Ten Years of Second Life

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Ten years ago today, a company called Linden Research in San Francisco, also known as Linden Labs, opened up to the public a virtual-reality simulation service they called Second Life (SL Wiki, Around the Grid).  It was based on their earlier prototype platform known as Linden World, released in 2002, but 6/23/2003 is considered the official 10th birthday of Second Life.  And in that ten years, where has the Grid gone?

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2003 map of Second Life, earliest known chart of the virtual world. Even today, with a substantial falloff in purchased regions, there are thousands more sims to explore and work on.

The jury, as anything connected with both humans and Residents, is still out on the matter in many ways.  When I joined in late 2007, it was at the height of the Great Hype Boom, and many of us thought that SL would be at least the prototype for the future of the Internet, basing our belief on the intentional closeness of resemblance to Philip Rosedale’s inspiration for the concept, the Metaverse of Neal Stephenson’s seminal cyberfic book Snow Crash (Wikipedia, Barnes & Noble).  In the 5½ years since I hit the Grid, the hype has worn off; Reuters no longer has an “embedded correspondent,” CNN no longer does iReports from in world, and many people think the whole of SL is a hotbed of venality and vanity.  The promising land boom that the Grid went through at my beginning hit a virtual brick wall with the economic downturn just a year afterward; various policy changes hurt it even more, and loss of founding personnel, including the Master of the Rainbow Codpiece himself, may have left SL partially rudderless for a time.  Many of the Resident giants have departed for the next dimension, or left virtual worlds entirely. (Amutey Decuir of Bliss Couture is closing her landmark house, for instance, and many of the non-profits who camped out for a time in virtual lands left when the tier price was raised for non-profit groups a year or so ago, a move that has been lately reversed at least in part.)

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The Statue of Man, perhaps the oldest remaining build from the early days. This is technically a copy, but it is derived directly from the original, still in place near the Ivory Tower of Primitives as I understand.  This copy is at the SL10B celebration grounds.

The relatively crude graphics and cruder avatars of the early days have progressed considerably, however, with another step forward coming out this year.  And many other long-time Residents have stayed with the platform.  These old-timers, as do I, find the virtual creations of Second Life beautiful beyond desire, and the opportunity to be what we wish to be with few fetters outside of the elaborateness of our imagination most desirable.  More, and perhaps more importantly, SL has provided us a new way of connecting with people, sharing experiences, joys and tears, and even faith in the human spirit and in the Creator who is greater than any person on the Grid and their own small efforts.  At times, SL and other virtual worlds have made us consider how the Information World hits on the accepted norms of Real Life, especially in the virtual world — religion again, but also law, ethics, finance and governance.

Ten years is a very long time in computer terms — nearly a geological age — but merely a day or two in terms of the Real World, and a whisper in the vastness of human time itself.  We’re still in the early days of where virtual reality will be heading, but Second Life, if not the ultimate evolution and perfection of such a world, will have its historical place and its influence on VR’s development.  So happy birthday, Second Life.  I’m glad that I’ve found you and have experienced as much of it as I have, and I hope you’ll be around for some time yet to experience more.

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Posted June 23, 2013 by Harper Ganesvoort in History

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