There’s a persistent meme about Second Life that goes something like this:
The “3D Web” of today is like the Web was in 1994. Back then, America Online was a “walled garden” of content that was separate from the open, interoperable, federated World Wide Web. America Online died and the World Wide Web won. Second Life is a walled garden like America Online was in 1994. Therefore Second Life will die and the open, interoperable, federated “3D Web” (sometimes called the Metaverse or the Hypergrid) will win.
Here are the facts (America Online is now AOL Inc.):
- According to Compete.com, aol.com gets over 50 million unique visitors per month, making it one of the most popular websites.
- AOL Mail is one of the biggest email providers.
- AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is one of the most popular IM services.
- Some of the most popular blogs are AOL properties, including Engadget, TUAW, and Joystiq. Even Tateru Nino’s blog about SL (on Massively) is an AOL property. (The Weblogs, Inc. Network is a subsidiary of AOL.)
- As of December, 2009, AOL Inc. had about 6,700 employees.
AOL Inc. is one of those companies that has constantly changed with the times. They didn’t remain a walled garden and die. They are still very much a going concern.
Like America Online, Linden Lab doesn’t have to make Second Life open, interoperable, or federated any sooner than they are forced to do so by competitive pressures. At that point, they can adapt and continue existing as one of many service providers.
I’m not saying this is a good situation. I’m just saying how it is. Hackers and academics can moralize and complain all they like; it won’t matter. What will matter is actual, serious competition.
Photo Credits: Garden gate by Neosnaps on Flickr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Only 2.0 License.