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Tuesday, January 7, 2020
2019: Year in Review
2020 means the arrival of a new year and a new decade. But before we say goodbye to 2019, we look back at it's triumphs, tragedies, pitfalls, and other interesting moments that stood out.
Perhaps the biggest news of the year was the one in terms of sim size: the new continent of Bellisseria. Having it's beginnings in 2018 as the SPP continent, it became operational in April. As the location of the new Linden Homes, it was quickly populated, especially on the coasts and islands where the highly popular houseboats were. Work on it's expansion continued throughout the year, and the people there formed their own community, with events at their fairgrounds and other places. By year's end, the continent was just about finished. But it promises to be an active area in the virtual world for much time to come. For building the continent, the Moles would be the Newser's People of the Year.
Related to the new continent as that's where they were placed, the new Linden homes proved highly popular. The demand for the houseboats was demonstrated when in May, 709 opened up were all snapped up in only 27 minutes. The Lab would announce that the number of residents with Premium accounts had increased that year. It's almost certain the growth was due to the new homes.
One of the largest annual events in Second Life, the Second Life Birthday, would see a major change. After several years of slowly getting more involved in anniversary events, this year Linden Lab would take full charge of the Second Life Birthday. This would be the end of the volunteer team making the decisions. Gone would be things that had started to become traditions such as the Cake Stage and Stage Left. Still, most residents were happy, or at least didn't have a problem with, to see the Lab back in charge. And the "Sweet Sixteen" SLB was a success.
The Relay for Life's 15th fundraising season in Second Life began and ended earlier than before in 2019, from February to July with the Weekend in early June. While these changes took many by surprise, the season continued to do well. There was one additional mini-event, the "Five Days of Relay" in which various motorcycle clubs raised some money. The Fantasy Faire continued to be very popular, with it's well-decorated sims. The Relay Weekend went around a track that somewhat resembled the number "15." The Lindens themselves would take part, some at a Jail and Bail at the Fantasy Faire, and the Bid the Lindens Bald at Relaystock. The team of the Newser's neighbors, Team Sunbeamers, would make Jade level fundraising for the second time.
There would be numerous other events that year, such as Burn2 and it's spinoff events, the Bay City Mole Day and Bay City Anniversary, Caledon's numerous events such as it's Mardi Gras Parade and it's anniversary ball, Montecito Bay's alien mystery and it's NuYu Gacha shopping event, Luskwood's dysutopian look under it's "council," which had people wondering what was in the water, as well as the ice cream, the Sunweaver/Angels renovating it's beach club and the club's Halloween build, the SL fraternity Mu Sigma Nu fundraisers for kidney disease and a Mens' Health Expo, The Bellisseria Fairegrounds Fourth of July, Halloween, and Christmas events, Creations for Parkinsons' Halloween event, the Dickens Project, Paris 1900's tenth anniversary, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators two elections and it's fifteen anniversary, and many many more. One, Raglan Shire's Talent Show, drew in an audience of over 80 avatars, showing even with today's complex avatars, high capacity events can still be done.
Linden Lab would run some events as well, such as the Creepy Crawl at Halloween, the Hug-A-Linden/Dunk-A-Linden at Valentines Day, various shopping and gift hunt "Swaginator" events, and others.
Second Life wasn't without it's problems. Early on, there was a "hover bug" that caused smaller avatars to be a few feet off the ground. When Linden Lab was taking it's time in finding a solution, the result was a "Tinies Protest" at Governor Linden's mansion, "What do we want?" "To get back on the ground!" The whimsical event got the Lab's attention, and the glitch was soon fixed. But other glitches weren't as funny. In the spring, many residents were having to deal with "teleport disconnects" as moving from sim to sim sometimes meant the viewer logging off. Linden Lab finally arranged for scheduled maintenance one night in May that offlined the Grid to the residents for hours. Many would also have trouble getting online one afternoon in October, The grid would still see occasional glitches at times in the rest of the year.
But Linden Lab was still busy with improvements. They would announce that they were working on a mobile app that would allow for limited access to Second Life on smartphones. New starter avatars were made available in February. The latest development to mesh, Bakes on Mesh, was enabled, promising less complex avatars and therefore less lag. And Linden Lab would work more on making last names an option for people that came on since late 2010. In November, they announced the option would arrive at the end of January 2020.
Linden Lab would put the spotlight on some of the happier things inworld, such as the stories about couples who met inworld and took their relationship to real life, "Love Made In Second Life." There was also the "Lab Gab" live show, co-hosted by two popular Lindens, Xiola and Strawberry. Strawberry Linden had been the popular fashion blogger Strawberry Singh, and was hired in the spring. But in December, Xiola would announce her departure.
