Creator of ‘Second Life’ shares lessons from one of the world’s first metaverses

Second Life continues to be updated consistently to this day, with the most recent patch being shipped on March 14th. (Linden Labs image)

Philip Rosedale spent a lot of time thinking about the “metaverse” long before it became a buzzword in today’s tech world, and he has plenty of lessons to share with technologists building related software for the future.

Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab and creator of the open-ended construction/simulation game Second Life, recently spoke at Madrona Venture Labs’ Launchable event and sat down for an interview with veteran tech exec Spencer Rascoff, who will be presenting an episode of his podcast Office recorded. hours.

Philip Rosedale.

Rosedale founded Linden in 1999, which went on to launch Second Life in 2003. Linden is currently headquartered in San Francisco, with satellite offices in Seattle, Boston, Charlottesville, and Davis, California. Rosedale was CEO until 2008 and is currently back with Linden as a strategic advisor.

Variously described as an online multimedia platform, a virtual space, and one of the strangest experiences you could have on the internet in the 2000s, SL effectively paved the way for many of the basic concepts that fit with the current idea of ​​the metaverse. This includes in-game currency, avatar design, and a quirky, Web 1.0-esque take on a decentralized economy. To this day, almost 19 years old, there are people who really make a living from what they can create within Second Life and sell to other users.

Players in SL participate in the world through a custom avatar, which can take just about any shape, and can shape the world around them through a specialized programming language. Over the years, fans have created museums, stadiums, research centers, radio stations and churches in SL, with several countries going so far as to open virtual embassies.

That puts Rosedale in a unique position with regard to the metaverse, as he has essentially been working in total space since 2003. Most of what metaverse boosters have discussed is something that’s already possible in Second Life, and Linden Lab has already done that. had many of the problems that companies like Meta face.

Business Hours: Virtual Reality Pioneer Philip Rosedale and the Future of the Metaverse

According to Rosedale, speaking in passing, about a million users still use Second Life today, but there aren’t a hundred million because “it doesn’t work for adults yet.” The problem with an avatar is that it doesn’t match the amount of information communicated by looking directly at another human’s face. That’s why Rascoff’s interview was held in a shared Zoom meeting rather than Second Life. An avatar cannot yet match the experience of a face-to-face human interaction.

“What happened at Second Life was that we were good enough for people who were committed enough to actually want to live there,” Rosedale said, “and in many cases to give up their real identities and project themselves completely into a virtual world they could call theirs.”

“What I think we’ve done right is we’ve given them enough power and ownership over the space. We made our client open source early on.”

Rosedale also notes that content created for SL is not owned by Linden Lab, a principle the company followed and stood behind relatively early in its run. “We’ve done just enough to start a fire there.”

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg uses a prototype haptic glove research that aims to create a realistic sense of touch in the metaverse. (meta photo)

Conversely, Rosedale has “a lot of reactions” to Meta. “The biggest thought I have is, ‘Oh God, not with that business model,'” he told Racoff. “I was just in South by Southwest and I was listening to Neal Stephenson [author of the 1992 novel Snow Crash that created/popularized the terms “avatar” and “metaverse”], and he said the same, which pleased me. ‘Don’t use that business model.’”

Overall, Rosedale painted a picture of the metavers as potentially dangerous, especially in regards to AI integration. As a metaverse collects information about its users, it opens up opportunities such as the development of AI-based recordings of people that could potentially be mistaken for real.

Conversely, people in Second Life have met, fallen in love and married. A real personal connection can develop, one that transcends cultural boundaries, despite that first meeting taking place behind avatars. Those connections, Rosedale says, need to be “intimate, real-time, [and] Gift.”

†[The Meta] The advertising model has become a combination of surveillance and AI designed to seduce you, modify your behavior, distract your eyes from something else,” he said. “The difference when you take that to the metaverse is that in the real world, where we know where the ads are, so we can ignore them.”

“Think about what things would be like if that ended,” Rosedale continued, “if you were literally in the real world and the person walking next to you could be an advertisement. The existential risk of putting people in 3D spaces where you don’t know where the ads are, and where they’re amplified by the staggering amount of surveillance data you can get, personally I don’t think there’s any way we can go down that road, and a combination of regulation, good decisions and a shared awareness of what the dangers are will set us on the right track at that point.”

Other takeaways from the interview include:

When asked to discuss his personal take on the metaverse, Rosedale’s two big points are the transition from 2D to 3D and “bringing the internet alive.” Rather than the solo experience of browsing a web page, a metaverse user could use a site along with other people they can see, identify, and interact with. Full-on, face-mounted computers as a metaverse interface are 10 years away, Rosedale thinks. Mobile devices are likely to get closer to that first as the technology matures. Rosedale is vocally concerned about crypto as it relates to wealth inequality. ‘Crypto goes absolutely far in this, as any economist can tell you. It makes a small group of people richer than ever before, and that’s not what we as a species need right now.” The usefulness of Second Life’s in-game currency, the Linden Dollar, is that it can be used to make small purchases. Most of the exchanges that take place in SL’s in-app economy, as users buy assets from professional SL crafters, are only worth a few bucks at a time. That granularity will be necessary for any metaversal cryptocurrency. A two dollar purchase with $40 bank charges is a non-starter.

Listen to the full interview with Rosedale in this episode of Office Hours.

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