UGCFTW5!

Well, the news has somehow leaked out that today is my fifth rezday; it’s been five years since I joined Second Life (presumably on 22 November, 2006).

I remember some time back (must have been quite awhile) I was lucky enough to attend a Fifth Rezday Party for Washu Zebrastripe (the inventor of prim hair!), and we were all astounded that anyone could have a Fifth Rezday Party. Of course, as I recall, this was shortly before SL5B, and for a Resident to be older than the world itself is pretty amazing.

I can’t claim that distinction. :) But I do have a last name (or a dot in my name, depending how you look at it), and I remember when the Grid used to go down like every Wednesday (at the very least), and when we had real lag, not these tiny slowdowns that youngsters complain about these days. (We didn’t have none o’ these “sculpties”, either; flexi-prims were new and shiny enough for us!)

I thought I would take a few minutes’ break from the fireworks and parades in my honor and so on to say how great I still find SL, and scribble down my thoughts on some of the reasons why.

It’s very significant, I would say, that I’ve just starting taking a serious look at PvE combat and combat scripting in the last couple of weeks. And similarly that I just started breeding my first breedables in the last few months. Two things, each of which have been around for a long time, each of which are The Big Thing about Second Life to a significant number of people, and yet it’s taken me Five Years to get around to them. And there are still more things waiting for me that I haven’t tried at all yet; probably haven’t even heard of yet.

On the other hand I haven’t played World of Warcraft in weeks (months, maybe); because I’ve done everything that I want to (one 85 DPS, one 85 healer, one 85 tank, all the raiding experience I felt like getting). I may get lured back in for awhile to play a Pandaren, and to get my main toons up to level 90, but then I will probably get bored again.

And dearly as I love Glitch for its humor and quirkiness and art, I haven’t been doing any more recently than poking my head in, tending my little garden, squeezing my chicken and milking my butterfly, maybe gathering a few beans from the nearest bean-trees, and leaving again. There’s a complete encyclopedia of everything there is to do there, and I’ve either done, or decided not to bother doing, just about all of it. I know the devs will be adding stuff, eventually, and then maybe I’ll come back to look at it.

I occasionally get messages from other virtual worlds I’ve tried, like Blue Mars and Twinity and all, about how a new shopping mall has been added, or how they’ve added a new beach where there’s a vehicle you can drive around. And these make me laugh, because they’re so trivial. Can you imagine getting a piece of mail every time someone made a new model of car or motorcycle in SL, or opened up a new shopping mall or public beach? Talk about information overload!

The reason, the only reason that Second Life has been able to hold my interest for five years, is that users can create stuff.

(The people I’ve met there also hold my interest, but that’s interest in the people, which could have been maintained via Skype or email or even (gasp) actual visits, even without SL.)

So this is going to be another post like my original UGC FTW post (three years ago, I see!), only somewhat less organized. :)

User-generated content instantly gives Linden Lab a huge staff of unpayed (and for that matter of paying) content developers, who produce the content that keeps people coming back to the world, and keeps them wanting to live there, and keeps there being brand-new stuff all the time, driven by the Invisible Hand of the Market to cater to users’ wants. User-generated content isn’t just about the creators; in fact it’s not even primarily about the creators. It’s primarily about the people who see or get or buy or otherwise experience the work of the creators, and thereby find the world an interesting and enjoyable place.

(I say it’s “primarily” about the content consumers rather than the content creators because, with a few exceptions, we all consume more content than we create; we all enjoy more stuff that other people make than we make ourselves. I create lots of content that I like and that I hope other people like, but I experience orders of magnitude more content created by others.)

I think this is the key thing that most of the people tossing around the weird little milkshake analogy lately are missing. (The original article, headlined as it is “Why Second Life Failed”, of course seems to me to be coming from some Zone of Deep Cluelessness, since as far as I’m concerned SL is doing just fine thank you.)

All of this “milkshake” thing seems to boil down to saying that you can figure out which products are going to succeed by figuring out what they are for, and then seeing if that is something that people want. (Deep, eh? I wish I could think of deep stuff like that and then write books about it and all.)

I think this is actually wrong and/or stupid in many cases; I would argue that most innovations have been potentially able to do lots of different things, and the reason they succeeded is that their owners were able to figure out pretty quickly which of those things people actually wanted, and bend them in those directions. (In fact even the original milkshake example shows that, if you consider the product to be the store and its services as a whole, rather than just the milkshake line.)

And that’s exactly the right way to think about Second Life. It’s not designed to provide one specific thing; it’s designed to let people create and provide to each other whatever it is they want (within the capabilities of the platform). That general approach can’t lose. The platform has to have good enough affordances for people to actually use it, it has to have good mindshare and stability and so on, it has to be sufficiently funded to survive dry times, and so on; but the general principle is just pure win.

