major city, and he knows about this stuff.”

It’s not unheard-of for an unscrupulous repair technician to tell a naïve customer that a virus has “destroyed” a hardware component, usually a hard drive. Then the technician gets to sell the victim a new hard drive, memory stick, motherboard or power supply. They’ll also charge for the “service” of re-installing the operating system and apps, in addition to the hours of labor that went into “diagnosing” the bad news. The customer leaves thinking that viruses can damage hardware, and blames viruses for any future hardware problems.

Then there are the amateurs who, upon failing to fix their own hardware, conclude that “it must have been a virus because I couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong.” There are various computer glitches (which may include a virus, a power spike, or just poorly written software) that can wipe out critical sectors of a hard drive. When this happens, you’ll be greeted by a startup screen that says “Disk Boot Failure”, “No Fixed Disk Found”, “Missing Operating System” or some other ominous error message that *seems* to indicate that the hard drive is physically damaged. But in almost every case, it’s not really a hardware problem.

Of course, there are some perfectly good reasons for intentionally destroying a hard drive.

Viruses can and have turned hard drives into seemingly useless bricks. But the only thing they can damage is the data stored there. A virus that overwrites the drive’s boot sector renders it inoperable. But a corrupted boot sector is fixable; only the data written to that sector has been damaged, not the magnetic media that stores the data. Reformat the drive, or reconstruct the boot sector, and the drive will work again. If a virus wipes out files, you can restore from a backup, and you’re back in action.

Hard Drives, Head Games and Semantics

Getting back to the original point, is it possible to write a virus that destroys hard drives? A hard drive (like many other PC components) is controlled by embedded chips that contain low-level “microcode.” This microcode can be replaced in what’s called a “flash update.” So why couldn’t a virus replace the legitimate microcode? In a Computer World magazine column published in 2005, columnist Robert Mitchell got a Western Digital VP to admit that it is possible, in theory. Mitchell claimed this admission proves that a virus could “essentially destroy” a drive.

But Mitchell was playing a semantics game. “Essentially” does not mean “physically.” In his context, “destroy” means “render unusable.” A virus could make it impossible for the system’s BIOS to communicate with a drive, but it could not damage the drive’s hardware. If the virus could be flushed out with a new legitimate flash upgrade, the drive would work again. Again, there’s no physical damage — only the DATA on the device is affected. And data can be replaced.

I’ve also heard about theoretical viruses that write data so frantically to the hard drive, that it just eventually crashes the head or wears out the surface of the drive. I just can’t buy this theory, because that virus would have to be running non-stop for months or even years before anything bad happened. I struggled to find an analogy for this, and I thought of the Etch-a-Sketch. Its surface is kind of like a hard drive platter, and the little “pen” you control with the dials is the read/write head. You can scribble all you want, but you’re not going to damage the device. And anything you write on the surface of the Etch-a-Sketch screen can be wiped away by shaking it and starting over. That’s similar to reformatting a hard drive, which will wipe out the virus and anything that it did.

And then there’s the Chernobyl Virus, which appeared in the late 1990s. Some have said that it could cause actual physical damage to the BIOS chip, but that appears to be the stuff of legend and rumor. It might have been able to erase data on a hard drive, or over-write the data on the BIOS, but that’s not permanent physical damage. Oh, and I have to mention StuxNet, the virus that targetted computers controlling uranium enrichment equipment in Iran. In this case, the virus tried to affect the functioning of centrifuges and other equipment being controlled by the infected computers. There was no physical damage to the computers, and it’s not even clear if the centrifuges were damaged.

Let Me Be Perfectly Clear..

I am NOT trying to say that a computer virus can’t damage files or destroy data. Of course it can. And 15 or 20 years ago, old-school hackers might have been interested in doing that type of thing. But today, viruses are not created to destroy hardware or data. Viruses are created to steal data and money, to send spam, or to disrupt other users with denial of service attacks. And they’re written so as to do their dirty work in secret. Virus creators WANT your hard drive to last a long time, so they can continue to use your computer to do their bidding.

Of course, computer components such as hard drives, motherboards, RAM, graphics cards and power supplies can wear out, or burn out. But those things are caused by defects in manufacturing, poor quality materials, overheating, or power surges. If a computer repair tech tells you a virus caused it, take your computer somewhere else.

If you (or your Cousin Vinny) disagree with my opinion that a virus cannot physically damage a hard drive, please let me know! And please, cite a credible source when you do.

Have a great week from all of us on the ZI and FI Staff.

Linden Lab Layoffs

Linden Lab Lays Off Over 20 Members of Sansar Team, Confirm Insiders; Social VR Platform to Continue Operating With Skeleton Crew

Sansar Linden Lab layoff social VR

Confirming a blog post from Ryan Schultz (along with some ominous rumblings I heard last Friday), some insiders tell me that Linden Lab has recently laid off over 20 staffers working on Sansar, the company’s social VR platform. Even more tragically, the layoffs include some longtime Lindens who got their start working on Second Life, Linden Lab’s core profitable product, but who were moved to the Sansar team.

Asked to comment on these layoff reports, a Linden Lab spokesperson just sent me this response, in its entirety:

“We have no comment at this time, but we’re continuing to develop both Second Life and Sansar, and we’re excited about the many new partnerships and features on tap for 2020!”

This move is not at all surprising, and follows a round of Linden Lab layoffs last year; more key, Sansar has steadfastly refused to grow its user numbers, with peak concurrency remaining in the low hundreds at most, despite marketing campaigns with major brands like Hello Kitty, Spielberg’s Ready Player One, and top esports groups.

My understanding is Sansar will not be closed down, or sold, but will continue operating with a skeleton crew, and in all likelihood, eventually be run as a spinoff company and product separate from Linden Lab.

In any case, this is a sad turn for a project that began under the leadership of former Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble, when Sansar was conceived as a spiritual successor to Second Life. But between Humble stepping down and Ebbe Altberg taking the reigns at CEO, some management decisions shifted Sansar’s direction:

 

Originally developed to be a direct successor to Second Life, including a heavy emphasis on creation tools, I’m told Linden Lab management ignored the advice of longtime Linden developers who helped launch Second Life, and moved away from that direction. This meant that Sansar creation would only be possible by uploading mesh (as opposed to in-world creation), which made the world less appealing to longtime SLers. Sansar management then jumped onto virtual reality as the new hotness (something Ebbe Altberg fully admitted to me when I interviewed him last Spring), so shifted the virtual world to be a social VR product. The company has been moving away from that VR emphasis in recent quarters, but by then, the Sansar ship was already floundering.

In recent product meetings streamed on Twitch, Linden Lab has suggested they’ll put more focus on Sansar as a platform for live events, as there has been some limited success with Sansar-based EDM shows put on by MonsterCat records. But that shift is meeting some skepticism.

“That’s the spin they going with now,” as longtime third party Sansar developer “Gindipple” tells me. “They’ve changed direction so many times now. They are winging this and hoping. I gave up on them a while ago, so don’t care as much now. They lost a lot of good people in this cut back, some went to SL but many [are] just out.

“And the thing is, when a company does this,” he adds with irony, “the remaining people come to work so highly motivated now.”

As for Second Life, Linden Lab is still hiring team members to work on that 16 year old virtual world.

We at Zoha Islands  wanted to make sure these allegations were correct and true before we passed along in our blog. And we will keep you posted with any updates on this subject as they become available and reliable sourced.

Have a great week from all of us at ZI and FI