Second Life creator and CEO Philip Rosedale announced he will cease his role as CEO of Linden Lab. He states that he will replace Mitch Kapor as chairman and stay committed to SL full-time as it’s primary visionary. No word on Kapor’s alignment.
Rosedale is definitely more suited to the new role as Second Life has failed thus far to capitalize on their hype and advance their platform. The world is dated and has been unable to realize it’s own visionary goals. They’ve generated a decent amount of revenues but have not used the income to grow the platform in any truly compelling way. Their fundamental model – which is a grave failing point for many people eager to move their endeavors into 3D – assumes that people would rather do everything in an immersive world. But the simple fact is that chat, business meetings, online learning, and ecommerce are all far more functional in the flat 2d web. Even advertising loses it’s appeal when your virtual world only supports 100 or so avatars in any one space at a time.
For SL to succeed I believe they need to do the following:
1) Completely re-engineer the scenegraph to catch up with the immersion and realism of modern gaming platforms
2) Hire content developers whose sole task is to create a rich, detailed and compelling world.
3) Rewrite the entire UI, highlighting basic navigation, rich user profiles, and social affordances
4) Focus on user affordances. An avatar should essentially be a living MySpace/Facebook/LinkedIn object.
5) Create engaging narratives that users can easily and unexpectedly slip into. Imagine ARG’s being played out in SL.
6) Break the walls of the Second Life by wiring it up to the First. Avatars should be able to easily send and respond to sms and email. If I buy a new jacket at G-Star, I should also get a virtual copy for my avatar. Cross-channel communication and cross-promotional opportunities.
7) Scale down the virtual economy. The WoW economy is an emergent property of life in the Warcraft world. It should be the same for SL, not the primary business model.
The most compelling possibilities of immersive worlds are socialization, narrative, and realism, not trade and property ownership. Linden has sacrificed the former for the latter, in my opinion.
Of course, the obvious move will be for Google to buy SL and port it into Google Earth. This may be exactly what the Linden investors are hoping for by bringing in a new CEO. Or more likely, they will move further down the road of monetization through in-world advertising.
[Update] One of the primary 3rd party developers for SL, Electric Sheep, has laid off 22 of it’s SL content creators. Blood in the water?