The secret of Second Life®’s success was, however, accompanied by an adaptation of the word to describe not only Linden’s product, but a new concept that did not exist before: a community of users that generate content in a shared environment, using Linden’s tools and Linden-managed computer servers to provide an interconnected grid where this content can exist. The usage of “Second Life” was never strictly associated with the client software (the 3D viewer installed on users’ computers), the server software (running on Linden’s servers), or the communication protocol (which, until recently, was even unnamed). Rather, “Second Life” was employed, for the past four years, to describe all the above together as a technology empowering user-created content in a virtual world environment using Linden’s technology. The subtle difference has, however, huge implications. “Second Life”, as employed on the 24 million links stored by Google,(ref) describes not patented software (the Second Life® client is, indeed, free and open source) nor a “technology”, but an “environment”, a “virtual world”.
The situation is very analogous to the usage of the terms “World-Wide Web” or “Internet” (the latter having at some point been trademarked by Microsoft around 1995, with little success), both describing a certain use of several technologies, hardware, software, and telecommunications, but where no definite claim can be made on the resulting environment created by a community of users. Derivative words like “Internet Service Provider” or “Web consultant” are popularly used. The difference between those two terms is that no organisation currently managed to secure a claim to those names.
But further examples are also common, where registered trademarks have been adopted by a community of users generating content for their platforms. Thousands of sites and technologies have used the term “Mac” in their names, or even “Windows” (clear cases where the respective owners, Apple and Microsoft, have indeed solidly claimed their registered trademarks). “Mac” and “Windows” fansites abound and help the promotion of these technologies and platforms. The difference, in those two cases, is that the popularity of those technologies was heavily promoted by their owners through massive advertising and public relations. And still both companies “allow” the widespread use of their trademarked names in 3rd party websites, fansites, service providers, or even products!