Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Labs, better known to the online world as the creators of Second Life, often says pretty outrageous things. He has previously said of his time-wasting personality-vacuum geek-magnet: “It works just like Google, where each server is a single, cheap one that basically operates and is automatically deployed by our systems and simulates the systems” (err, yeah, just like Google...) and then "We think of Second Life as the Internet in 1994" (why?).
Do you see where he's going with this? It's quite subtle, until you see the latest from the Stanford Summit this week: "In ten years, virtual access will be more prevalent than web access". So, within 10 years, by 2017, Second Life will be bigger than the Internet itself.
How are people going to access this virtual world? At home on their big mainframes they share with a few thousand close personal friends? Will we each have personal worlds we share with our families on our laptops? I don't get it. Have we redefined the Internet? This is like saying that one day we will have planets bigger than the universe. It just can't ever be true.
But before anyone can even start questioning Rosedale's God-complex and delusions of internet imploding grandeur, Jaron Lanier diverts attention with his own special brand of weirdness: "in 25 years, we will all get rich buying and selling virtual goods".
OK OK, stop it guys, my sides are hurting. What? You mean I can sit at my PC all day, churning code, and I'll get rich? I was born 20 years too early. The geek shall inherit the Earth? What with all the floods and fires and plagues going around I'm beginning to think of the Bible as a literal text. Have I been living in a Catholic country for too long? Maybe life in a virtual world is the safest place to be right now.
This was explained a bit better by Karl Jacob: "We believe there's a world five years down the road - three years down the road - where the most common thing you do on a social network is buy the things you want to dress up your profile with and the applications you need in order to do that.” Then he made an analogy between virtual goods and the current ring-tone market. This is already happening of course. Karl is quite right. This isn't such a stretch of imagination, but how does this get from a few cents here and there for fancy clothes that you can't be bothered to code yourself to "getting rich buying and selling".
I know Second Life has already had it's first millionaires, but is this really sustainable? OK, maybe at a stretch people can make some cash in the short term, until Google get in on the act and give it away for free that is. Or Microsoft make it so easy to "code it yourself" that everyone can build their own spaceships, craft Jimmy Choos and breed dolphins at will. It's the advertising that makes the money, a fact recognised by Gina Bianchini, CEO of Ning: "I think that if I had to choose between the targeted advertising market and the ring-tone market, I’d choose targeted advertising."
Are we really all going to get sucked into virtual worlds through social networking? This sounds dangerously like drug addiction, brain washing, or cultism.
Travis Katz of MySpace seems to be the only one who has his head screwed on, and even then he ends up sounding like Satan: "Knowing how addictive this stuff, I can imagine the whole thing (social networking for business) going horribly wrong and nobody getting anything done. Mwahahahahahaaaa." OK, I added the last bit myself. Oh, you reckon that'll happen do you? There have already been several reports about the recent Facebook downtime increasing daily output by several thousand man hours.
I worry for the safety of mankind, I really do. Enjoy your Second Lives, I'll be making amends for my first one at confessional.
[Most of the quotes here are taken from TheRegister article "Ringtones will replace imagination and be woven into clothes", reporting from the Stanford Summit, available here.]