The big news this morning is that Linden Labs, owners of Second Life, has opened up the source code for the client side of SL (the part users interact with, not the servers) under a GPL open source license. Fred Oliveira at web design firm WeBreakStuff writes that this is the only way that the interface is going to be kept up to date. Linden can’t do it and it desperately needs improvements so let a wide variety of parties create new SL interfaces just like the early proliferation of browsers made the web much more usable.
This would indicate that the problem with SecondLife is in the front end and I’m not sure that a statement that can be made definitively. There could well be substantial performance problems on the back end that make it a slow and troubled service. There are definitely core sociological issues that are troubling, like the silliness that is discourse about SL’s 2 million users and gobs of money changing hands in-world. It’s a great vision – competing front ends making the SL back end like a new WWW, but I wonder if the foundation is really there. The company says it’s not desperate, but embracing the inevitable. I don’t know enough about SL to judge that statement.
Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing is of the belief that the client side of SL is only the beginning and that the server side’s opening would mean that other hosts could compete with Linden Labs for users. That would keep Linden more honest and require a business model other than scarcity of land. Doctorow writes that “…by opening up the source code for Second Life, Linden is inviting a competitive marketplace for Second Life hosters. Indeed, they describe a ‘Second Life grid’ of multiple Second Life hosters who interconnect — the way that today’s Web consists of a single Web with millions of servers that are all linked together by their users. ”
I don’t read the same thing from the official Linden announcement, but then I don’t have the technical chops that Doctorow has either. Here’s one excerpt from the Linden post:
A lot of the Second Life development work currently in progress is focused on building the Second Life Grid — a vision of a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups. Expect many changes and updates in the coming months in support of this architecture. Much of the recent work has centered on securing the code against potential threats. More recently and still in development, we are moving more of the communications to reliable and cryptographically strong secure channels.
I would think there’s some difference between distributed servers being managed by various parties and those servers being owned by others and competitive with Linden. I’m not seeing any indication that this is the plan, though I just woke up and perhaps I’m missing it.