Instead, I am going to bring forward my thoughts on how it came to this. There’s definitely reasons why this week’s implosion occurred, and why it may not happen again. All these events are connected at a very high level.
But let’s start at the beginning.
We have a certain company, Linden Lab, who market a very unusual product: Second Life. This product is amazing, but it is also a very complex thing to deal with. In fact, it’s so complex that no one really knows how it should be set up.
The product, SL, is so complex that while it is amazing, relatively few people from the public are able to manage to successfully use it and stay using it. Everyone uses the standard viewer through which everyone experiences the product.
Advanced SL residents grow to want more from the viewer, as they’ve managed to learn many things about the environment, well beyond the basics. But they’re frustrated because they have only one option.
The Lab recognizes this need and responds by open sourcing the viewer code. They hope that the community will adopt the freely available viewer code to develop the advanced features that it wants, while leaving the Lab to put their limited resources against other problems and ventures.
The Lab focuses on growth. They believe that to attract more residents, they need to somehow simplify the experience so that it doesn’t scare people away. Indeed, the survival rate for new signups is abysmally low, perhaps as low as 1%. One of their simplification strategies is a less complex viewer. They begin a project to develop this new simplified viewer.
Several groups adopt the open sourced viewer code and begin tinkering. Some happen to be professional or near-professional developers, but others are not. Hackers and griefers also take a stab at making their own viewers - sometimes for nefarious purposes. A variety of viewer options emerge, all with differing features, support, release schedules and reliability. Some residents try them and begin to have opinions on their favorites, usually based on their particular needs.
One third party viewer (TPV), Emerald, becomes somewhat more popular than others, perhaps based on its frequent release of interesting and unusual features. This viewer is in fact the opposite of the Lab’s work: it’s a complex viewer including *more* features, not fewer. But these features are well-received by many long time residents in the community.
With popularity, more information comes to the surface about Emerald and the folks behind it. It turns out that several of them have known histories as griefers, some being suspended from SL in the past. It is further discovered that mysterious encrypted information is being sent from the viewer to Emerald’s server. The Emerald team does not reveal their real identities, thus making it very difficult to ascertain their level of responsibility.
Aside: it was at this point I concluded it was too risky (at least for me) to continue to use Emerald. Code written by anonymous former griefers, known to be sending unknown information to parts unknown, was simply too suspicious. I, and several others, deleted Emerald from our systems and changed our passwords in case they had been somehow recorded by Emerald. I feared an incident of some kind would occur at some point in the future and didn’t want to be part of it.
The Lab releases their new, simplified viewer: Viewer 2.0. Amidst fanfare, V2.0 included features intended to simplify things for new residents, but for existing residents it was too different, too simple and worse, beset with annoying bugs.
Viewer 2.0 becomes the default viewer - but because it doesn’t match resident’s needs, they flock to alternatives. Which one should they choose? Emerald was the most popular of the TPVs, and it’s usage grew significantly. Legitimate developers join the Emerald team, and it continued to be improved with additional features. Emerald gained many supporters as residents tune into its unique features.
Suddenly, there’s an incident.
The Emerald home screen was modified by one of its developers to perform an attack on a rival site, thus using the computers of all Emerald users for this activity. Poor judgement? Yes, indeed! Just as I had lost trust in Emerald months earlier, this incident resulted in a loss of trust by many former Emerald supporters. In fact, Linden Lab removed Emerald from its official list of TPVs.
The Emerald team breaks apart due to the incident and its aftermath, but reforms under new, hopefully more professional management. Time will tell if this is so, as trust is easy to lose but very hard to gain. Good luck to the new team!
But both problems still remain: existing residents need an advanced viewer and new residents need a basic, simplified viewer. Neither group is adequately served today, and Linden Lab needs to develop a strategy to address this critical issue before they will begin growing again.