Not everything Linden Lab did was popular. In May, Linden Lab announced they would be increasing the price of Premium accounts for the first time in over a decade. Later that year, they would double Marketplace commissions. Also in May, they announced they were cutting the number of groups basic accounts could be in, but later reversed that decision due to protests. In the middle of the year, they announced the Tilia security service for those cashing in Lindens for real-world currencies, which caused some confusion. Linden Lab would also find itself the target of a lawsuit in July by a former cybersecurity worker, claiming the Lab had refused to listen to her concerns about weak security, and fired her when she persisted, also claiming prejudice against women and minorities despite Linden Lab touting it's support for diversity. The Lab would also find itself the target of another lawsuit in September, this time by a patent troll.
Some places would be threatened with going away, but were rescued. In May, it was announced the Chouchou sims would be shut down. Thanks to fans asking that they be saved, the Lab stepped in and agreed to preserve them. In July, the owner of the Hangars Liquides sci-fi sims announced the sims were in danger of closing. They would be saved due to a crowdfuner campaign. The Garden of Absentia memorial pond, which closed in July 2018, was reopened in June in a different location. But one important group was shut down. Linden Endownment of the Arts shut down at the end of August. Although some were quick to blame Linden Lab, those better in the know put the blame on burnout on those on it's committee and few willing to take their place. Although no one organization was able to fill it's shoes, individual people and groups stepped forward to try and partially fill the gap.
Sadly, Second Life would say goodbye to some of it's residents who passed away in real life. Fran Serenade, whom inspired people in and out of the virtual world for her dealing with Parkinsons Disease, passed away in March shortly after her 92nd birthday. In May, a memorial event was held in her honor that raised over a third of a million Lindens for Parkinsons research and treatment. Lacy Musketeer, the owner of Nisa/Dreaming Twilight died in July, leaving behind a son and husband, and her virtual family. Many dozens would appear at a memorial service a few days later. Chip Takes, a live musician, died of a heart attack minutes before a performance inworld in February. Tai'lahr Winnikow, a quiet woman whom while very talented shunned publicity and worked quietly behind the scenes at events such as the Fantasy Faire, passed away in October.
Some real life events would be reflected in Second Life. At the burning of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in April, people gathered at it's inworld counterpart in Paris 1900. The 50th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing was celebrated by both Second Life's National Space Society, the Second Life Birthday, as well as a call by Linden Lab for space-themed screenshots. "Hello Kitty" would celebrate it's 45th anniversary in part with a sim and event in Second Life.
Outside Second Life, there was some activity in Opensim. Islandz, the successor world to InWorldz which closed in 2018, was shut down in January, the owner citing real life financial hardship. YadNi Monde announced in March he was rebuilding his noted old build "YadNi's Junkyard" in the TAG grid. In December, the Great Canadian Grid would go offline due to a dispute between it's owner and someone providing services keeping up the grid. High Fidelity, the grid of Second Life creator Philp Rosedale, would go in decline in 2019, and by December was all but on it's way to being all but shut down in January.
Facebook continued to be the source of suspicion due to stories about privacy concerns, and it was hit with a 14 hour outage on March, it's longest in years. In September, the huge social network announced it was planning a new virtual world to launch it's own virtual world, Horizons, in 2020. Although there were some questions about their ability to run a virtual world, Facebook's huge presence on the Internet would ensure they'd get much attention and likely drown out the ability of other virtual worlds to be noticed by the tech media. Among them, Linden Lab's other virtual world, Sansar, continued to fall below the company's expectations as only a few people came in, and mainly for live events. The Lab would lay off twenty of it's staff in the fall, suggesting even they were resigned to their once vaulted "next generation virtual world" having a mediocre future.
In October, the popular Fornite ended it's season with everything sucked into a "black hole," leaving the game unplayable for a few days. Despite the publicity around the event, Fortnite continued to decline in overall popularity and Minecraft regained the title of most popular game. Blizzard's announcement of it's upcoming "Shadowlands" expansion for World of Warcraft, and the attition of a foxlike allied race for the Horde, was overshadowed by controversy when it banned a gamer from Hong Kong from participating in more tournaments for speaking out for freedom for his city. A number of gamers quit or were talking about quitting, and Blizzard's President issued an apology at the Blizzcon gaming convention, the issue becoming part of a greater debate about America's "China problem."
The European Union in March passed a vague copyright bill that was called "A Dark Day for Internet Freedom." Later in the year, America's FTC fined Youtube over violations of the Child Online Privacy and Protection act. Youtube's response was to impose vague rules on posters of videos that had the potential of fining them $43,000 USD if they were seen as directed to children but not child safe. In February, a man plead guilty to Federal charges related to the death of another man due to swatting and received 20 years in prison.
For the Newser, it's been quite a year covering events here in Second Life, as well as outside it. And we'll be continuing to cover it for 2020, our tenth year. Special thanks to our sponsors at Montecito Bay, Lorena Chung Estates, and Farshore Radio.
Editor, SL newser