"You're a Second Life killer!" I exclaimed to the two young developers of Sunglass, one of the hot new start-ups at TechCrunch last week.
They beamed at me, and said that there was no way they would kill Second Life, because it is a social platform and they are a 3d collaborative modeling device.
"But Philip Rosedale and Mitch Kapor are investing in us," they added joyfully -- and spontaneously.
"Is that privileged information?!" I marveled. I hadn't seen it mentioned anywhere.
"It's known," they hedged.
I explained that Philip Rosedale's dream of Second Life had originally been more about collaboration than socializing, shopping and sex, which are most of the use cases today. (And I think that's fine, and I don't sneer and get all superior about this the way all smirking geeks do who hate it when the porn talks back like it does in Second Life.)
I said that originally, there had been this ideal that we would all collaborate on building together in collectives on sims.
Remember? The utopia of building together. Where we would be freed from our earthly identities, become disembodied intelligences with new names and personalities and would work with free cubes in free sandboxes and build stuff for a Better World.
The early adapters and FIC types of course put this utopia into practice, liberating scripts and content and hating on anybody who tried to monetarize things like the TV script or who would sell pre-fabs to newbies.
Of course, how those free cubes existing only in pixels were going to be for a Better World was a little sketchy -- but if you build it, they would come, and Philip didn't mind if people sold stuff, although he didn't put in exchangeable money at first (that was put in by a resident company, GOM, and then destroyed by Linden Lab's competition as the platform provider).
(Even then, he likely envisioned a world where people would exchange goods and services for other goods and services and everybody could live without cash in a barter economy or a virtual currency economy than never had to touch anything dirty like money -- money that the devs would go on making, however, with fees.)
I explained to the Sunglass guys that the dream of collaborative building was ruined by the fact that the avatar got in the way. He bumped around and the problem of having to rock up to the roof view, which wasn't the default, and learn how to zoom in and out had hampered this.
There's no avatar on Sunglass. Who needs avatars?!
There is socializing tho -- there's a chat interface.
I could add that another thing got in the way of the dream of collaborative building -- people don't like being in collectives. They don't like free, shared property. Even if all the bugs were removed and all the headaches of having to free up perms on every prim and texture before putting it into the group shared or deed object, people just do not exhibit this behaviour in the wild, when free.
The devs were wrong. People don't like collectives disguised as collaboration.
WHEN they actually collaborate as sovereign individuals voluntarily, often what they do is not literally build by committee, or literally each heft a stone and put it into place in a big building, but they do pieces. One person might make the theater. Somebody else might make the plaza and landscaping. A third person might add houses. Yet another puts in orientation or signs or other content. So they have division of labour, not collectivized projects.
Even Chip Poutine, the avatar of SL collaborative architecture, would build his own buildings.
I've participated in a number of collaborative building projects and most of them ended in tiers tears. The first issue concerned the land under the building and who was paying the tier. This was seldom an equal proposition. The second concerned the architectural design and who owned this, and who physically owned the prims. You might commission a building, and buy an architect's services, but the build was complex, and it would wind up staying on your land set to your group, but still set to his ownership, because the prospect of going through and turning over ownership of every prim set to sale for $0, risking theft by a passerby in some cases, was just too daunting.
Of course, you could do a "set land to sale with objects" deal, but that would require transferable objects where the textures would have to be on all perms.
None of these things are insurmountable and I have happily surmounted them for some projects. But Philip's dream of all these happy collectives building didn't really ever come to pass. Most people innovate and generate in alone mode. Or maybe with a partner. Not in a group. A group can lower to its lowest common denominator or to mediocrite as compromises are made.
Meanwhile, Sunglass isn't aiming to kill Second Life so much as CAD or other 3-d modeling programs that are wildly expensive for the average user and are meant for enterprise use. Of course, the average user can use Photoshop which is expensive, but not as hugely expensive, or use Gimp for free.
So the two Indian Sunglass guys want to kill off that expensive white guys' enterprise business with the costly 3d software.