From this point of view, it would be exactly wrong to try to figure out what Second Life is, or should be, designed to do, except for the very high level “to enable people to create and experience stuff that they want to create and experience”. As we (and the Lab) notice some kinds of things that people are using it to create and experience right now, we can definitely make sure that the world is, and stays, good at those things. But that doesn’t mean we can decide that those are The Things, and focus only on those. Enabling User-Generated Content in general, and keeping the world good at that, in general, is in my very strong and pronounced opinion the right way forward. If Linden Lab doesn’t do that, someone else will; and whoever does do it will win.

(And that will eventually mean lots of money, as I’ve observed before.)

So anyway. :) Those are my Fifth Rezday Thoughts on why it is that I’m having a fifth rezday at all, and why and how Second Life has held my interest for all this time, and how it can keep doing that, for the Good of All.

Now, back to the cake!

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UGC FTW!

(That’s “User-generated content for the win!”, or “it’s good to let people make stuff”.)

flickr picture with lots of user-generated SL content that it's hard to imagine the world owners ever getting around to making themselves

This is another in a series of posts in which I take some stuff that I wrote sometime in the past as a comment to someone else’s weblog or something, and post it here, so as to expose it to more of my readers, and to get easy content for the weblog and add to my worldwide fame without doing much additional work.

The following little rant was originally posted as a comment to this digado posting, which started out as a discussion of whether browser-based virtual worlds were going to take over, was dragged (by me) into the issue of whether “browser based” is actually a property of virtual worlds at all, and eventually ended up on the question of whether it’s important (for the success of the world) that a virtual world allow ordinary users to make stuff. I strongly believe that it is, but in the course of the discussion (and of a very similar discussion that took place around the same time inside my company’s firewall) I realized that my favorite reason for believing that (the first one given below) is in practice not early as important as another reason (the second one below).

Discussion and comment and the general spreading of my worldwide fame is most welcome. And now, the actual content.

I think that user-generated content is very important for a successful virtual world that wants to be a general-purpose virtual world rather than just a MMORPG like WoW or whatever. And it’s important for two reasons:

First and I admit somewhat idealistically, I think that everyone wants to create, and will create if we make it easy enough and foster a culture that encourages creation, and that everyone will be richer and happier as a result. It doesn’t have to be the creation of the shapes of virtual objects (”3D phtotoshopping”); it can be that, but it can also be textures, or music, or design specifications for an object that someone else will actually build, or room layouts in a building, or text and writing or all kinds, or sound effects, or the mechanism of a quest game, or a set of jokes, or a new way to organize a committee, or a script to power a funny hat, or… But in any case empowering people to be creative in these ways in the VWs means providing User Generated Content.

Second, and much more practically, user generated content is important because without it the owners of the platform are a bottleneck for every single stupid thing that anyone needs built. Someone wants to open a store to sell either real or virtual goods, and they want the store to have a distinctive look rather than being just Generic Store #3, they have to file a petition with the platform owners and hope someone gets to it. There’s a craze in RL Korea for skirts with huge flower-shaped ribbons, by the time the VW owners notice (unless they’re in Korea themselves) and provide the corresponding virtual content, the craze will have been over for a week. A corporation wants a conference room structured around the basic principles of their new Seven-Sigma Continuous Improvement Business Innovation for Stakeholder Success Philosophy, they aren’t going to want to queue up behind the people who are badgering the platform owners for custom houses done the Dark Elvish style.

UGC frees the economy. We know that the way an economy produces the right goods and services is by way of a price system and a free market (modulo market failures, externalities, rights violations, and so on). We know that central planning of the means of production doesn’t work in the real world. Why should we expect it to work in the virtual worlds? Why would Linden Lab be any better at predicting what ought to be designed and created for its residents than the Supreme Soviet turned out to be for theirs? UGC puts the decision-making power out in the user community, where imho it belongs.

And note that this isn’t just about the people who want to create stuff. Even if my idealistic idea is wrong, and some people really are born to be passive consumers who only want to buy, never create, UGC is still the right way to make sure that the stuff that they want to buy is available. A vibrant economy will do a pretty good job of making that happen; a bunch of people sitting in a room at Linden Lab trying to decide what objects to add to the world next will do a very bad job of it.

End rant. For now. :)

End of actual content. Oh, and props to Ahuva, who was I think the one who most clearly brought out the “it’s good for non-builders, too, ’cause they can tell their builder friends what they want” idea in the internal discussion.