‘Second Life’ creator shares lessons learned from one of the world’s first metaverses

by Thomas Wilde on

Second Life is still consistently updated to this day, with its most recent patch shipping on March 14. (Linden Labs Image)

Philip Rosedale has spent a lot of time thinking about the “metaverse,” long before it became a buzzword in today’s tech world, and he’s got plenty of lessons to share with technologists building related software for the future.

Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab and creator of the open-ended construction/simulation game Second Life, recently spoke at Madrona Venture Labs’ Launchable event, sitting down for an interview with veteran tech exec Spencer Rascoff, who taped an episode of his podcast Office Hours.

Philip Rosedale.

Rosedale founded Linden in 1999, which went on to launch Second Life in 2003. Linden is currently headquartered in San Francisco, with satellite offices in Seattle, Boston, Charlottesville, and Davis, Calif. Rosedale served as its CEO until 2008, and is currently back at Linden as a strategic advisor.

Described variously as an online multimedia platform, a virtual space, and one of the overall weirdest experiences you could have on the internet in the 2000s, SL effectively blazed a trail for a lot of the base concepts that go into the current idea of the metaverse. This includes in-game currency, avatar design, and a peculiar, Web1.0-ish take on a decentralized economy. To this day, almost 19 years into its lifespan, there are people who make an actual living on what they can create within Second Life and sell to other users.

Players in SL participate in the world via a custom-made avatar, which can take just about any form, and can sculpt the world around themselves via a specialized programming language. Over the years, fans have created museums, stadiums, research centers, radio stations, and churches in SL, with several different nations going so far as to open virtual embassies.

That puts Rosedale in a unique position with regards to the metaverse, as he’s essentially been working off and on in the overall space since 2003. Most of what metaverse boosters have been discussing is something that’s already possible in Second Life, and Linden Lab has already had many of the problems that companies like Meta will have to deal with.

According to Rosedale, speaking off the cuff, roughly a million users still use Second Life today, but there aren’t a hundred million because “it doesn’t work for grownups yet.” The problem with an avatar is that it can’t match the amount of information that’s communicated by looking directly at another human’s face, which is why Rascoff’s interview was being held in a shared Zoom meeting rather than Second Life. An avatar can’t yet match the experience of a face-to-face human interaction.

“What happened at Second Life was that we were good enough for people who were committed enough to really want to live there,” Rosedale said, “and in many cases, to give up their real-life identity and project themselves wholly into a virtual world that they could call their own.”

“What I think we did right is that we gave them enough power and ownership over the space. We open-sourced our client early on.”

Rosedale also notes that content created for SL isn’t owned by Linden Lab, which is a principle the company took and stood behind relatively early in its run. “We did just enough to get a fire started there.”

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg uses a haptic glove research prototype intended to create a realistic sense of touch in the metaverse. (Meta Photo)

Conversely, Rosedale has “a lot of reactions” to Meta. “The biggest thought that I have is, ‘Oh God, not with that business model,’” he told Rascoff. “I was just at South by Southwest and I sat in listening to Neal Stephenson [author of the 1992 novel Snow Crash that created/popularized the terms “avatar” and “metaverse”], and he said the same thing, which delighted me. ‘Don’t use that business model.’”

In general, Rosedale painted a picture of the metaverse as potentially dangerous, particularly with regard to the integration of AI. As a metaverse gathers information about its users, it presents possibilities like the development of AI-based recordings of people that could potentially be mistaken for real.

Conversely, in Second Life, people have met, fallen in love, and gotten married. A real personal connection can take place, one that crosses cultural boundaries, despite that first meeting taking place behind avatars. Those connections, Rosedale says, have to be “intimate, real-time, [and] present.”

“[The Meta] advertising model has become a combination of surveillance and AI that’s designed to entice you, modify your behavior, draw your eyes away from something else,” he said. “The difference when you take that to the metaverse is that in the real world, where we know where the ads are. So we can ignore them.”

“Think what things would be like if that ended,” Rosedale continued, “if you were literally in the real world and the person walking next to you might be an advertisement. The existential risk of humans being placed in 3D spaces where you don’t know where the ads are, and where they’re empowered by the staggering amount of surveillance data you can get. I personally think there is no way we can go even a little way down that road, and some combination of regulation, good decisions, and a shared sense of what the dangers are will get us going the right way on that.”

