I think the folks at Linden Labs have made some mistakes when it comes to creating their virtual world of Second Life, and there has certainly been plenty of debate lately about whether SL has gotten overhyped based on flawed numbers, but the latest move by Linden — to make the software that powers the world open source — is like a beam of sunlight. It’s huge.
In fact, if creating SL was like creating the world, then going open source is like the invention of fire, or maybe Ford’s invention of the assembly line. Having played around with Second Life a bit, I know that much of what is interesting about the world comes from non-Linden developers, whether it’s the ones who created the heads-up-display that lets you play golf, or the guy who sells roller skates from vending machines.
Not only will this accelerate that by making add-ons and plug-ins and mash-ups a lot easier to develop, but it might make using the SL frontend software a little more user friendly as well (official Linden statement here). In the same way that Firefox helped to strip down and focus the Netscape/Mozilla browser, open source development could help streamline and extend Second Life’s software in interesting ways. At least, that’s the potential.
Some people will no doubt continue to dismiss Second Life as a haven for sexual deviants (and admittedly, the flying pink penises don’t help), or not as good as World of Warcraft — which is presumably better because you get to kill things — but I think the virtual world has a lot of potential. Potential for what? For just about anything. Education, political activism, social engineering, entertainment. Kind of like the Internet. More thoughts about the implications at RedMonk.
The very smart Susan Wu, a VC at Charles River Ventures and former CMO at the Apache Foundation, has some thoughts about the open-sourcing of Second Life that are well worth reading.