A Change of Attitude
To date, I’ve been pretty bitter about feeling almost forced out of Second Life by the grid owners, Linden Lab.  Their frustrating policies, seemingly needless interference in residents’ businesses, sometimes infuriating support, stale scripting APIs, and unreliable basics (teleport, rezzing objects, etc) after four years there.

However, I have somehow managed to find a new peace, and an outlook towards the bigger picture.  This is partly the result of a discussion with Miso Susanowa after Soror Nishi’s opening party in InWorldz, and reenforced when I visited Miso’s “House of Cards” exhibit at BURN2 in SL.  Coupled with Pathfinder'”Jetpack” story also being one of hope, and peace with change, I’ve been given a “1-2-3 punch” wake-up call, and I’m finally starting to see how calming and liberating it can be to step back and look at the big picture.

Generals and Soldiers
I’ve been a professional server developer for 27 years.  I’ve seen a lot of technology come and go, but until now, I’ve mostly seen these as independent, unrelated systems.

So in this industry, I am a specialist, a soldier, not a general.  I don’t mean that from a leadership point of view, but more that I don’t see things in a macroscopic way, but rather… I fix bugs, I do specific things.  I have to stay focused to get that done.  I look at Second Life and I see Second Life.  I look at InWorldz and see something entirely different.

Others, the generals looking over the battlefield — or since they don’t really command anything here, the generalists — might see each of those as one glass of water in a raging river.  I don’t know if that is what she intended, but thanks to Miso, I see the river now too.  I see how much work it is to try to change the direction of the river, and how unnatural that attempt might be.  I see that maybe the best approach isn’t to try to dam that flow, or to try to redirect it, but maybe the best approach is to build a boat, and go with the flow.  To ride the wave, where ever it might take us.  And to smile and enjoy the ride.

The Common Element
There is a bigger picture here.  The river started with a trickle from BBS systems of the past, CompuServe, the various online game environments like Battlefield, The Sims, World of Warcraft, and even more recent ones like Crime Craft and Star Fleet Online.  And of course Second Life, InWorldz, and other open-ended multi-purpose environments.

There is one thing they have in common, regardless of the technology being used, or the features being offered.  It’s the people.  The users, or as we like to call them, the residents.  The platforms are really just the preferred tool-du-jour, used by those residents.

The Troublesome Teenage Years of Online Communities
In the grand scheme of things, the online world is relatively new.  When I started as a server developer, it did not even exist (unless you were at a university where the foundations of the Internet played an early role).  I remember discussing with my bosses whether we should support the TCP/IP connections and the Internet , or whether we felt that the Internet was a fad that would soon pass and be replaced with something newer.  Afterall, it was decades old when we were discussing this in the early 90s.  Well it caught on.  We delayed a bit, to see, but then decided we better jump on board.  We decided we better build that ark… the river waters were rising.  We later dropped support for modem connections, ISDN, IPX and AppleTalk.  And a several connection types that never made it beyond 16-bit environments.

My point here is that it is an industry of change, and while arguably out of infancy, it is still an adolescent.  Things change.  You roll with them, or you go stale and die.  I’m sure that’s where the Lindens are coming from; trying to figure out which new direction to embrace.  As I said in my earlier “Second Life: Growth, Land and Economy” blog posting:

They call the economy ‘stable’ — that’s a great euphemism for ‘flat’, which in the online gaming and social networking worlds means ‘dying’.  You are either growing, and quickly, or you are dying and soon to be replaced by The Next Big Thing.”

Unfortunately, their new direction appears to be based on breeding chickens.  (Just kidding.)

So where do we go from here?
We accept that things will change and play along.  Ride the wave, caring less about where it will take you, what you leave behind, and instead recognize that at this point in the evolution, it’s not about things and riverside stops, but rather the trip downstream itself, and the friends riding that wave with you.

When it comes to Linden Lab, or any other online service provider or grid owner, look at it purely from the point of view of being customers of a service they offer.  And if you want to take advantage of a specific feature of virtual worlds that Second Life does not offer, try a different world, or pick a different target.

