It was only just in my last post that I refused to try and predict what might happen for SL in 2022, but if I had attempted to do so, I would never in a million years have predicted yesterday’s news that Philip Rosedale would be returning to Linden Lab as both an investor and strategic adviser. Additionally, along with his cash injection, Philip will be bringing with him team members from his own company, High Fidelity, and a bunch of proprietry software and solutions that High Fidelity has developed.

This is big news. Here’s a quick potted history for those unfamiliar with Rosedale, or as he was better known, back in the day – Philip Linden. Some time in the early 1990s, Rosedale – already an experienced entrepeneur in the IT industry, had a vision whilst taking a shower – if the legends are to be believed – of limitless rolling green digital countryside, an endless vista for expression, and decided to build it. In a 2002 Wall Street Journal interview, he stated “I dream about this place I’m trying to build, I can see it.” He formed Linden Lab to realise that vision and, in 1999, Second Life was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2008, Rosedale stepped down as the Lab’s CEO, to assume the role of Chairman of the Board, and then, in early 2013, he left Linden Lab to set up a new business – High Fidelity – which many thought, incorrectly, would be something akin to SL Mk2. Instead, Philip’s aim with High Fidelity has been to develop immersive virtual environments built around real-time spatial audio: Think, multiple avatars experiencing Dolby 7.1 sound, from their own individual perspective, and with imperceptible latency.

And now, he’s back, bringing all sorts of goodies with him!

Now, I’ll admit to being a fan of Philip, but not everybody is. Some would say he’s all mouth and no trousers, whilst others might criticise him for being a dreamer, rather than a realist. Personally, I think the facts speak for themselves: He’s built more than one successful company over the years in an intensely competitive and cutthroat industry, and developed new technology that has gone on to stand the test of time. His vision for Second Life is still going strong, and the platform has weathered a huge amount of change since it first burst into life, yet still it persists and grows. I’ve personally been writing about it since 2010, and logging-in almost daily for longer than that, and I’m still finding new things to do and write about. And, of course, Linden Lab’s new owners obviously think he’s an asset that they need to develop an even stronger presence in the future. The guy must have something going for him!

The big question is what does this mean for SL? And, in many ways, that’s a tricky one.

When Philip left the Lab, it felt as if things had lost their sense of direction, we were on a rudderless ship, with no real idea of where we were heading, (some would say, up the proverbial creek, without a paddle). Slowly, things seemed to get back on track under the leadership of Rod Humble and, later Ebbe Altberg, but I think that many feel that Linden Lab is now following a completely different pathway to that original vision. The – now deprecated – slogan, ‘Your world, your imagination’, doesn’t seem to quite ring as true as it once did, and I know from talking to others inworld, that there’s a real feeling that SL has lost it’s ‘frontier town’ feel: It’s no longer edgy, exciting or as creative as it once was. SL today feels a little too safe, too polished, homogenised and – at times – bland and corporate.

Certainly, the Lab has made some sound decisions that have probably secured its foundations for the foreseable future, and to that end, Tilia definitely has the potential to be a game-changer, but the emphasis has subtly shifted away from SL, and that to me is where a timely restorative injection of strategic advice from the guy who dreamed it all up in the first place is sorely needed.

Where it gets complicated lies with what else Philip brings to the SL table. On the face of it, having a slew of High Fidelity developers join the Lab, bringing with them a host of new-fangled techy stuff sounds like a good thing, but you have to appreciate that SL infrastructure and the cutting-edge High Fidelity tech are – quite literally – worlds apart, and there is a vast gulf between which means it is going to be both difficult and painful to bring the two together.The technology that SL is built on was top notch back in the 90s; now it’s practically geriatric. SL, in its current form, is incapable of making the most of modern CPUs and graphics cards, relies on architecture that is paleolithic in terms of performance, and then there’s the content. Let’s not forget that almost all SL content is user-created, by geniuses like myself who make it up as they go along, and a bunch of content creators who are only in it for the money, and who wouldn’t bother to optimise a mesh if their lives depended on it. In effect, incorporating High Fidelity architecture into SL will be a bit like mashing together the latest iPhone motherboard and a Nokia 3310 you found knocking about in the back of your knicker drawer, and expecting it all to work seamlessly.

At best, I think there will be some things that can be bolted on to SL that will be of benefit: For a start, High Fidelity being what it is, it would be daft not to incorporate all-singing, all-dancing audio bells and whistles into SL, particularly since this will also do away with the Lab’s reliance on Vivox for voice services, but beyond that, unless we are to face wholesale and savage breaking of content, and a move to entirely new physics and graphics engines – something the Lab has always avoided for all the obvious reasons – any benefits are going to be fairly limited; tweaking and tuning is probably the best we can hope for. Unless, of course, the Holy Grail of SL2.0 eventually appears… Along with all the massively complex questions about porting existing content, cash, scripts, and everything else we hold dear inworld to a new environment, or possibly, starting all over again from scratch!

Those are not simple issues to resolve, just look at all the angst and soul-searching that went on when people realised that they wouldn’t be able to take their virtual worldly goods with them into Sansar, which – among a whole load of other issues – was no doubt what stopped the anticipated, but never realised, wholesale abandonment of SL for the Lab’s brave new virtual world… And a good thing too, if you ask me!

Then there are thorny questions around the use and licencing of High Fidelity tech that’s already been developed and has a wide range of commercial applications: Are the Lab, Rosedale, High Fidelity and all its stakeholders willing to farm all that cash-generating, proprietry code out to third party developers? If they won’t, then are we going to see the demise of our favourite alternatives to the official viewer… Is this the beginning of the end for the likes of Firestorm, Black Dragon and Alchemy, and – horror of horrors – RLV?

Second best thing to having Philip in the driving seat – me in the driving seat, of his car!

Who knows?

We’ll find out, eventually.

Don’t worry, the sky isn’t about to fall just yet, or maybe it never will, but Rosedale’s return may be a double-edged sword, and we can only hope it’s wielded with caution. One thing’s for sure, Philip is going to need more than his famed magical underpants in order to make it all happen… But, you never know!

Welcome home, Philip!

s. x

Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long,

I’m glad to be back
Yes, I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about

AC/DC – Back In Black

This entry was posted in 2.0, HiFi, Linden Love, RL, SL, SLarcheology, Techietalk. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to WB!

  1. Moon Inworld says:

    Interested to see what will happen. I trust you to keep me informed. 🙂

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