Other takeaways from the interview include:

  • When asked to discuss his personal vision of the metaverse, Rosedale’s two big points are the transition from 2D to 3D, and “making the internet live.” Instead of the solo experience of browsing a webpage, a metaverse user would be able to use a site together with other people that they could see, identify, and communicate with.
  • Full-on, facially-attached computers as a metaverse interface are 10 years away, Rosedale thinks. Mobile devices are likely to get closer to that first as the technology matures.
  • Rosedale is vocally concerned about crypto as it relates to wealth inequality. “Crypto’s absolutely going the long way on that, as any economist can tell you. It’s making a small group of people richer than ever before, which is not what I think we need as a species right now.”
  • The utility of the in-game currency of Second Life, the Linden Dollar, is that it can be used to make small purchases. Most of the exchanges made in the in-app economy of SL, as users buy assets from professional SL crafters, are only a few dollars’ worth at a time. That granularity is going to be necessary for any metaversal cryptocurrency. A two-dollar purchase with a $40 banking fee is a non-starter.

Listen to the full interview with Rosedale in this episode of Office Hours.



Tempura Restored to Second Life As a Preservation Sim After Belated Outreach by Linden Lab

Tempura Second Life Linden Lab Restored SLurl

Just received this fairly excellent message:

Dear Tempura island friends, lovers, visitors:

Mr Eel Tempura IslandWe would like to inform you, that after our decision to close Tempura, we were contacted by Linden Lab and made the decision to accept maintenance of our region by joining The Second Life Region Preservation Society provided by Linden Lab.

We have received so many messages from SL residents about closing Tempura and we are very happy that it will exist still.

Please enjoy Tempura sim as you have been in all these years. We would like to express our gratitude to Linden Lab who recognized and decided to keep Tempura as part of Second Life existence. Thank you everyone who loves Tempura!

– Kikunosuke Eel/Tempura Island Team 

P.S. Special Thanks to Mr. Wagner James Au for his support

And thank you, Mr. Eel and team! So that said, click here to teleport to Tempura in all its preserved glory.

This restoral happens two weeks after the blog reported its imminent departure, which strongly suggests the Linden team scrambled to save it after its departure. Last week I had suggested this might happen, while warning that there’s a flip side to preservation:

Even when Linden Lab takes a sim over, that doesn’t mean what’s meaningful about it will continue on. An active user community, first and foremost, brings meaning to the virtual world. 

May that community continue on. Here’s the official announcement:

Japan Tempura Island

Established in 2008, Tempura Island has been a popular destination for socializing, romance, and healing. Explore the forest, dance in the ballroom, wander through the temple and meditate amidst the Japanese motif.

Visit in Second Life

Welcome back to Tempura Island in Second Life! Established in 2008, Tempura Island has been a popular destination for socializing, romance, and healing. Explore the forest, dance in the ballroom, wander through the temple and meditate amidst the Japanese motif.

Thanks to Tempura staffer Polly Reina for the help!

Have a great week from all of us at Zoha Islands/Fruit Islands

Last Chance to Visit Tempura

Beloved Second Life Sim Leaving the Virtual World at the End of This Month After 14 Years & Millions of Visits

Tempura Second Life nature sim SL

Click here this month to teleport into yet another Second Life landmark that’s going away: The luminously beautiful island called Tempura, which since its inception 14 years ago, has attracted well over 2 millions visits.

It is, however, leaving the virtual world grid at the end of this month. Owned and lead created by Japanese SLer “Kikunosuke eel”, Tempura is a dreamscape of forests, gardens, and ancient buildings. But with his real life work taking up more of his time — and Tempura costing him well over $2000 a year in landlord server costs to Second Life owner Linden Lab — Mr. Eel decided it was finally time for Tempura to end.

For all these years, he subsidized Tempura at a loss, partly subsidizing it through sales from MANDALA, his virtual jewelry brand. Completely free to visitors, it’s been full to near capacity since launching, with thousands visiting and exploring every week.

Mr. Eel subsidized their visits despite the expense as an expression of personal faith:

“Tempura brought me better things than profit,” as he explained in a translated note. “My philosophy is based on Buddhism, and it influences me a lot. I’d always like to share happiness with many other people, even if it’s a small happiness. I might not be able to do a great thing for them [in the real world], but I feel good if I could touch others’ hearts in any way.”

It is fair to say that he has succeeded at that.

