Imagine a world where you can fly or teleport. A world where you can take the look you like and constantly evolve it, from clothes to your face, to the shape of your body and the look of your skin. A world that you can change at will and whose objects, places and appearances are created by people like you.
This world has existed since 2003 and is called Second life. This 3D virtual universe peaked in popularity and media coverage around 2006, before declining. Yet it’s still active: Linden Lab, the publisher of the open source computer program, claims 1 million connections per month and 200,000 daily active users. It’s not much compared to social networking giants, but enough to form a solid community. What, perhaps, arouses renewed interest when the metaverse returns to the table.
Virtual, alternative and persistent
This concept borrowed from science fiction has been an obsession of the technological world since the 1990s. A metaverse is a virtual and alternative world, which overlaps the physical world, accessible in a computerized and persistent way: it continues to exist and evolve when the user logs out. Mark Zuckerberg’s company, renamed “Meta”, intends to develop its metaverse, as well as other digital players, such as Epic Games, the game publisher Fortnite.
… A bit like Second life. At nearly 20, he is undoubtedly one of the longest-lived metaverses. It all started in 1999, when the entrepreneur Philip Rosedale created Linden Lab. The initial goal of the company is to produce material used to immerse oneself in a virtual world. But since the equipment is too heavy, he turns to the creation of a software, Linden World, to which he will give way Second life.
Philip Rosedale specified his vision of this universe in 2006: “We don’t see it as a game. We see it as a platform that, in many ways, is better than the real world. Users, called” residents “, create and enrich them. themselves the world in which they evolve: buildings, objects, animals, plants, but also animations and sounds. And above all the appearance of the avatar – usually humanoid in shape, but not necessarily – down to the details of the skin and the shape of the limbs As for Linden Lab, it mainly deals with server management, connection and graphics rendering, as well as the original five great continents.
“The metaverse should be created and managed by the people who inhabit it”
“We are simply playing the role of facilitator, deciphered in October 2021 Anya Kanevsky, product manager of second life, with the Journal du Net. (…) I don’t see how creating different games that would be linked together could be similar to the metaverse. In my opinion, this is content created by companies for users. For the metaverse to exist, it must be created and managed by the people who inhabit it. “
Back to 2005. Second life it causes a stir in the American media and appears to be conducive to trade. In June 2006, ready-to-wear brand American Apparel opened a store there, followed by others. Institutional actors have settled there: universities offering online training, embassies of very real countries … The buzz reached France in 2007: several teams of presidential candidates swept the universe. Media coverage is sometimes more negative: Second life he is accused of hosting, in particular, child pornography content. Since 2007, brands have already been closing their stores. The banking crisis of 2008 led to a banking crisis in Second life. Universities and politicians are moving away and the metaverse is gradually depopulating.
But it doesn’t disappear. Some people have been there for over a decade. Like Ayako Takahashi, 34, met at the Voodoo Club, a box of Second life dedicated to electronic music. Her nickname does not indicate it, but Ayako is French; she has been a “resident” for 13 years. “What I love here is the ability to create and experience whatever you want to experience. I was an RPG and I quickly found a game universe. Now I am more involved in the hobby and in discussion with a small circle of friends. “
Peak containment activity
The duration of the “life” in Second life appears next to the nicknames of people you meet there. Inside the Voodoo Club, some have been there for 8, 10 years; others arrived a month ago. In 2020, “the platform experienced a peak in activity as many people felt the need to maintain social ties. (…) We also observe these people returning to Second Life, even if they spend less time there, ”Anya Kanevsky explained to the Journal du Net in 2021.
It is easy to understand the pleasure of visiting Second life in full lockdown. The places to socialize are open at all hours and the possibilities for exploration seem endless. Although, teleporting to a random place, it can happen that you fall into the void. “Many places do not last long, also because their creators leave Second life, because they move, or because they create another place, explains Ayako Takahashi. Your imagination and that of other users are the only limits. “
” Second life has this great longevity because it was created by its users, there are always new cities and fantastic environments to visit, “he explains to 20 minutes Wagner James Au. This American reporter covers the company of Second life on his blog New World Notes since the beginning of the universe. “Most long-term users have already spent thousands of dollars on virtual content they don’t want to give up,” she adds.
