Building A Metaverse: Is Sansar a Smart Move or a Risky Gamble for Linden Lab?

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Second Life will probably not be the platform that will sustain the metaverse. It was, however, the prototype that proved the concept—it kicked open the doors. It showed people that if done correctly, 3-D virtual spaces could be effective tools for business, education, collaboration, socializing, and entertainment, and it showed development companies that a lot of money could be made in building the metaverse

— Peter Ludlow,  Second Life Herald : The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse, p. 263

I still remember the crazy heyday of Second Life, with the hype machine set to maximum, from 2006 to 2008. Everybody was going on about how virtual worlds in general, and Second Life in particular, were going to revolutionize business and education. News organizations like Reuters, countries like Sweden, and big corporations like American Apparel and IBM trooped into SL and set up sims.

(Of course, most of those organizations trooped out of SL just as quickly as they trooped in, leaving the field to the many mom-and-pop businesses that give SL its vibrancy.)

Obviously, Linden Lab is hoping that lightning will strike twice, and that Sansar will reach (or even exceed) a level of popularity that SL used to have. They might well succeed. I must say, based on my perspective as being part of the closed beta since December 2016, and based on what I am seeing now, that Linden Lab is indeed listening to feedback from the users, and things are looking very promising.

Then again, an open-source solution like High Fidelity might catch fire and take off instead. Or an 800-lb. gorilla like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft/Altspace or Facebook/Oculus may well come up with a competing product that becomes the next big successful metaverse. We’ll see.

But if anybody knows how to create a successful virtual world, it’s Linden Lab (even if it sometimes seemed as if Second Life flourished despite LL’s missteps).  The key to SL’s continued success is no mystery: provide a good-enough platform (not perfect but serviceable), let people retain the intellectual property of their creations, allow them to monetize their work, and then step back and try not to get in the way of the myriad, unexpected, mind-blowing ways that people will use that platform.

Yes, Sansar is still beta software (some would say alpha), and there is still lots that need to be done. But the naysayers seem to forget that Second Life was also very limited in features when it first started up, way back in 2001 when it was still called Linden World:

It took many, many years of development (and quite a few stumbles) in order to bring about the Second Life which people see today. The same logic applies to Sansar. It’s going to take years to create the sort of mature, fully-featured virtual world product that Second Life is today.

Linden Lab knows that it can’t stand still. Second Life is still a cash cow for LL, but it’s older technology that can’t make the jump to VR. Every corporation reaches a point where it has to respond to market forces, innovate, or die. (Remember what happened to Kodak?) With Sansar, Linden Lab is taking a (calculated) leap into the future. They’re gambling, based on their past experience with Second Life, that you’re going to be willing to be part of a virtual world that supports virtual reality.

So let’s keep some sense of history and perspective when we’re tempted to brusquely dismiss Linden Lab’s Sansar as a folly or a boondoggle, as some SL users have asserted. It’s going to take quite some time for virtual worlds and virtual reality to find their footing. We might not know what the metaverse will look like in detail, but we all know it’s coming.

In the meantime, enjoy the ride!

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