Linden Lab, sad to say, has not: Extremely high sim tier costs, even years after the entire virtual world grid has moved to the Amazon cloud, continues to bleed the existing culture.

Mr. Eel says he may eventually relaunch Tempura, but until then, after this month, its digital existence will be confined to social media posts like this.

Tempura Second Life nature sim SL New World NotesAs to a question that’s somewhat perplexed me for these last 14 years: Why name this lovely island after tasty deep fried vegetables and sea food coated in panko crumbs?

“I do not know if I could explain this well to foreigners,” says Mr. Eel via another translated message, “but I will try. The word was associated with a slang buzzword in Japan which describes a feeling of cheerfulness, excitement, or energy. And tempura is also a well-known Japanese food. So I came up with the name, TEMPURA, which people from all over the world could easily remember.”

Now I finally understand. And I’m also hungry.

Thanks to Tempura manager Polly Reina for help with this story!

Have a Great Week From All Of Us At Zoha Islands/Fruit Islands

Facebook Wants to Build a Hi-Res Version of ‘Second Life’

It’s Calling the ‘Metaverse’

An older post of this story was slated to post October last year we decided to run it now with updates.

Facebook’s latest futuristic idea, which the company says it wants to build with a team of 10,000 new hires in Europe, sounds like a fancy new version of the mid-aughts virtual reality desktop game Second Life, only with Zuckerberg watching your online travels.

It’s internally being called “the metaverse,” though that might not be the name that sticks. In a blog post on Sunday, the company says it’s “a new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality.” And, “At its heart is the idea that by creating a greater sense of ‘virtual presence’, interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person.”

This appears to be the next phase of the company’s investment in Oculus, and VR and AR tech in general. And for a few years Mark Zuckerberg has been talking about new applications for the technologies, like being able to redecorate a room in virtual space, or have virtual sit-down visits with people across the globe.

The blog post, which is bylined by head comms guy Nick Clegg and Vice President of Central Products Javier Olivan, also seems intent on blowing some sunshine up the arse of the EU, generally.

“We have long believed that European talent is world-leading, which is why we have invested in it so heavily over the years,” the post says. “Beyond emerging tech talent, the EU also has an important role to play in shaping the new rules of the internet. European policymakers are leading the way in helping to embed European values like free expression, privacy, transparency and the rights of individuals into the day-to-day workings of the internet.”

So, this is also an announcement of a recruitment effort, with a focus on specialized engineers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

“We look forward to working with governments across the EU to find the right people and the right markets to take this forward, as part of an upcoming recruitment drive across the region,” Clegg and Olivan say.

As the Associated Press notes, Facebook has made a number of pie-in-the-sky projects public that haven’t yet become realities, not the least of which is Facebook’s foray into cryptocurrency — which faced huge backlash from EU regulators, and which would also be a key component of making the “metaverse” profitable.

Game-maker Epic Games, creator of Fortnite, is also working on a “metaverse”-type project, and other companies may be as well. And it should be noted that the virtual economy within Second Life itself, bolstered by NFTs and a longstanding crypto marketplace of its own, boomed during the pandemic, which Facebook no doubt was watching. And Facebook acknowledges in their announcement, “Bringing this [project] to life will take collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators and policymakers.”

But will anyone ever be satisfied with virtual meetings or virtual “vacations” with family, that are essentially just Zoom calls in Second Life? Some segment of the population may always be more excited about living as an avatar in virtual space, but is this something that most people are ever going to be truly comfortable with? And isn’t this just another potential forum for harassment and abuse that Facebook won’t be able to adequately combat?

Of course Facebook wants a big hand in such a project, and the EU ass-kissing is a strategic first step, given that Facebook has a lot of critics across the pond who will want to put the kibosh on the company trying to infiltrate our lives any further than it already does.

If you are looking for updates to this story well like most of the “Metaverse” you won’t see one soon. It seems Metaverse however starting out fast found out what everyone else suspected they are WAY off timing on this project and by at least 5 years. Stay tuned! Just kidding don’t hold your breath for “Metaverse” to ever be close to what Second life is or ever was. Just an opinion but seems to be shared by many.

