In past than 24 hours, two well-established third-party viewers (TPV’s) have departed Linden Lab’s virtual world and made the move into open-source territory. The Lua coded Luna Viewer transitioned to a more accessible team coding repository at Github, and will run only in an Open Sim world. Imprudence viewer will no longer run in LL’s Agni, the Second Life production environment.
The developers announced their move to OSGrid, Reaction Grid, Third Rock or another non-LL virtual world yesterday. Reaction Grid focuses on the growing and favorably perceived educational applications of virtual worlds. Privately held Linden Lab is merely one option for the social-gaming and commerce metaverse, albeit the largest in terms of active users, name recognition, and level of systems infrastructure and application development.
How important are viewers?
Alternative viewer development benefits the user in the same way competitive markets always lead to better functionality. To-date, legitimate viewers have been open source. If they were fee-based, competitive offerings would still benefit users, with lower prices and product differentiation. The number of viewers available or in development may seem excessive, particularly at a time of declining discretionary income globally. However, applications for the metaverse concept are enormous, extending far beyond combat, RPG (role-playing games) and social interaction. Corporate and government organizations grasp the potential and join educational institutions in actively contributing to development of the virtual world. Despite the nascent technology, they want to show a visible presence now, not later. However, none has taken a visibly active role in sponsoring viewer development. What is the problem? Well, the residents of Second Life are testing its functional and ethical boundaries. Second Life has experienced content theft, griefing, and recently confronted the social issues of gambling, child avatars and adult subject matter ratings. A large part of content-theft and griefing activity is accomplished with “hacked” or copybot viewers. Ironically, the growing content-theft, including the part associated with rogue TPV’s, may be a more formidable obstacle than gambling, public yiffing and pre-teen avatars ever were for Second Life.
Many viewers, many worlds
In contrast, OSGrid has none of this tumult. There are tech limitations, namely no scripting. OSGrid has no monetary system, land is donated, and all products are free or bartered, which fosters collaboration in a frontier world. However, OSGrid is a very quiet place, with an alpha-version atmosphere. While nurturing, such utopian settings are not designed for long-term use. Variety is the spice of life and the human condition: Second Life, with its dramas and growing pains, has more vitality than the “outer Grids”. Note an exception: educational institutions and some corporate users will likely find their goals more attainable in most of the Open Sim worlds, once sufficiently stable to give structure and reliable access.
The best path is not obvious, as there are legitimate reasons to continue support of alternatives to Linden Lab official Second Life viewer 2.0 release. Reasons include ease of use for SL business people as well as the specific requirements of certain sub-groups of the SL population, an obvious example being the RL viewer. LL did release a controversial final draft of a third-party viewer policy, which may have since been amended. Despite claims to the contrary, many thrive on the drama and vocal exchange of opinions in the “Viewer Wars,” as clear by the high post counts in LL’s official Second Life Forums. Yet the issue must be resolved, because the firestorm of user activity and heated involvement in the controversy is due to concern and dissatisfaction. If a solution is not brokered between Linden Labs, Second Life business people, residents and viewer developers, the resulting dissatisfaction will result in an exodus of some part from SL. Maybe they will go to OSGrid and Open Sims? Or the Red Light Center in the Utherverse? Or return to whatever they did pre-SL while waiting for the dust of strife to settle? It doesn’t really matter, because a declining resident population trend of any sort should be anathema to Linden Lab’s business strategy.