Monday, January 2, 2012

2011: The Year in Review

Another year is gone to the history books, and before saying goodbye, time for a look back. From Redzone to Mesh to a promising new CEO, Second Life has seen it’s share of problems, developments, to influential people, whom left impacts both big and small, temporary and lasting, some well talked about while others slipped under the radar of the majority.

To begin with, 2011 began with the rough times of 2010 fresh in the minds of residents. Not sure if Second Life could take another year like that, they hoped for better times. One reason for hope, the announcement of Rod Humble as Linden Lab’s new CEO. With a 20 year history of working in computer gaming, most expressed optimism that he could help bring about better times for the Grid. Rod Humble began by taking a look for himself how Second Life worked by logging onto the Grid like a regular resident, building and creating.

Rod Humble made efforts to try to connect with the residents, such as a “meet and greet” in February. The Lab also made some welcome moves, such as nearly doubling the number of groups residents could join from 25 to 42. In January, Linden Labs released web-based Second Life Profiles, which allowed people to see resident’s profiles when not logged in the Grid. In July, a new feature was introduced to them:, an SL version of Facebook. While some dismissed it as “a social network in a social network,” others took to it over time.

In March, Linden Lab unveiled their “new and much improved Community website,” which integrated their blogs and forums. They also introduced a new viewer with separate basic and advanced modes, the former intended for new users. In April, they introduced a “Local Payments” system for international customers. In July, they introduced a number of nonhuman avatars available by default on their viewers. This was followed in August by several default themed human avatars (pirate, steampunk/Victorian, etc). In October, Linden Lab increased the benefits for getting Premium accounts, followed soon by a fifty-percent off offer. Also in October, it was announced Will Wright, another big name in gaming, would be joining the Lindens. December brought Linden Realms, Linden Lab’s game prototype world. Also this month, Linden Labs dropped hints they would be reversing their decision to stop giving newer accounts last names. They also began once again using their old slogan "Your world, your imagination" for the first time in a few years.

Not all of the Lindens’ moves were popular. In January, the Teen Grid was merged with the main one, for the first time allowing minors onto the Grid. Some feared this was a recipe for disaster. However, the movement of these 16 and 17 year olds was limited, and those younger than 16 would simply have to wait before being able to log in. Either by the Lindens’ safeguards, luck, or both, there were no incidents during the year.

Some moves by the Lindens received a lukewarm reception. For months, Linden Lab had touted Mesh as a revolutionary development for Second Life, soon to bring crisper graphics and simpler design to the Grid. Trouble was, the Lab didn’t count on the residents’ use of third party viewers, which used the technology of the old Viewer 1 which couldn’t see Mesh. Besides that most residents wouldn’t see Mesh objects, content creators balked when they found mesh objects often took up more information than their prim counterparts, as well as clothes not always fitting avatars. For all it’s promise for the future, Mesh had little impact for most Second Life residents this year.

Other moves that got a ho-hum included the groupon-style “Dash Deals” in April. Linden Lab developed a Viewer 3. It was adopted by some viewers, but most continued to prefer third party viewers.

And regrettably the Grid had it share of bugs in the system. In January, megaprims suddenly vanished in many parts of the Grid. The “Local Payment” system had some bugs at first that left some residents worried their accounts would end up suspended. In April, about 80 pages were lost on the SL wiki due to a “cleanup.” In August, Linden Lab reacted clumsily to a griefer attack on the Meeroos virtual pets, briefly suspending the account in charge of making the food, and causing a scare. And there were times that the Grid seemed plauged with large numbers of sim restarts and resident crashes. Many put the blame for this on Mesh updates.

One problem the Grid faced early in the year was the RedZone Controversy. The Redzone system was a product marketed as an account alt detector that actually worked by tracking down people’s IP addresses. With privacy fears raised, many demanded Linden Lab take action, and eventually Redzone was ordered taken down, followed by the banning of its creator zFire Xue. As it turned out, zFire was on parole for a criminal offense. He was placed under arrest and given four months in prison. Another legal problem, Universal raising objections to the Battlestar Galactica roleplayers was resolved when the content creators for the roleplays told the company they wound not charge for their goods.

Second Life hosted a number of events in 2011. Most publicized by Linden Lab was the Second Life Eighth Birthday, in which many dozens of exhibits were on display showing a variety of some of the best of the Grid. Other major events included the annual Burn2 in October, which was the SL version of the yearly Burning Man festival in California, and the Relay for Life Walk in July, the high point of the noted fundraiser for cancer research which raised a record $373,000 US Dollars. Relay for Life also hosted a number of smaller events, such as the RFL Fantasy Faire. Other events this year included the Sci-Fi Faire, the Australia Day fundraiser, the Valentines Day “Kiss a Linden,” The Zindra Expo, The “Wounded Warriors” bennefit concerts, Jamm for Genes, The Veterans Tribute, the Fearless Festival, the 7Seas Fisherfest, the Bid4aCure date auction, and many more.

