SL Exchange: The End of Malls?

While they certainly deserve more promotion, I don’t really write this as a “sponsored ad” to SL Exchange, but just to present a new economic model emerging from the hard work of Apotheus Silverman & Merwan Marker, which may probably represent one of the biggest changes in the way we view the SL economy.

Anyone who has shopped in SL for Christmas, having a specific idea in mind – say, a special item, a piece of clothing, or something – to give as a gift for a friend, knows what I’m talking about. There are no good search facilities in SL (while they’re promised for an upcoming major version, say 1.7 or so, which should be around in the summer of ’05). Even when you locate a certain type of item you wish to buy, and teleport to a mall where it’s available… well, you have lag to consider!

Malls serve the same purpose in SL as they do in RL: in a limited space, you get all sorts of small shops and can browse around to find lots of items. So you don’t waste time hopping from place to place to find what you need. And most “brands” (ie. merchants with a good reputation) will rent space on several malls, so you’ll be able to quickly compare prices and buy quickly what your budget allows – or, by contrast, just stroll around the many booths and vendors, and pick what you like 🙂

However, SL is not RL… meaning, malls are laggy in Second Life® (while they’re only “busy” in your real life), sometimes to a point, that shopping isn’t fun anymore. Or, if it’s not “fun” you’re after… it means it’s so hard to browse through the many vendors until you find the item you wish that it starts to be pointless.

So, until LL introduces Google-style searching inside SL, what is your alternative to shopping?

Enter SL Exchange (or, if you wish, it’s nearest competitor, Second Server). This is a mix of Amazon and eBay for Second Life®. Or, if you prefer, it’s a site where you can browse among over 3500 items (at the time I’m writing this) and get them delivered in-world – paying in L$!

This is not “rocket science” – the technology for doing it (using email and XML/RPC) has been around in SL for over an year. However, perhaps it reminds too much of the way people use to shop for stuff for The Sims, and that’s perhaps a “psychological” reason for not having it appear sooner in SL.

Is it worth it? You bet it is! You can browse the site when offline, compare prices, quickly see what’s available, search for related stuff, you name it. It’s a typical “online mall” like hundreds of others in RL. You want to buy something, you click on it. Your account is billed the appropriate amount of L$, and the item is delivered in-world – automatically. Never fails, and it’s so easy, you’ll be spending most of your money here 🙂 Actually, I found out that I buy much more stuff on a “shopping spree” at SL Exchange than in-world. Even the “trouble” of launching a browser when in-world, select the item, and get it delivered in half a minute or so, is much less troublesome than teleporting to the nearest mall and waiting for the first vendors to rez in…

And what about merchants? Well, SL Exchange charges a 10% fee on all your sales. This will probably make a few merchants frown. On the other hand, remember: you don’t pay any weekly fees, you don’t need to buy/script vendors, you don’t need to painfully visit each and every one of your shops in-world, and you have nice spreadsheets with all the transactions, and lots and lots of feedback on when you sold an item and to whom.

From my personal experience… I had up to 6 small vendors in-world, and I sold perhaps L$500 on a good month. It never paid for the rents. Now, on SL Exchange, I make perhaps L$5000 per month! (most of it is spent directly on other items sold at SL Exchange, of course)

Another great advantage is being comfortable with the Web paradigm. Things like ads, links to sites (or parts of sites), or Web promotion are pretty well understood, documented, and grasped immediately by anyone who has used the Internet. This means that all “tricks of the trade” to promote your product over a Web interface is much more accessible to the “average user” – than doing the same in-world.

I foresee things like SL Exchange and SecondServer as “the way to go” for the economy of SL. This will mean that malls (and eventually even shops) are currently singing their swan’s songs. The only “advantage” you may have of shopping in-world is the ability to “try before you buy” – like animations, or sitting on furniture, or driving a car, or using some kind of weapon (on the other hand, I expect that nobody will buy clothes/fashion accessories and textures any more…). Will this have a serious impact in the way people plan their malls in the future? Will finally the number of malls diminish to be more consistent with SL’s population? (we have the size of a 2 million city, with the appropriate number of malls/casinos/clubs, but just 17 or 18 thousand residents… which aren’t ever online at the same time!)

The only thing that I really pity is that the in-world 3D shopping model is not wrong. It works, it’s much nicer than web shopping, it replicates part of the nice experience of RL shopping… but is hopelessly crippled by lag. Beyond a certain threshold – around 200 or 300 scripted objects in the same region, over 15 avatars in the same place, or a combination of both – SL breaks completely. It’s no fun shopping with less than 1 frame per second!

Instead of crying for LL “to fix stuff” (this issue is much more complex than that – believe me, if it were easy, it had been “fixed” years ago 🙂 ), some residents are abandoning the notion of in-world shopping, and relying instead on other ways to sell their products and wares. Web shopping seems to be one of the best alternatives so far. I hope that Linden Lab is following this trend closely (they certainly know about SL Exchange 🙂 ) and rethink their strategy for improving the rendering engine.

After all, at the end of the day, a completely different approach to the rendering engine is what will enable lag to slowly disappear. But don’t hold your breath – it is way difficult!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email