So stop worrying or even caring about what the Lindens will do next, and accept that if you are business owner, they will push you over the table and forcibly take you from behind, and they won’t even realize they are doing this.  You have two choices: learn to like it or at least accept it, or… stop giving them opportunities for that.  Take your business elsewhere, or otherwise change it such that you have removed Linden Labs from the control equation.

I have done this by shutting down my SL businesses.  I also returned my regions and abandoned my land.  I have a full region in InWorldz for a home, and for a small city where I provide things for free, for fun.  My net available monthly funds are way up now.  It was just being wasted, and foolishly, before.  And if I want to participate in a business environment, I’ll do that in InWorldz, where I know the founders will work tirelessly to provide a stable business environment, even with the tremendous growth they are having to deal with.

Another approach is to simply have fun.  I got into Second Life for the more complete simulation of business environments, with real humans as customers, and real US$ as the prize if I did well.  I see that was a bit of a mistake now; there are few business types in SL that the Linden Lab will avoid, but I wouldn’t want to try to predict those after the latest intrusion into residents’ businesses.  They directly compete with land owners, even those renting small affordable apartments.  You would think that making breedable animals in SL would be a safe bet.  But now they are directly marketing a single specific brand, to the email mailbox of every resident in SL, with the backing and endorsement of Linden Lab.  How fair that must feel to those who have spent months scripting the competing breeding systems.  There have been many victims over the years.

So if you are one of the victims, stand up again, brush off the crap, and enjoy. Relax.  Have fun.  There’s a lot of entertainment in all worlds, from live musicians to amusement parks.  Most of it is actually free.  And pretty darned good.

It’s A Multiple Choice Question
You can also avoid the frustrations by recognizing there is choice.  If your cell phone provider wants to charge you for something you disagree with (e.g. incoming SMS messages), shop around.  Find a provider that better meets your specific needs.  Similarly, if you feel land in SL is too expensive, but you still want a professionally hosted grid that you can just live on, try InWorldz.  If you want a more structured game environment, try one of the recent online games.  If you just want to chat with your SL friends, ask for their Yahoo/Skype/MSN names.  Or whatever… the possibilities are nearly endless.

Also, many people never really consider that they can actually choose more than one environment.  All of these environments are just tools, and sometimes the best tool is not the same one you used previously.  Maybe your SL business will be entirely web-based.  Maybe you will develop and create content on InWorldz, where uploads are free, and land is affordable.  And you’ll run that club out of SL where there are still more people.  And maybe you will use Skype or Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch with your online friends.  And that way, you survive the flood… the raging waters that you cannot control, the waters that wash away your home or business that you built in SL on sand at the edge of the river. 

The tools will change over time.  The thing is that … what really makes a grid is the residents, not things.  The river is going to swell and shrink over time, and change direction when you least expect it.  If freedom to go with the flow means you have to give up some things in SL, it’s not the end of the world.  It can all be rebuilt, and doing so, and sharing that rebuilding process with your friends, is the fun part anyway.

Chillax: In The End, It Really Just Doesn’t Matter
At this point in time, I’m firmly planted in InWorldz.  But I see that broadening my horizons is a good thing; and I can still enjoy the positive aspects of Second Life.  At least as long as it is here.  Strangely, I am more at peace now with the idea that everything might poof.  Really, the problem with Second Life is that it actually continues to survive; rarely does an online environment last this long.  And what to do with it now that it seems to have peaked but then leveled off, and not plunged and died, well that’s what leaves the dilemma — what to do with it now.  It’s still here.  But it’s not a big deal really.  If and when the main grid disappears, other alternatives will either already exist, or will spring up.  It’s like if a big boulder rolls down the hill into the stream.  There is a momentary disruption, but the water will flow around it; all will continue to be as it should be.  Those riding the wave will ride a slightly different course, around the boulder.  But the river will continue to flow, somewhere.