Real life events often found their way into Second Life. The anti-Mubarak protests in Egypt were sometimes reflected in the Egypt sim with various residents, Egyptians and otherwise holding protests signs. The “Occupy” movement also found it’s way to the Grid with “Occupy SL.” Second Life was also the location of disaster relief fundraisers. The Japan tsunami in March inspired a number of relief events, even getting the spotlight from Linden Lab. When Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina, live singer Debi Latte’s hometown was among those hit the hardest. A fundraiser for the town raised hundreds. The killing of Osama Bin Laden inspired a group in Second Life to recreate his Pakistan compound. The same group would later build a virtual space shuttle, and launched it the very second the last real shuttle launch took place. And on September 11, a number of locations held memorials and vigils.

Third party viewers continued to make the news in 2011. The rejection of Linden Lab’s Viewer 2 by most longtime residents inspired Team Phoenix to try to develop their own version. With the development of Mesh, it became the first third party viewer to be available to see it. Trouble was, these viewers were seen as having a smaller frame rate. One viewer, Kristens, ceased development when the creator had to find more real life work. It temporarily got a repreive when he tried raising funds for hsi work through the website Crowdfunder, but it didn’t work.

Among virtual pets, the Ozimal bunny/Amareto horse feud soon was overshadowed by a brand new kind of breedable critter: the Meeroo. This churring, snuggly pet won the hearts of many residents. Even after hit by a griefer attack that threatened to starve the pets, sales continued to do well. With avatars, the sudden popularity of the “My Little Pony” cartoon inspired someone to create a “brony” avatar, and passed around for free the avatar quickly gained a following. The popularity took a hit when the brony sim “Bronyvile” was taken down after a griefer incident. But the community soon bounced back with another, and the avatar remains popular.

Second Life had its share of goodbyes in 2011. SL artist Sabrinaa Nightfire passed away in March. Another artist, Feathers Boa, left the Grid with no plans to return. In July, Paisley Beebe announced she was leaving Treet TV, bringing her popular “Tonight Live” show to an end. A number of sims also closed down, some quietly, some not. Among them were Apollo Gardens, New York City Block, Alien Isle, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Second Life, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, and AM Radio’s art exhibits. Some places, however, got a second chance after a brush with closing. Abbot’s Areodome and the “Crooked House” were among them.

For alternative virtual worlds, 2011 seemed to have mixed results. In January, the company behind Blue Mars, once seen as having the potential to replace Second Life as the top electronic world, announced a “restructuring” in which they would concentrate on a smaller iPod/iPad version while no longer working on their virtual world beyond bug fixes. Another virtual world, Meta7, closed down on May 1st after a court order against them. The company behind the defunct “” seemed to express interest in bringing back the virtual world by releasing a survey asking people if they would pay to log back in. Avination and Inworldz continued to make some headlines. They weren’t without problems, the influx of new residents slowing down, and rumors for a short time that one of Team Emerald banned from Second Life was on the staff at Avination. But they also had some triumphs, Avination in August throwing a bash to celebrate it’s first aniversary, and both worlds holding events that could match some of those on Second Life.

Social media and Second Life often had an uneasy relationship. Use of Facebook by residents was widespread, the Second Life page on Facebook getting thousands of "Likes." But officially, Facebook called the use of account names against their terms of service. In May, Facebook disabled thousands of their accounts used by Grid residents for this reason. Some gave in and changed their account name to match their real-life one. Others simply set up new accounts, which was also considered against Facebook's rules. Residents who weren't banned watched nervously, wondering if Facebook would do another mass banning, but didn't. Google's social network turned out to be even worse in it's insistence users could use only real-life names, many Second Life users getting canned, or seeing what was going on and quitting on their own. Google Plus would eventually be retired.

Second Life’s recovery largely went unnoticed by the mainstream media, but it did get a little attention. In May, PC World called it one of the “11 Most Influential Online Worlds of all time.” In August, the Oprah Winfrey Network did a show on Second life, “Life 2.0,” in which the looked at “the lives of several Second Life Residents, whose real lives have been drastically transformed by new lives they lead in cyberspace.” Some residents felt it was an unflattering look at online relationships, though others felt it was a welcome change from the mainstream media largely ignoring the Grid.

As 2012 approached, Linden Lab announced they would soon be working on other products besides Second Life. This development was greeted with worry by a few, but most more or less accepted the move. What did raise worries by numbers of Second Life residents was news of the SOPA Bill in Congress, which raised fears of Chinese-style censorship over the Internet. But residents on the whole are hopeful for a good new year, feeling more confident it's their world, their imagination.

2011 was an eventful year for the Grid, the first complete year Second Life Newser covered from start to finish. And as 2012 arrives, we’ll do our best once gain to give you the news.

Bixyl Shuftan

1 comment:

  1. Forgot to add Shakespeare's Globe Theater among the places that went away. Never saw a play there, but still sad to see a place of culture go.