Have A Great Week From All Of Us At Zoha Islands And Fruit Islands

Russian Content Creators in Second Life

Russian Content Creators in Second Life, Now Sanctioned & Unable to Cash Out, Contemplate Bad Options in Both Realities

SL Moscow protest sign

Though Linden Lab has not yet announced any plans to ban payments from Russian users on its virtual world platform of Second Life, the US and EU banking sanctions have already taken their toll on SL content creators in Russia — especially those who depend on Second Life for their livelihood:

“After the blocking of PayPal,” as reader “Alex” explains in a recent comment, “all Russian creators were deprived of the opportunity to receive money from sales in SL. For many of them, working in SL is their main and only job.”

All this happens as Second Life users around the world create pro-Ukraine/anti-Russian images and the Second Life island of Moscow has been inundated by so many anti-invasion protesters, the owners resorted to posting a massive billboard in virtual Red Square, imploring visitors to refrain from activism (above).

In group chats, Second Life content creators based in Russia are now privately discussing their options, but are reluctant to air them with the Second Life community at large:

“[O]ut of sympathy and compassion for what is happening in Ukraine,” as Alex puts it, “Russian creators do not bring their problems into public discussion… Many [Russian SL] creators and their families are already left without a livelihood.”

Alex believes that some creators in the short term will continue creating in Second Life, even without a cash-out option, but “we will not be able to do this for a long time and will not be able to support our customers in the game as we have always done.”

Russian Second Life creator MossuRussian creator Akirakiyoi Resident (pictured) tells me a similar story. In a painful irony, he was among the many Russian Second Life users who rallied to support their brethren creators in Ukraine.

Putin’s base of supporters in Russia, he tells me, are “elderly people who don’t know what Netflix for example or Second Life is. Younger generations playing games and drinking Starbucks are not the people who vote for him, or who support him.”

Many of them not only play Second Life but in recent years, as Russia’s economy continued to falter, have turned to virtual world content creation into a career.

“Most of these creators don’t have a real job since SL was their full time and we expect a major crisis in the country with high unemployment rates,” says Akirakiyoi, who then adds: “But of course the first thing that needs to happen is this invasion to finally stop.”

Russia protest SL Moscow

Above: After pro-Ukraine protests by Second Life users, the owners of Moscow island in Second Life erected this billboard in Red Square: “[T]his is just a historical sim, please do not gather here with political slogans!”

Akirakiyoi himself runs a successful SL brand — so successful in fact, that due to the sanctions, he might leave Russia itself, in order to keep creating and selling virtual content:

“I’m not going to leave Second Life,” he tells me, laughing. “I will leave the country to access payment, but not Second Life.” He loves the virtual world, for one thing, a regular Resident of Second Life, as are roughly 12,000 fellow Russians. For another, he is not the only person in Russia depending on his continued work int he virtual world.

“It’s my full time business and I spent years building it,” as Akirakiyoi put it. “And also have my parents I need to help.”

Other tech savvy Russians yearning to escape Putin’s reach, he acknowledges, may not be as lucky.

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

Linden Lab Statement on Ukraine

Linden Lab strives to make positive change in the world by helping people connect, discover themselves, and grow both personally and financially. Ultimately, we build and support communities. Therefore, it is especially shocking to see the actions in Ukraine, to see the unwarranted attacks on people – on communities. We are heartbroken and horrified by the situation in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis it has perpetuated. We are a proudly diverse team, and many of us have ties to these events – historically, emotionally, professionally, and socially. Our products reach worldwide, and many of our partners and customers are directly affected by this crisis. 

As a leadership team, this crisis has challenged us to better define and embrace what we believe to be the core principles at Linden Lab – our TAO so to speak.

Specifically, our TAO says:


Our work brings people together, builds communities. Our work helps people understand who they are, helps them be better. Our work brings empathy, helps people see the world through others’ eyes. Settle for nothing less than changing the world for the better.

We intend to live up to this principle, and while there is much work to be done, we are starting with: 

Effective Monday, we will be further supporting our eligible Ukrainian-based community members by granting them a temporary 30-day moratorium on recurring account fees such as Premium Membership and Land Maintenance fees.  We will review this again after 30 days and assess what we can do as next steps where necessary. We invite any of our Ukraine-based community members to contact support with any specific questions they may have.

Finally, we encourage our community to look at ways that they can help show their support. It is heartening to see the Second Life community come together to support each other with numerous inworld events and helpful initiatives that bring us together as a force for good in both the physical and virtual worlds.

Good day from all of us at Zoha Islands/Fruit Islands