I'm all for paying for software -- I like paid software with services and reliability, which I find less of a cost in money and time than open source software, which I view as unreliable and coming with the hidden balloon payment of the coders' time, which is endless to get all the kinks out of any open source based project. As is known, I simply don't buy the open source hype. I don't care if my blog is on Apache servers on the Internet; the service is proprietary and that's fine with me. Open source extremists don't want tolerance of choice -- like all cults, they want to take over. But it's merely because their business model involves obfuscating knowledge -- sure, the software is open and free, but their services are only available for a fee. Sure, they volunteer to "help" in developing software and maybe even perform many altruistic services "for the community" -- but they still need to earn or mooch off someone, and in the end, Big IT slurps up their free work and re-releases it as consulting for a fee anyway.
As cube3 pointed out on G+, the Sunglass software is proprietary! So they may be category killers and for fighting the good fight against expensive software, and they may be providing their own software for free, with only the freemium customized or module add-ons, but it is proprietary, not open source. Figures. "No business but my business" is the technocommunist's rallying cry and Mitch Kapor is very good at making money this way (although we can't be sure how much he is really losing on things like Firefox.)
Proprietary software doesn't bother me, but it bothers cube3. If I understand him correctly (and I find I only understand him about half the time because he's generating incoherent conspiracy the rest of the time), the ideal world on the Internet would have all tools free, like water, or perhaps very, very low cost. And all platforms would be very low cost, like electricity. They would be utilities -- free or low-cost. And then all the creators would build stuff that they could sell for money in order to survive, and the platform providers taking a percentage of the sale, or a fee for selling virtual currency, would live in harmony with the lovely creators. Cube seems to think that it is greed that keeps this lovely utopia from working. I agree that it is a lovely utopia, but it seems to me that it isn't greed only, but the cost of governance. Software does not hide the cost of governance -- customer service, keeping one set of customers from harming another, and the endless slope of orientation, content provision, etc. Search is a cost of governance, too. So inevitably the servers cost more, not because they are costed at cost only, but because the cost of governance is added on. Start-ups and mom and pop operations eat the cost of governance to such a huge extent that they don't realize it.
Sunglass doesn't feel guilty about killing CAD's business because they don't match CAD feature-for-feature, and because they probably figure that for Big IT, the cost of these programs is a rounding error.
So supposedly, there will be all these grateful kids now who will rush in to use Sunglass now that they are "liberated" from the $5000 to $50,000 fees of more expensive 3-D modeling software.
OK, but do people REAAAAALY need to collaborate?
Second Life teaches us they most certainly do not.
Nobody ever wants to pay attention to the grand prototyper, Second Life, that teaches us the social side of software use, in the round.
When left to their own devices, people do not collaborate. They hate it. There are too many problems. It is the cost of governance.
Do you really feel a burning need to share -- as in "liberate my IP rights" -- your concept of a motorcycle design or a furniture design with some other person? Most of the time, you do not. Do you want to share that design as in "have other people see it and enjoy it and maybe buy it"? Yes, you do. So what do you need, a collaboration platform where you collectivize innovation and design? Or a socializing platform where you socialize and monetarize your creation in a community? I rest my case.
This is the famous c3 of cube 3 -- community, content, COMMERCE. Not forced sharing. Not platform-induced "collaboration" in which only platform providers make money even as they boast "open source".
There's something sort of sad about Philip spending his own money on some other thing besides Second Life. But I can't be sad, really, because why on earth would Philip go on spending his own money on Second Life?! He did that originally, and that was part of why he didn't feel he had to listen to customers -- he was doing his own thing. Presumably, Philip cashed out. Or maybe he took a loss. Then he moved on to other projects. This is normal and natural in the business world, especially Silicon Valley. Same with Mitch Kapor. They are free to take their hard-earned venture capitalist money and spend it on whatever socialist collectivist dream they have -- or whatever capitalist dream wrapped in a Better World package that sticks it to some other capitalist they think is less altruistic than themselves, like big 3-d modeling software companies.