Linden Lab's plans for Second Life are as visionary as ever -- "to enhance and improve the human condition." But the company is working to marry those dreams to more practical goals for the immediate future.
"I'll settle for a million active users by the end of the year," said Tom Hale, chief product officer for Linden Lab, which develops and operates Second Life. The service now has about 700,000 active users, who spend more than an hour per month logged in, up from 680,000 active users in February.
One million active users is a big goal, but it's more modest than the dreams of the Second Life boom a few years ago, when Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale talked about Second Life becoming bigger than the Web in 10-15 years. For example, see this 2008 video of Rosedale at TED Talks.
What's the plan today? "Our mission is pretty clear, and it's pretty broad. It's to enhance and improve the human condition," Hale said. "I think that's a pretty noble mission. If you think about what the experience, and the product, and the platform actually enable, they enable people to communicate, express themselves, and connect in a rich, immersive, shared context. That's fundamentally what it's about."
He added: "People talk about Second Life as a place where you go and look at things, but I think it's actually more of a place where you go and communicate with people."
I interviewed Hale on my podcast, Copper Robot. Listen here:
We talked about version 2.0 of the Second Life viewer, and the new orientation areas, which new Second Life users visit immediately after they register. I interviewed Tom on March 31, when Viewer 2.0 went out of beta and the new orientation experiences launched.
The new software and orientation experience are the culmination of nearly a year and a half working to improve the "first hour experience" for new users, and improve the rather dismal rate of people who continue in Second Life after first trying it. As part of that effort, Linden Lab worked on improving the service's stability, Hale said.
Now, the company plans to turn its attention to improving the experience for content creators, including support for mesh import, to allow people to use standard 3D authoring tools like Autodesk Maya or 3D Max, to create objects for Second Life.
Much of the discussion was taken up with complaints from Second Life users about Viewer 2.0's usability. Some said it was a giant step backwards from the previous Version 1.2. Hale said it was designed with new users in mind, making the client more simple and easy to use, and experienced users might very well be put off by some elements. Creative people complained loudest, saying the new viewer makes it more difficult to build 3D objects in Second Life, and publicize events. Hale said the viewer is a work-in-progress, with changes coming out on a quarterly basis, starting with Version 2.1 this summer.