Second Life

About a month ago a friend said the following before a hockey game (yeah – our team has very geeky locker room talk):

“Is IBM not making enough money these days? I hear they’re providing services for some online world”

At the time, I didn’t know much about Second Life (SL), but had read the news release, so I explained what (I understood) we were doing; i.e. helping companies build a presence on SL. I explained that SL was another avenue for companies and their customers to engage in a conversation, and IBM was helping companies do just that.

I finally got around to trying SL last week. While I don’t have enough experience with SL to make predictions on its future, I thought I’d share why I tried SL and why that reason is significant.

I was invited to a SL training session and in-SL meeting by the folks that run the MLDP (Market Leadership Development Program). The MLDP program has grown into a talent development program inside of IBM. Its history dates back to when Abby Kohnstamm joined IBM and decided IBM needed to beef up on its marketing skills.

The notion that some of the best young-ish folks at IBM were being exposed to SL in such a deliberate way something that really struck me. I’m not saying that SL or other metaverse is going to have the impact on our lives that the Internet did, but imagine the business implications of exposing your staff to the Internet years before your competition. Or imagine if IBM had held an “intro to Open Source” session for MLDPers 5 years ago.

We learned that the SOA Marketing team is quite active on SL and the customer response has been phenomenal. Does that mean we’re selling SL in-world versions of WAS Community Edition or System z? (And if we did, what would a SL resident do with such an object?!?!). Obviously not; SL is being used to get the SOA message and value proposition out, and the folks that are listening aren’t teenagers, they’re business level folks. Surprised, yeah, so was I. (These must be in-SL meetings during a real world event or conference??)

Don’t get me wrong, I’d guess > 75% of the folks who tried out SL during the MLDP meeting will not use it again (for the foreseeable future). But if the other 25% come back, get comfortable with SL and come up with new ways of conversing with our customers, that’s a win for IBM. What if they help build an environment where IBM can play matchmaker between (IBM) customers who are searching for goods/services/information and (IBM) customers who have good/services/information for sale? Yeah, why not do the latter on the net vs. in SL. Good question – maybe because marketplaces have already formed on the Internet and SL is still in its infancy, or maybe because SL can allow for a level of interaction that can’t be replicated on the Internet itself (without a ‘viewer’ such as SL).

In any case, don’t neglect SL because your customers won’t.

Interesting news that Linden Labs have open sourced the Second Life client source code under GPLv2.

Why open source the client? Well, with 2.4mil residents, 800,000 who have logged in during the past 60 days, the value of Second Life is in the community, not necessarily the code. Today’s move helps drive community growth.

I found 2 very interesting points when reading the Linden blog post about the client open sourcing.

“A lot of the Second Life development work currently in progress is focused on building the Second Life Grid — a vision of a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups.”

This seems like a great play by Linden. Let other groups publish and manage Second Life servers in different geographic regions, (as long as you’re approved to do so by Linden I would imagine). Borrowing from a recent discussion with Roberto Galoppini, Linden appears like they’re becoming a open source franchisor.

After reading this CNet article on Linden’s architecture, I think it makes a lot of sense for Linden to enable other (approved?) groups to publish and mange Second Life servers. According to the article, Second Life servers handle a maximum of 3 users per server at peak load. This is compared to 116 users per server over at EverQuest 2. Linden’s server architecture uses cheap servers that can be thrown into the server pool, just like Google’s approach. But with a growing user base and increasing electricity and real estate (to host the servers) costs, could Linden have realized that franchising the publishing and managing of Second Life servers may be a more profitable venture? Linden is already spending $$ on developing the software and has a large community, the latter of which is a strong control point. So why keep spending on the low-value aspect of managing servers (i.e. weak control point)?

The second interesting point in the post:

“At Linden, we have always been strong advocates of the use of open standards and the advantages of using open source products. Though Second Life makes abundant use of non-standard technologies, our basic UDP protocol message system for example, we rely on open standards and open source implementations when appropriate and available.”

Takes us back to the question of whether the use of open-standards is a necessary requirement to be classified an “open source” product.

PS: As with everyone, I’m hearing more about Second Life every day. And as with those of us that hear about it, but haven’t tried it, I have a difficult time doing everything I need to do in my First Life. Which is why I don’t know when I’ll get around to trying Second Life.