My interpretation of Philip Linden`s vision

Some of us have been privileged to listen “live” (or through the many repeaters) what Philip Linden told SL’s population at large about his visions and the questions he answered for the residents, at the last Town Hall meeting on October, 1st. You can read the official transcript to give you an idea.
Philip Linden at Town Hall Meeting 2004-10-01
Personally (and this blog of mine surely has shown a few mutations since my original plan for it) I believe that Philip Linden should really host two different types of events. One to explain about his visions about SL. The other to answer insignificant and irritating technical questions. The proof that he’s got a golden heart is that he answers both types with the same ease and depth, and treats them with the same respect.

Opinions on his speech have differed, and I have been talking to lots of residents afterwards. It’s so clear to me now how different and varied our own experiences are. Anyone with a business experience (ie. having owned or managed a company, having set goals and objectives for a group of employees, having managed projects inside companies or even the whole company itself) was drooling at the corner of their virtual mouths – be they youngsters in their early teens or old vets with 40 years of business experience. Unfortunately, the number of people with that kind of experience is very diminute compared to the whole of the population. Over 95% of the residents are either students, academics, employees or self-employed as freelancers – no experience in understanding how important a “vision” is for running a successfull company. It’s not ignorance. You can read about it and never get it, you just have to feel it in your bones to be able to understand it.

This means that the vast majority of residents just shrugged their virtual shoulders, shook their heads, and went on saying “yeah, yeah, yabba-dabba-da, it’s all the same ‘we will look into that bug in the future’ but never a real commitment to a delivery date, we will never have that bug fixed, and we have been experiencing it since beta”. This is not being silly, stupid, or plainly egocentric, it’s just ignorance on how things are done in the real world.

I’m not able to convince anyone who hasn’t had a previous working experience to understand my thoughts, so I can only give you a rough idea on what was important of Philip Linden’s “speech”. Not what was important to me (yes, I also was glad to hear about the upcoming Linux version, or the inventory getting a revamp), but what was important to the SL community, the Internet community, and the World At Large.

Big words? No. First you have to read who Philip Rosedale (the persona behind Philip Linden) really is. You can check his CV at Linden Lab management page, but to give you an idea, Philip is something like the Steve Jobs of streaming media. When people were playing around with WWW in 1995 and hearing downloaded MIDI files from silly web sites, Philip was doing videoconferencing on the Internet. When people were thinking that the Internet would be a cool way to download videos and WAVs with music, Philip was at RealNetworks developing the RealPlayer, which did streaming using low bandwidth requirements, by putting a plug-in on about every browser that existed at the time, and “invented” the concept of Internet media broadcasting (oh, it had existed for a while, it simply didn’t ever “take off” from the academic structure and entered the private sector). Nowadays RealPlayer is a minor player compared to giants like Apple’s iTunes/Quicktime and Microsoft’s Windows Media Player – or MP3 streaming for the open source community – but RealPlayer was THE solution back in 1996. Philip did it.

And he did it not because he had the best software engineers, the best coders, unlimited funds, or “good friends at high places”. No. He did it because he had a vision. He knew what would come in the future, and he showed the World At Large how it could be done. It worked (and it took some time!). I could give you long list on all the key factors on why he was successful at that time when so many others “failed”, but I won’t go much into it. Internet history is brief, but you can get tons and tons of reports and articles on that.

So what seems to be Philip’s vision for SL?

Three words (that Philip quotes a lot): World Domination Now. 🙂

The entertainment world, of course. Philip thinks that SL is the “killer application” for entertainment in the future. His idea is that 3D virtual worlds like SL can slowly replace most of our concepts of entertainment in perhaps 5 to 10 years. Think about it. Almost all “current computer games” are based on some sort of 3D environment – you can do them all in SL using the inworld tools (with objects, scripts and animations). Of course it takes time to do something good, but you can do it (and launching a new 3D game takes 6-12 months anyway, even using a dedicated platform). But it’s immediately multiplayer!

Music and video? Well, you have streaming technology for that, and in 10 years it will only get better. Instead of typing at chat in SL and have a TV set in front of you, you’ll be able to watch TV from inside SL. You can already listen to MP3 or any streaming radio 🙂 (and I’ve been told someone is already “streaming video” into SL right now, I just can’t understand how they manage it). Imagine being able to go to a rock concert by your favourite group – done in SL. No need to travel around the world any more for that!

Expect real-world shops to appear in SL soon. Why not? You can have fashion models showing off their RL clothing lines on a SL catwalk, and do top model AVs to show it off. It will just take a few hours for a graphical designer to do that, and even if the community is small, why shouldn’t you do that in SL if you already do it on WWW? Probably the same could also apply to the automobile industry (especially that the 31-prim limit for designing vehicles will disappear in the very near future). Not counting with Disney or Lego “theme parks” showing off a SL “reconstruction” on their RL theme parks. It’s technically possible. It is easy to do. It’s cheap. So why not? If there is a new advertising channel, marketing people will sooner or later use it.

