Open Second Life — The Roadmap?

Open Source InitiativeAlthough it doesn’t come as a surprise to many of us, Linden Lab has slowly gathering up momentum on their future development strategy for Second Life, which, as we all know, is making the whole code open source.

We know now that the major reason for doing so is not simply “being nice” (which they certainly are 🙂 ). The whole point is that Linden Lab is unable to hire the thousands of programmers it needs to make Second Life, as a product, do everything we wish. And I’m not simply talking about “fixing bugs” (which is always the first thing that everybody mentions) or “getting rid of lag” (which would be the second one!).

No, we’re in fact thinking way beyond these two things — which are short-term anyway — which is basically drafting the guidelines on how Second Life should evolve during the 2010s. In essence, planning for the future: thinking what Second Life is supposed to become in the next decade. And Linden Lab is being pretty open about it (pun intended).

This time, we don’t see any of their usual arrogance in the past: “hey, we know what we’re doing, and we’ll just implement what we wish, and let you just applaud our wisdom and technical know-how”. Apparently — and this is what I find far more interesting — Linden Lab has stepped down from their Ivory Tower, took a deep breath, rolled up their sleeves, and said: “all right, everybody, let’s see what we can do (together) to improve the way Second Life works”.

Such a positive attitude! Linden Lab is obviously not the fire-breathing chimera that most people think they are, but still, this is a novel approach that they’re trying out. No more “secret talks” at the SL Views (which are still going on, they simply don’t get any more publicity) or “Lindens sitting with the FIC on dark corners of the grid” and whispering about the Big Changes to the Selected Few, slapping NDAs on them afterwards. This time, at least, nobody can blame them for doing it all, well, in the open.

The first step was pretty simple: open up pages on their Wiki and allow people to comment there; allow people to enter features and comments on the bugs listed at the Jira; and, of course, keeping in-world office hours, something that has become popular among many residents as well. The Office Hours seem to have replaced the whole concept of the Town Halls, and it works — instead of getting hundreds of angry residents trying by all means to shut the Pooley stage down, there are comfortable meetings every week, and since there are so many, the meetings are friendly and usually to the point. Also, they’re attended by residents specifically interested in certain topics, instead of being very generic (although the higher up the hierarchy — like when Philip or Robin are in-world — the more likely the conversation degenerates into generic issues about “policy” and “strategy”).

For the Open Source efforts, people like Zero Linden are quite fundamental, since he seems to be coordinating all the work that goes “under the hood” — ie. low-level communications. And, apparently, this is now something that is quite open to discussion. And it is being discussed.

Besides the in-world discussions and the Wiki/mailing list discussions, we have major bloggers like Tateru Nino dedicating a whole series on uncovering the way the SL Grid works, and proposing changes. Tao Takashi is also doing the same. The important thing at this stage is to raise awareness by calling interested people to the drawing board.

I believe this is the major opportunity for the open source advocates and system engineers that have been yelling at Linden Lab for the past four years that they have got it “all wrong” (Morgaine Dinova, I seriously hope you’re reading this!!). It’s time to guide Linden Lab to do it right — with our help. LL has widely opened the door, embraced the project wholeheartedly, and given us the keys to the command centre.

Now it’s up to us. If we ignore the opportunity, we’ll miss the last chance to “do the right thing”, as well as forfeiting our “right” (claimed for so long!) of fully participating in the design of the next stage of Second Life, instead of being mere spectators.

So it’s time to stand up from our cosy chairs and get some work done 🙂

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