I guess there is no blogger that hasn’t posted their 2009 predictions yet, to be able to boast next year about how many they’ve predicted correctly, so I’ll comply with the tradition and add mine as well…

First, a disclaimer. Yes, I’ve been reading what others have predicted, and some of them are quite along the same lines of what I think, so I’ll bow to their opinions and am grateful that they have already echoed my thoughts. I’m not planning to be original :)

1. Linden Lab will not launch any major features in 2009

Although for long LL’s stance has been to improve stability and performance, so this is hardly news. Expect a “SL lite” to be available for alpha-testing late in 2009. Good-bye all interesting projects like flexisculpties, shadows and mirrors, finishing up Windlight (i.e. sharing Windlight preferences), the new group interface (with, yes, more than 25 groups!), physical avatars (“puppeteering”) or new skeletons/meshes for avatars. Rumours talk about the introduction of meshes in SL and the ability to run your own grid using LL’s sim software and that will probably be all the “innovation” you can expect from LL this year.

2. OpenSim will grow significantly (but still not be a showstopper for LL)

As per my latest article, and also agreeing with Lowell Cremorne and Mark Burhop, OpenSim will reach a high level of maturity by the end of the year that will make it a feasible alternative to Second Life. Since OpenSim has little marketing force behind it, it won’t grow that much. Expect, however, that “the hundred thousand” (the ones that make SL’s economy work) will slowly migrate to OpenSim, while keeping their accounts in SL as well, and sort of “share” their online entertainment and content production time between both grids. More and more tools will make content migrate from LL’s grid to many OpenSim grids. OpenSim grid providers will quickly find out that they have no business knowledge and not enough technical expertise to be seriously in the business, and many will fail — but new ones, coming from teams of professionals and companies with a good system administration track record, will quickly fill in the void. Universities will promote the use of OpenSim as an alternative to the expensive sims on LL’s grid and the many difficulties in getting properly billed; also, the ability to run OpenSim on standard, unblocked ports, will allow OpenSim grids to be run “inside the firewall” (a major issue with many campuses) for no cost — instead of waiting for LL to allow the same.

The media will miss the “migration” to OpenSim, and will just report stories on how gambling and ageplay steadily move to the non-regulated OpenSim providers living in more liberal and less Puritan countries.

3. Linden Lab will promote “the return to the mainland”

The proliferation of private islands has a major problem for one of Second Life’s most distinguishing features: landscape contiguity, the notion we all share the same world. Linden Lab will introduce Estate Tools on mainland sims (and allow 100 avatars there too), keeping the same price for tier, and probably start auctions at a much lower price to encourage residents to move to a cheaper mainland. More “deals” with communities currently operating their mini-continents will be announced, trying at least to get them “closer” to the mainland. M Linden already promised more land products and services, and this one definitely will be a key point in “saving the mainland”.

4. Content creator ‘wars’ will start to attract the media’s attention

Let’s face it: there are simply too many excellent content creators, and it’s getting harder and harder to establish yourself as a new content brand in SL. Content creators will blame LL, blame copybot, blame freebies, blame the economy, blame users running away to OpenSim, blame the media, in short, blame everything but their own inability to understand digital content creation as a very competitive business. The media, as usual, will get it all wrong and report about “flocks of disgruntled content creators leaving SL in disgust”. Once more, patient SL evangelists will have to come to the rescue and explain what a saturated market means, and continue to be silently ignored.

5. Corporations will continue to flock to SL — in silence

After the fiasco of relying upon the media hype and marketing buzz of late 2006/early 2007, companies and organisations have slowly started to understand that staying away from the clueless media is the only way to continue to work within virtual worlds. Already thousands of companies and entities have entered SL without anybody reporting on them. Countries like Germany or Japan have metaverse development companies getting enough work in individual cities instead of worrying to get work from anywhere else in the planet; this trend will continue to increase, probably exponentially, but it will completely fail to attract the media’s attention, and oh gosh, am I glad about that!

New products and services will be launched by LL and their partners strictly for the corporate market, and the media will still not get the reason why. Second Life will become the second most used online platform for free promotion and distribution of music, after MySpace, and analysts by the end of 2009 will predict that Second Life will soon become the #1 platform. Even SL-unfriendly Apple will be thinking if, after all, they shouldn’t implement iTunes in SL, since similar models are already available.

6. All major universities in the world will offer remote training and remote educational facilities using SL

This is already the case in most Western countries, with the US and the UK leading by far, but many other countries following the trend. This is already “commonplace” today, it will just become more apparent in the months to come.

Gwyn will even finish her own master’s thesis remotely at a local university ;)

7. Business angels and venture capitalists will drop their support on all the ‘trendy’ start-ups that tried to compete with Linden Lab’s Second Life

Let’s face it… this is the year of crisis. Every cool-looking virtual world out there, claiming to be “the next best thing” and “an improved Second Life” will slowly disappear, one by one, as they fail to convince their funders of the financial soundness of their business model — which, in some cases, simply doesn’t exist, and it’ll be quite clear that after the Lively fiasco, Google (and also probably Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft, not wishing to follow Google’s steps) will not buy any of those companies. (At this stage, Microsoft’s employees will be smiling in delight that, for once, they made the right choice ;) — by sticking with SL/OpenSim and developing things like LiveID integration for universal authentication and using SL for developer conferences)

Watch this space as Sony Home, Vivaty, Kaneva, vSide, Twinity, and so many others will simply cease to exist. An ironic development would be if the techies behind those cool projects would come back in 2010 as OpenSim hosting providers…

By the end of 2009, it’ll be clear (at least in the minds of the analysts) that only virtual worlds with a successful business model will continue to exist. This means that seriously-funded, self-sustaining projects like Habbo Hotel and Barbie World will keep on going, as well as There.com (since the US Army will continue to pay for their licenses, even if allegedly MTV is launching their own virtual world software). IMVU and others which are already paying back some return on the original investment will of course continue and expand, as those millions of eager virtual world users will move back to the (more) limited choice of available VWs.

