Many recent tweets, blog posts and tech news sites have commented on the Linden Labs layoffs. Some commentators are filled with doom and gloom for the future of Second Life (SL). Others tend toward a more matter of fact approach, pointing out that even virtual worlds are touched by the moving shadow of economic recession. One writer, Alex Salkever at Daily Finance writes that social gaming on sites like Facebook’s popular Farmville is drawing people away from mega-social worlds like Second Life. I wonder, is Farmville remotely comparable to Second Life? (Not to mention the fact that most users don’t perceive SL as a game in the first place.) Is Farmville really the place where folks retiring from Second Life’s lag and bustle go to play? I know people who visit Second Life and also play Farmville with their Second Life friends; demonstrating that the general public mix and match their entertainments, and few have a totally singular focus anyway.
I understand that Linden Labs is looking at implementing a mobile version of SL for the iPhone and the iPad. I am guessing such applications will be similar to Web.Alive? As there have been different SL viewers around for a while, a simplified, easy to use web application for mobile devices sounds like it could be fun and useful. The skill will lie in maintaining the different levels of interaction (i.e. perhaps permit a range of different viewers with varying levels of complexity that can co-exist alongside each other?) SL just needs to beware the dangers of turning itself and its ‘easy to use’ viewer into something it was never intended to be, a gaming app for distracted people. In the meantime, the wind of change is reaching far into the corners of our favorite virtual world. (For more thoughtful blog posts analyzing the implications of the recent layoffs in Second Life see: Gwyneth Llewelyn, Taturu Nino, Rob Knop, Grace McDunnough and TidalBlog.)
Change is inevitable of course and our response to inevitable change has an intriguing impact of its own… Will we let something like Farmville threaten how we use SL? When we consider the extraordinary level of creativity that SL makes possible to those prepared to spend a couple of hours learning its tools, then Farmville is like a child’s wax crayon compared to a master oil painter’s palette with SL. Farmville has its place but it is stunningly limited whereas Second Life has unlimited potential.
A beautiful illustration of the depth and power of Second Life and its potential for realizing creative collaboration can be seen in the work of D.B. Bailey (architect David Denton) and his friends at Cetus. In fact, D.B. Bailey’s Cetus is so extraordinary it has received the ultimate compliment and is due to be preserved for posterity by Stamford University Library and the Library of Congress. These two institutions have developed a program capable of archiving the entire glorious site. When the digital curtain closes on Cetus (and that will be soon so hurry over) a slew of creative works by SL artists and architects will be saved by these libraries. This may be an obvious point to make, but the reason these two institutions have invented the means to archive the work of virtual world artists is because it is worth preserving! SL art can be outstanding (and sometimes appalling.) However, some truly exciting work is made in SL and we have seen it vanish into the ether over and over again. Machinima and photography capture memories but opportunities to walk in each particular creative 3D space vanish away.
Finding the means to save the work of virtual world artists presents fascinating posssibilities. DB Bailey’s Cetus is the first to be preserved in this fashion by Stamford University Library and the Library of Congress, and it sounds as though other virtual creations will follow in time. Cetus will no longer be accessible to the public but it will be available for private viewing in the future. It has always been tantalizing to consider how the work of SL artists might be shown in the physical world, preserving Cetus may be the first step towards such an experience? There are other projects attempting to save the works of virtual 3D artists but it seems all such initiatives are in the early experimental stages. In many ways we all struggle to come to terms with the potential of virtual environments. Our brains have difficulty comprehending that which is extraordinary and different. Flying through Cetus in D.B. Bailey’s balloon is a glimpse into the future, at least I hope it is. Cetus is a metaphor for the future we cannot understand, it is full of awe and mystery and imagination. I cannot (or will not) say the same for Facebook’s Farmville. So visit Cetus while it is open to the public in Second Life. Please note that though the creation ‘Cetus’ is being archived away, the artists are not. In fact D.B. Bailey is now hard at work on Locus and you can visit that location and watch it evolving into a new future…
This blog post is titled ‘Love the Ending’, this is not a reference to layoffs or Linden Labs’ refocus; it refers to a picture hanging on the ‘back wall’ of Cetus. If we think of building in SL as an activity that explores the creative use of 3D space, we can see it as an expressive medium like painting. In the physical world the finished painting would be taken and hung on a gallery wall but in the virtual world what usually happens when the work is finished? It must be broken down until it all vanishes away into the abstract folders of virtual inventories. Thanks to these two libraries, D.B. Baileys fabulous creation known as Cetus is being saved for a future where it can be seen again.
Double click on these images to see them super large.
Cyberloom’s following post will show more photos of Cetus.
Visit Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/groups/dbbailey/pool/ To see D.B. Bailey’s Creations