Upon arrival Second life, we “run aground” on a not quite deserted island, where giant panels present various tutorials on how to evolve in the universe and residents welcome new ones. A bat ride, then a canoe, allows you to try your hand at means of transport. You can then customize your avatar or discover one of the many spaces open to all.
Second life it is a vast world and a few hours are barely enough to scratch the surface. There are many clubs, cafes and shops, art galleries, places to buy free items and areas for role play; but also a picturesque French village; a resource center for autism; international community spaces or LGBTQ +; or even a post-apocalyptic community. Residents can be part of a user group with a common goal: parties, live concerts, reader forums … Or more “adult” concerns.
Because sex seems to be rapidly omnipresent, as has been specifically mentioned The world in a report published in 2016. “The fact that Second life is aimed at adults and that there are very few restrictions against sexual content has allowed the virtual sex market to thrive. This, and calling it “second life,” invites people to experience activities they might not attempt in real life, “observes Wagner James Au. Or as Ayako Takahashi puts it more bluntly,” on the surface Second life it can quickly feel like you’re on the edge of an outdoor brothel. But when you dig, you come across nuggets, be they places or people. “
Fashion and live music
These people, who are they? “Users are mostly in their thirties, or even older, given the age of the platform,” notes Wagner James Au. There is almost parity among active users, which is rare for a metaverse: it is more like 70% of men elsewhere. American users are not necessarily the majority: there is a strong presence of users in the European Union, Brazil and Japan. These residents engage in a variety of activities.
“When I started, we’ll tell Second life he was looking for himself, he was a bit of a mess. But talented creators very quickly shaped the universe, says Ayako Takahashui. Fashion takes up a lot of space, but there are no currents like in real life. Everyone has their own vision, their own universe. Wagner James Au confirms a shift in the economy and culture of the metaverse: “Fashion shows and shopping events are very popular, along with live music and other entertainment. “
And some make a living. “1600 people earn over US $ 10,000 a year from their content for Second life, recalls Wagner James Au. Between 200 and 500 people earn enough to live – that’s more than the number of Linden Lab employees! A payment system developed by the company, Tillia Pay, protects transactions between users and converts the local currency, the Linden dollar, into real money. Linden Lab charges a commission and also offers a Premium membership with exclusive benefits, such as regular income.
“We knew it was going to be huge”
Among the residents of Second lifethe big announcements about the metaverse were greeted “with amused contempt but also with a form of ‘we’ve been there before and knew it would be a great confirmation,'” says Wagner James Au 20 minutes. The funny thing is, we say the same thing we said about these new platforms Second life 20 years ago. The contempt is mostly aimed at Zuckerberg and others, who seem to want to exploit this space for negative purposes. “
On January 12 it was announced that the creator, Philip Rosedale, would return as “strategic advisor”. His company dedicated to virtual reality, High Fidelity, will invest in Linden Lab, financially and with IT patents. According to the specialized media The border, two of these patents specifically concern community moderation in a decentralized environment. A topic of particular interest to future metaverse actors, while the moderation of social networks has never been so discussed. Wagner James Au asked Rosedale about these problems. The creator of Second life there he criticizes the monetization practiced by the main social networks, believing that “we can absolutely build a virtual world in which people do not hurt each other …”
Ayako Takahashi says she is curious. “We don’t care much, the metaverses of Facebook and other companies will be places of consumption. But I’m waiting to see what happens – I would say Second life he made his hole. For Wagner James Au, if he is not sure Second life “wants to make the radical changes necessary to compete with the leaders of the metaverse”, this universe could however be “the standard against which new platforms will be compared – especially in terms of creators’ revenues, compared to those of metaverse companies”.