2009 comes to an end, and after the traditional snowball fight with the Lindens, where residents redefine the concept of physics-induced lag by shooting everything in sight with utter prejudice, it’s time to relax, rethink about what went wrong in 2009, and how 2010 will look like.

Keeping in tradition, I’ll try to get my 2010 predictions for Second Life (which are more likely “wishlists”) and see if I can match any with reality :) (usually I’m far too optimistic!). Some are easy to predict, but, oh well, at least I’ll be happy to get a few of them right… although I didn’t fare too badly last year, I think I got 9 out of 10 right :D

  1. “Second Life 2.0″, LL’s newest viewer, will be released. Possibly during the first quarter, more likely “late summer”, but this is what it’ll have: dynamic shadows; uploadable meshes; seamless integration between SLURLs and landmarks; HTML-and-clickable-Flash-on-a-prim; and a “dumbed-down” mode when launched for the first time (not unlike the OnRez client which had no “Build” button). I don’t expect anything else but a few minor tweaks and slight interface changes (with possibly a new skin/template engine to make skinning far easier). Everybody will be disappointed, except for new users, as well as content creators, who will love it, even if it means starting to rethink if shadows ought to be baked-in on their newly uploaded meshes…
  2. XStreetSL will be rebranded. I’m quite sure that after the launch of the SL Work Marketplace for Second Life Enterprise users, the next step will be simply to merge both things and rename it “Second Life Marketplace”. There are so many excellent marketplace-construction kits out there (like Drupal’s eCommerce solution, and we know that LL uses Drupal for most of their sites) that it’s simply silly to continue to invest time on the outdated clunkiness of XStreetSL (sorry, Apotheus!). The new website will probably have better search features and delivery options, and LL will allow content from Gold Merchants (analogous to eBay PowerSellers) to be resold to Second Life Enterprise customers as well. Internally, LL will also launch a beta programme for delivery to some OpenSimulator grids, but we’ll not know much about that until it’s launched…
  3. Interop will become a reality. Don’t expect miracles before the year’s end, though. Starting just after June 2010, when the interoperability communication protocol among grids becomes an Internet standard, LL will work together with at least IBM and Intel (and possibly some large OpenSim grid co-location services — which will exclude most of the OpenSim grids people usually talk about) to allow Gold Grid Providers full interoperability with Second Life Grid. This will probably happen in a very controlled environment and involve even more complex contracts than most people expect, but it will finally allow you to shop in SL and teleport to a third-party grid with the full content — without having a single intellectual property issue. (Yes, it means that all content in SL will have an “interoperability flag” on it too.)
  4. VastPark and other similar virtual world platforms will join the OpenSimulator Foundation. Following the lead of realXtend, the companies seriously investing on VW technology which are going through an existential crisis will figure out that their last hope to survive is to make sure that at least their own VWs will not silently disappear and become footnotes in history. This will naturally make the OpenSimulator group even more powerful, add dozens of new talented developers to their teams, and push even harder for interoperability. Blue Mars will believe to be able to continue to be the “outsider” and probably silently disappear in mid-2011 or so — but all meshed content created for BM will then simply be imported to SL/OpenSim by then, and connected to the “metaverse” anyway, so the investment by content creators will be safe.
  5. Linden Lab will experiment with new avatars but not release them yet. Following the lead of realXtend and Blue Mars, LL will start tinkering with avatar meshes, create attachment points for animations, and deal with meshed clothing that folds naturally around avatars. This involves retrieving Ventrella’s code from the freezer and will require so many changes to the existing viewer (including some sort of client-side physics engine) that LL will ultimately deem it’s too big an effort to make it widespread — which would perhaps break 2 billion outfits in the process. Still, machinimists and other specialised uses will possibly use that experimental viewer a lot — and get server-side support from a patched OpenSim.
  6. The “Account Dashboard” will become more and more Facebook-y. This is hardly a “prediction” — the Lab already hinted they’ll will be taking that route. It’s not surprising, since that’s what Kaneva did from the very start. It will allow residents to continue to interact with their SL contacts… without logging in to SL. Technically, it’s easy to implement (again, there are lots of “cookbooks” for doing that using Drupal, and even a few books on the subject; I’ve got a rather detailed PDF on the subject as well). The big issue will be if SL starts to lose interest while people are happily “socialising” on the Account Dashboard instead of logging in to SL… :)
  7. The European Grid opens. Once interop is in place, a problem gets finally solved by LL: how to have multiple grids with separate asset servers, while giving everybody the feeling they’re in the same grid? So probably the first internal usage will be to have separate asset servers on the Texas and California co-location facilities… and add a new grid co-located on one of the central hubs of the European Internet, namely Amsterdam, where LL already opened offices. The Zindra continent will be immediately pushed to that grid :) and probably gambling will be allowed… but residents will complain because European regions will be way more expensive :)
  8. Validation/registration will slowly become more widespread than anonymity. I know my immersionist friends will kill me because of that :) but it seems to be an unavoidable trend. We’ll still get many options not to publish our RL data, but LL will know it — and use it to deal with issues like third-party viewer releases, ‘bot releases, Gold Merchants, and the like. The new motto will be, “if you’re a real person you’re not a criminal” (which is one of the stupidest lies ever created, but that’s the world we live in…) and this will be encouraged more and more. Meanwhile, people will continue to use anonymous ways to buy L$ and possibly move over to the European Grid which will, by local law, need to respect privacy more (not less!), specially if it’s based in Amsterdam.
  9. Raph Koster will give up his company and start developing virtual worlds in OpenSim. Hah :) Well, I need to put in a few predictions that will not come true…
  10. Philip Rosedale will finally assume that his new company is really just a front to look busy, but in reality he’s back in SL doing what he  likes. Namely, developing complex virtual music instruments — his latest abandoned project in that area is from 2003, and it’s still delightful to play!

Happy New Year everybody!