Second Life has just announced that the Second Life client has been released under an open source license, and they described their move to open source as “inevitable”:
“At Linden, we have always been strong advocates of the use of open standards and the advantages of using open source products. Though Second Life makes abundant use of non-standard technologies, our basic UDP protocol message system for example, we rely on open standards and open source implementations when appropriate and available. Since many of the components that will make up this network are not yet done, we are not publishing long white papers or RFCs at this time — instead, we are giving everyone what we have along with a goal of producing those open standards with the input and assistance of the community that has brought Second Life to where it is now.
Releasing the source now is our next invitation to the world to help build this global space for communication, business, and entertainment. We are eager to work with the community and businesses to further our vision of our space.” (Quote from the Second Life Blog)
I also found it interesting that Linden Lab specified the GNU GPL version 2, rather than releasing it under the GPL and future versions … another company hedging its bets on the still under development GPL v3.
I think this is a great move for Linden Lab, and an astute business decision. By releasing the client software under open source, residents can modify their client experience, while Linden Lab continues to provide the server side code, which is where they make their revenue. Linden Lab is providing a more flexible environment for users, which should translate to additional users, and at the same time, they continue to have the revenue stream required to keep Second Life in business.
Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I am a huge fan-girl for web 2.0, online communities, and social interactions. I am also known to occasionally hang out in Second Life, and I think that virtual worlds hold tremendous potential from a community standpoint and from a corporate marketing standpoint.
However, I am a bit troubled by the recent trend of making corporate announcements and holding Q&As in virtual worlds like Second Life with no alternate means of participation. Sun hosted a Q&A in Second Life to talk about the open source Java announcement yesterday. This morning, Dell held an invite only press event to announce a new Second Life island where people can buy real world Dell PCs or virtual PCs for their avatars to use. Holding press events in Second Life sounds like a great idea until you consider the realities of Second Life:
Not everyone has a Second Life account
Many people do not know how to navigate within the virtual world to effectively participate in the event.
Most laptops (and some desktops) do not have the horsepower required to run Second Life.
Frustrating the press is probably not the best way to promote a new product. At least one journalist (according to TechCrunch) passed on the opportunity to attend the Dell announcement, since it was not worth the hassle. Allison Randall at O’Reilly had issues running Second Life on her laptop where “only half the avatars at the event and on stage were rendered (leaving me the interesting task of trying out “empty” seats to figure out which were actually empty and which were occupied by invisible avatars)”
I do think that these two examples are significant, and I am impressed by Sun’s and Dell’s ability to embrace new opportunities; however, the execution of these events was not ideal. Dell probably should have done a traditional press event with minimal information to generate some awareness and excitement followed by a Second Life event providing more detail to the residents. The reality is that the intersection between the press and Second Life users are probably fairly small, so the press might not be the best virtual audience. In general, companies should consider providing real world information using real world events while providing information relevant to Second Life residents within the virtual world.
Many companies are initiating marketing campaigns designed to generate revenue in the “real world” via virtual world marketing through Second Life and other online environments. If you are interested in hearing my thoughts on virtual marketing, you can visit my Intel Trends in Web 2.0 blog.