The future will be written by the vampires. Or the bunnies. Possibly, the vampire bunnies. At least that's what it looks like Linden Lab is banking on. What's more, they may be right.
I read a lot of SL related blogs, and I wish I could remember where I saw this, but it was in regards to an article on the new SL Marketplace. The original post was talking about the various problems Marketplace has (and boy does it ever), and there was a comment made by someone saying something to the effect that Linden Lab doesn't care about content creators. Clearly all they care about are people who want to be vampires.
I so wish I could remember where I saw this so I could reply, "You are more right than you will ever know." (Btw, if that was your comment- pretend I said that.)
The Mystery of the Code
Last week, I proposed a notion -- that the Second Life 2.0 viewer code will make it possible to link the in-world experience to other networks, most notably, Facebook, Twitter, and mobile devices. This, among other reasons (the ability to accurately track changes via changelog*) are why the Lab is pushing third party viewer development teams to adopt the 2.0 code.
McCabe Maxstead, the head of the Imprudence Viewer team, tells me Imprudence is going to upgrade to 2.0 code so all the new 2.0 features are supported within Imprudence, but he is emphatic that they will not adopt the 2.0 user interface. Other third party viewers are going to have to take a long hard look at the pros and cons of 2.0 code, if not the 2.0 UI (I am told that the Phoenix Viewer team is officially holding the same stance as Imprudence.)
However, as I also said, opening up the viewer and allowing it to communicate with other, larger networks won't bring in money for the Lab in and of itself. But you know what will? Vampires and Bunnies, and it will all be made possible through the new SL Marketplace.
A New Marketplace
In January of 2009, after buying out the popular web based SL marketplace OnRez, Linden Lab closed it, merging it with its already existing SL Exchange (SLX, which so help me, is still the acronym I use in my head to this day) and changing the name to XStreet. While this did not create an actual monopoly, it sure did come close, as no other competing system other than OnRez was large enough at that time to really notice.
This meant there was an entirely new code change, creating stormy seas for content creators who had to play catch up baseball with the new system. Eventually, it more or less evened out, but customer service for Xstreet deteriorated at a rapid rate. This was especially frustrating to those who thought OnRez was a better service to begin with.
However, several months ago a New Marketplace was announced, in conjunction with something called "a roadmap for freebies". Though the conversation (such as it was) about freebies seems to have been shelved for the moment, the New Marketplace went forward at a blistering pace. Considering the fact that the code was being rebuilt from scratch (sound familiar?) it was pushed into beta with very little if any alpha testing.
When the Marketplace arrived in Beta, it was far more buggy than one would expect of a product in active Beta testing. Several showstopper issues were reported in the JIRA (the online bug report system), which were eventually combined into a huge report to keep things organized. In particular, the search system being used in Marketplace is set up so that the most recent items added to the system get priority over those which are most relevant. While one can argue several valid ways of running a search system, this is probably not one of them.
However, these were by far not the only problems. There were issues with the migration from Xstreet to Marketplace as well. Due to the law of averages, the more listings you had on Xstreet, the more likely it was that the migration of your items would not go smoothly. Besides, if you only have a few items and they get screwed up, they don't take that long to fix. Larger merchants had bigger problems. All my stuff (all 568 listings) are so screwed up that each and every one needs to be fixed by hand- all this from Xstreet listings that were working perfectly, pre-migration. For weeks now, merchants have bitterly complained about poor migrations, which are costing them very real money.
However, this is not to say that the new Marketplace doesn't have the potential to be a significant improvement over the old Xstreet system. There are far more features, the interface is cleaner, and there's more information at the buyer's disposal. Unlike Viewer 2.0, the new Marketplace is not a sow's ear masquerading as s silk purse. It's got great potential. The issue is that the Marketplace was pushed out of Beta at an absolutely breakneck pace- LONG before it was ready to replace the existing system.
Clearly, there's an internal deadline here. The question is why was it so important to push this mess live when it was so far from being ready?