And what about the Internet? Some 3D Virtual Worlds (like the upcoming Open Croquet already display WWW browsers inworld. SL will surely find a way to do it (the current technology ALMOST allows for inworld text browsing, or IMing between inworld and offworld, but it’s clunky and painfully slow, since LL hasn’t provided us with enough tools for that). It won’t be “tomorrow”, but it will happen soon.

So, when you have games, TV, advertising, Internet, all inside SL… and SL has the technology to provide all of these (it’s just not working properly right now, and people need to have better graphic cards and even more bandwidth)… this could become the “killer application of entertainment” (as Philip puts it). Like a 3D version of what the Internet is today.

Already, SL has an “economy” based on “entertainment export”. If you think it’s the land barons that rule the economy, think again. Philip kindly puts some “economics statistics” on the forums. You can see that there are much more object sales (=content) than land sales, in terms of total cash changing hands. And that trend is growing about 2% per week. This fascinates Philip and confirms that his predictions are going towards his set goal. From the Town Hall meeting transcript you can almost see him jumping and somersaulting when he writes that “world economies grow 2% annually, we grow 2% WEEKLY”. You can’t shrug that off, since there is an exchange rate between US$ and L$. There are about 100 million L$ in circulation, and that represents around US$500.000 or so. Now this is growing 2% a WEEK. If you’re into maths, figure yourself out how much that means after 1 year and after 10 years 🙂 to give an idea on the potential… (hint: around 15 BILLION USD in 2014)

Also note that Philip cleverly isn’t basing this growth on MORE RESIDENTS (which is also happening, but we can’t really know if it will be a sustainable trend, like what happened with the Internet, the WWW, etc…). He just thinks about QUALITY of content improving so that current residents will spend more because better “entertainment products” are available.

Notice that the “L$ in circulation” are not a measure on how much Linden Lab, as a company, is “worth”, since it’s money in the residents’ hands. It’s actually very difficult to define how it relates to “worth”, but it certainly is a “measure of success”!

I think this is simply awesome! So much, that knowing when we’ll have an improved inventory browser pales in comparison. Tiny itty details like that are completely irrelevant when you take a look at the Grand Picture.

And what is the future of LL and SL? Well, Philip always plays around with those ideas, but one thing is certain. He sees SL as a platform for developing 3D entertainment content. To be a success, other people have to use “his” platform – on a world-wide basis (and not only somewhere in California). This means opening the source sooner or later (even if on a limited base), and going the way the WWW went with “2D entertainment and content” (and NOT the way MSN went!). That certainly gave me a warm, cozy feeling of familiarity. LL has got it right!

Philip also seems to think that the success of his “vision” will simply be a matter of critical mass. There are lots of MMORPGs around and every month someone does a new one. However, SL is not really a MMORPG, since residents are providing content, and these “players” are not following rules set upon them by some company. Creativity is the key here. LL attracts creative people from other MMORPGs, since here in SL they can fulfill their “virtual dreams” (this also means that LL does not need a big creative team working for them… and concentrate on “other stuff” instead).

The conclusion? Well, bug fixes and new features are certainly nice to have, but we should really think about what SL is about. It’s not “just a nice game with pretty graphics” (I’m quoting myself) but a new vision of the future of 3D entertainment, and the successor of the WWW/Internet IM/email “2D world”. I’ve still not managed to get in touch with my colleagues at work and do a virtual meeting online (despite doing ALL my work remotely and use almost exclusively IM and some email to “keep in touch”) but I can envision that I probably will do that soon enough – it’s cheaper than videoconferencing, and I have the same tools: blackboards for collaborative meetings, exchanging notes, etc. Ok, version 1.5.X is perhaps not ready yet to replace “true” videoconferencing systems. But perhaps 1.8 or 2.0 will.

Ten years ago, I was busy telling customers that “one day, to talk with us and have technical support, you will need an email account”. Of course I was laughed at. Nobody did have an email account (in my country, at that time there were about as many email addresses as there are SL accounts nowadays!!). Nobody did care. Today, when I file in my taxes or want to change my address on my taxpayers’ ID card, the kind civil servant asks me if I want to put my email address into the database, too. That’s how ubiquous email has become.

Today, my colleagues at work laugh at me if I propose a meeting in SL. And friends find it silly that I go to clubs on SL and have virtual talks in a virtual club (while they happily play first-person-shoot’em’up games on their PCs or hook up their Playstations to the TV set and spend their free time in an “oh so much more sensible way”). Yeah, but in 10 years, like Philip Linden, I certainly will look upon them with a condescending smile 🙂

Who among you has a 6-digit ICQ number? 😉

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