Metaplace and Multiverse are big unknowns to me :) My crystal ball is clouded, but I’ll play safe and bet that Metaplace will not go away since it can be used for 2D pseudo-virtual worlds for kids so succesfully. Multiverse will probably not survive long-term.

Oh yes, and forget all the past hype about Flash-based virtual worlds, or mobile-phone-based virtual worlds, or on how Spore will dominate the world. The only “prediction” that actually rang true is that 2D and 2½D Flash-based virtual worlds for kids are a reasonable success. Adults are too busy vampire-biting on Facebook and tweeting about the colour of their toilet paper on Twitter to pay any attention to “boring” virtual worlds — at least, until finally someone understands that Facebook and Twitter have no valid business models and these will also silently disappear.

Overall, Economics 101 will be a harsh mistress during 2009. Prove that you have a successful business model that does not rely on VC funding, but on actual clients paying money to sustain the running costs of your business, and you’ll survive the year. This will be valid for every SL-killer-wannabe, for social Web 2.0 sites, and for each and every business established inside SL.

It’ll be quite clear that in the arena of 3D virtual worlds with user-generated content, only two survivors will be available in 2010: Second Life and OpenSim.

8. Community-developed “alternative” SL clients will start to be used massively

Nowadays, of the 70,000 or so simultaneously online SL users, over 90% of them use the standard SL viewer. A small minority uses LL’s Release Candidates or “experimental” viewers, and an even smaller minority uses a third-party viewer.

This trend will change. Projects like Imprudence (focusing on innovation) and The Cool SL Viewer (focusing on patches to ensure a reliable and stable viewer with some much-demanded features) will start to be used more and more, specially by “the hundred thousand” — the knowledgeable core group of regular SL residents. New users will still continue to use LL’s viewers, of course, but the insanely low retention rate will make no difference at all on the statistics of which viewer will be the most used.

Linden Lab will have to probably re-evaluate their current policy on development cycles. As we all know these days, from the rapid pace of development during 2004 and 2005, where innovation was introduced every other week or so (sometimes more often), these days the average project at LL takes 14 months to complete, and patches and fixes take at least 3-6 months to be incorporated in the code. LL employees claim that these are due to a lengthy QA process. However, it’s quite clear that QA has been totally unable to prevent simple things like string misalignment to pop up on “finished” releases; not to mention that every bug fix introduces new bugs that were never filtered out during QA. Very likely, LL will focus on the “stability” aspects on their new “SL Lite” viewer in late 2009, and go back to the wild years of innovative experimentation on the “regular” viewer, and try to earn back their former reputation of reckless innovation once more.

9. Second Life will not be Anglo-Saxonic any more

Goodbye, English as the major language in SL. With the huge proportion of Brazilian users (who tend to “orkutize” every major social site once they find it, quickly displacing every other group of people there), German-speaking users on a constant rise (one in every ten residents speaks German natively), and the exponential growth of insanely high quality Japanese content (which is just barely mentioned on the Western SLogosphere), the majority of SL users will not speak English by the end of 2009 (in November 2008, about 51.67% of the residents spoke English as their mother tongue).

This will mean at least three things. First, LL will continue to expand their offices internationally, and look for new countries to deploy their offices and their co-located servers to run the grid (right now, a Japanese, German, and Brazilian grid would be very safe bets — connectivity in Europe will benefit quite a lot with a German grid, since around 37% of the active users live in Europe anyway). Secondly, it will mean a lot of translation of almost all content, websites, and software by LL. And thirdly, the number of third party organisations and companies using their own, local websites to gather new users for SL will rise and outgrow LL’s own efforts — half of the users are already coming from non-English-speaking countries, and this trend will continue to grow.

10. The number of Second Life residents will continue to grow; the SL economy will not flatten out and die; content creators will continue to astonish us with their creativity; new types of events will still flock people to them

Oh yes, don’t get me wrong. Second Life will definitely have 20 million registered users by the end of the year, even if only a small slice of those will be logging to SL (or OpenSim-based grids) regularly. We will survive all the nasty surprises LL has in place for us: pushing residents back to the mainland, price changes, new products which will drive the land speculators insane, fluctuations on the L$… and in spite of the promises to make the “first hour experience” much easier, M Linden will find out quickly enough that “Second Life is not a mainstream product” yet, even with a wonderful orientation area and a much simpler user interface on the upcoming “SL viewer”. Millions will still register to SL and not find any use for it (similar to Facebook, where some people like yours truly still don’t get the point of wasting time in biting your friends or challenging them to quizzes, when there are so many more interesting things to do elsewhere… namely, on Second Life!). Millions, however, will start to “use” Second Life because they’re students and some classes will be held in SL; or they’re corporate clients that were “pushed” by their board to do part of their work remotely through SL; or, even more likely, they’ll be arts & culture fans and Second Life, during 2009, will go through another Renaissance, this time with strong backing by RL organisations, foundations, music labels, museums, and universities.

…I’m now realising that this is much more a “wish list” than a set of predictions, but I guess you can’t blame me for trying ;)