Commerce in Second Life

Blasts from the past: read this very interesting article from legendary John Markoff, written in 1996. Ok, so he was talking about VRML, but look closely about the references he has given for the “future of the Internet” in shopping experience. Second Life users will find this article boring — they’re experiencing shopping in SL quite in the way that John Markoff had predicted.

He writes:

Not everyone is convinced, however that three-dimensional environments will provide quality entertainment. ”The real problem is content, will always be content,” Andries van Dam, a computer science pioneer at Brown University, said. ”What are we going to say to each other which is meaningful? Are we going to be reduced to the same banalities that we exchange at cocktail parties? We can do wonderfully well on the tech side, but the content is still a challenge.”

Even Mr. Stephenson, the science fiction author, said that ”people still underestimate the kind of effort it takes to achieve the level of production value you see on television or the movies.”

John, I love you 🙂 This is exactly what we have found out in the flesh, every day. Content produced by amateurs is of low quality; but it improves, if people have the patience (and the budget!) to do better content. And it’s true — we exchange banalities in SL every day, but that’s ok, since that’s at the core of social interaction.

Now take a look at what the New York Time says, 11 years later. This thread is picked by the New Scientist as well. So what changed in eleven years? Have people “lost the spirit”? Are they frustrated because things take so long? Linden Lab is quoted to believe that we’ll have photorealism in SL in five years — which I can’t argue against, certainly the 2012 laptops, with 10 times the computing power on their GPUs, will handle that — so what’s the point in giving up all hopes in 2007? Markoff and others already envisioned this possibility 11 years ago; we were just waiting for fast computers and broadband; and now we only need even faster GPUs.

We’ll get there and have retail shops all over Second Life. Just not by this Christmas — yet!

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

  • Bromo Ivory

    What a horror the world would be if every utterance made by anyone were profound, and every building was truly a beautiful work of art! And since we cannot “achieve” this in the real world, why would this be a metric for a virtual one, as you said? Somehow when people get behind a keyboard and a screen they all become Benjamin Disraeli, Michelangelo, Mozart, and Einstein? Pshaw!

    But you know what? In the midst of the banality, amateurish world we live in (RL, SL or other), a culture springs up from the mish-mash, and I can see that in SL in fits and starts.

    Interesting article. Seems to me he is dissappointed that it isn’t going to be utopia, and it isn’t (yet) photorealistic from the get go.

  • Ahh, the problem is, though, the more sophisticated the platform, the harder that it is to develop content for it that takes full advantage of its capabilities.