Fangs and Cottontails
Ozimals have become very popular in Second Life, and it's easy to see why. They're a virtual animal breeding system. People have taken to trying to breed (and sell or trade) their virtual bunny creations. It reminds me a bit of the Sims in rabbit form. Though this isn't really my thing, the bunnies are awful cute (well let's face it, bunnies are cute in general), and it's not much of a stretch to see how they became so popular.
A couple weeks ago I was having a conversation about The Tinfoil Hat Theory with William Burns(Aeonix Aeon) over at Andromeda3d before he posted this article (referring in it to my first one on this topic.) I specifically mentioned the Ozimals Bunnies at the time, explaining their value to the Tinfoil Hat Theory. I didn't expect what happened next, though.
Lo and behold, last Thursday afternoon, what should my wondering eyes see but an official email from Linden Lab pushing... Ozimals Bunnies.
The other thing I mentioned in that conversation, btw? Vampires.
If you've spent any time looking at the SL Marketplace website lately, you'll notice that they're pushing a whole lot of fangs your way. Though it is nearly Halloween, the Vampire Marketing has been going on for a while, and I think it has more to do with dollar signs than the time of year. After all, vampire games like Bloodlines and The Hunger are popular no matter what the season.
But how are the Bunnies, Vampires and Marketplace connected to one another?
Small But Mighty
Things like Ozimals, Bloodlines, and Hunger share an interesting characteristic -- they are games easily ported out to an application environment such as you'd find in Facebook or a mobile app.
The other thing they have in common is that people buy stuff for them. Bunny food. Blood Vials. Caskets. Stuff.
If you were to port these games out and make them into apps, so you would not need to necessarily be in SL whilst playing them, people would still need/want to buy the various accessory items they use while playing the game. To do that, they'd have to go through Marketplace.
On every single transaction, big or small, Linden Lab gets a cut.
There are over 500 million Facebook accounts alone. Even if the percentage of people who start playing these games is miniscule, that's an awful lot of potential micropayments, which could spell an awful lot of big time cash.
Even if the people who start playing these games as apps never really join the SL community proper, the Lab can still make money from their involvement. Of course, it would be great if they did -- more involvement is always preferable as it generally leads to more money. But it won't be necessary, eliminating some of the pressure for new signup retention, and chasing after an audience that seems increasingly both elusive and impossible to obtain without alienating the people already involved.
Further, the back end of Marketplace may hold additional surprises in store. For example, virtual horse breeding/sale (such as is found on the Gem sim) has become very popular in SL. People are spending up to thousands of dollars in real life cash to buy virtual horses at auction.
What if those in-world auctions could be supplemented through Marketplace, in an eBay Live style? People could at that point access that auction without having to be in-world, but still take part in the auction itself. Again, LL gets a cut of the take (which could be substantial), and people who cannot be in-world at auction time (as in the case of international users who may be at work then) won't miss out.
If this Marketplace connection does turn out to be fruitful, the number of crossover apps would quickly increase, as everyone scrambles for a piece of the pie- and on each and every transaction, Linden Lab makes money. If you add in the ability for the viewer to bridge the gap between the in-world experience and outside networks, it makes those kinds of connections even stronger, as the in-world becomes capable of anchoring to the other networks and vice versa.
There's only one obstacle.
The Fly in the Ointment
So, Marketplace, Viewer, and Vampire Bunnies are all connected. Only one issue in this web of gold -- Facebook's Terms of Service (TOS).
See, Facebook has a clause in their terms of service that requires that you use your real name. They don't want any "fake people" using the service (the jokes write themselves, folks... the jokes write themselves.)
But until now, there was no way to identify yourself in Second Life in any official capacity by your real name (unless you were very lucky to have been able to actually get your real name when you signed up.). You would need to overcome that barrier in order to assure that Facebook's TOS was not potentially violated in any kind of crossover. Further, if you've already got Marketplace going, and you've already started pushing the vampire bunnies, you had best have a solution to this problem whether it's fully ready or not.
Gee. I wonder what that solution could be...
*On Monday, Oskar Linden announced during his office hour that Mesh uploads would not be allowed via TPV, and would remain strictly LL 2.0 viewer feature, so mesh upload support is not currently on the table.