What brings me back? I read a great piece by my friend Mitch Wagner, who listed five hypothetical actions he'd take to revive Second Life if he were in charge. Well, Mitch isn't in charge, so they might not get done. I'm not in charge either, but that won't stop me from listing my five actions.
Choosing five actions should be done carefully, as Linden Lab's Second Life grid is at a turning point. Will it grow? Will it implode? Or shut down? I think it's possible to recover at least some level of growth, if the right combination of actions are undertaken and successful. Here's my thoughts:
Increased sim capacity. One of the biggest issues, I believe, is the extremely low capacity of each sim. For all practical purposes, a sim really can't hold much more than 40 avatars before things go south. Sure, the sim itself can run well at that level (usually), but rendering by avatar's PCs begins to break down and pretty soon you're looking at a lot of sloth-like grey shapes.
This problem is insidious because I think it's at the root of many other problems. For example, if more people could exist in a sim, there could be fewer (and denser) sims. The per-avatar support cost could go down. This could (ideally) mean lower rates for tier and rent and more businesses could survive. If capacities were high enough, it might become possible for true large-scale virtual events to take place. Today it's just not possible to stage such events as your live audience tops out at 60 (or 200 if you use multiple sims). What could you do if you could bring in 1,000 - or 10,000? Marketing SL would be quite different.
Solving the capacity issue will be very difficult, since there are fundamental issues, not the least of which is that all scenes and information must be downloaded from LL's servers. I think there may be different ways to think about the problem that could address the situation. For example, as capacity increased, perhaps rendering accuracy could decrease - instead of trying to render a scene to an impossible accuracy, just render what you can without resorting to grey shapes. Some of this is done already, but we should be much more aggressive.
Search that works. Let's face it: it's pretty much impossible to reliably find anything in SL these days. My own business has been crippled by this, as have many others. I suspect that the "act of finding" things now has basically degenerated into various forms of word of mouth. That's why you see certain shops growing and others dying - no one can easily find anything other than a small set of familiar stores. Capacity gets at the amount of time required to use SL effectively. Activities take MUCH longer to do if you can't find things. I would fix search, classifieds, landmarks, and perhaps introduce new mechanisms for finding things since all of the above aren't very good anyway.
Console version. You want more residents? Why not produce a version of the SL viewer for XBox, Wii and PS/3? There are tons of such machines with many tens of millions of people using them. If you were to combine a small set of great ready-to-go in-world experiences with a simplified consume-only viewer & set of instant avatars for consoles, you might dramatically raise the resident population. Of course, a sim capacity increase would help this a lot, too. Some of those consume-only console users might even graduate to become full-fledged creators in the future.
Communication That Works. I used to like viewer 2, mainly because it attempted to simplify things. However, the more I use it, the less I like it. In particular, the messaging system is almost unusable and highly confusing - notifications pop up all over and seem to make little sense. Between voice, IM, text chat, emails, group chat, notifications, broadcast messages, etc., it's far too confusing to easily communicate. I think the entire communication system needs a serious rethink and simplification.
Rebranding. I really hate to say this, but it's probably time to reboot SL - the brand. For some time now, "Second Life" has gained a poor reputation among the general public. It's undeserved, of course, but I can't tell you the number of times I mention "Second Life" and immediately hear the words "Naked Avatars" right back. That perception just kills off many possibilities even before they are properly considered. Current residents may think otherwise, but I think at least a few people are scared off and never even consider SL because of this. What to do? A new brand is required, with a new and improved reputation. And it wouldn't hurt to fix up the points above at the same time.
So that's what I would consider if I were in charge.
But alas, I am not in charge. I'm also not dead yet. Peace to all.