The Virtual Whirl: A brief history of Second Life, 2008-2010 and beyond

This week, we cover the final installment of our summarized history of Second Life and Linden Lab (check out the first installment or the second, if you missed them). It's only possible to cover a tiny fraction of the events that took place in the space we have here, but the highlights paint an interesting picture.

We'll be working our way from 2008 to June 2010, and looking at what future directions we expect from there.

2008: A mixed bag

The year was typified by ominous tones, with Linden Lab indicating that it wasn't happy with its current user-base and repeatedly suggesting that its changes to court business, education and government and the mainstream would be unwelcome to existing users. Linden Lab also chased its tail over perceived competitive threats that never really eventuated.

Mitch Kapor took the time during the 2008 anniversary to tell Second Life's current user population that they weren't really welcome and that they should make way for the market that Second Life was to be purposed for.

Lab founder Rosedale left the CEO role and moved upstairs, replacing Mitch Kapor as board chairman. Mark Kingdon of Organic moved into the CEO seat and immediately identified in-world collaboration as Second Life's 'killer app'. Which is, perhaps, unsurprising. You may recall that is the same conclusion that Linden Lab and its investors reached back in the earliest days, if you've been reading along.

Kingdon inherited the work on Viewer 2; the focus on government and enterprise; the interminable rework of Second Life orientation; and the Second Life Enterprise product, all of which were started while Rosedale was CEO and finally completed during Kingdon's tenure in subsequent years.

Linden Lab started charging EU customers VAT, which it should have been doing all along. Nevertheless, it was done with little notice and sparked inevitable protests. In another post hoc, ergo propter hoc moment, many users associated the charging of VAT with the opening of the Brighton office in the UK. In practice, though, the presence or absence of a corporate presence in the EU had nothing really to do with it. Charging and paying VAT for digital online services is an EU requirement for having EU citizens as customers. The Lab indicated that it had been previously paying the VAT, though it had not been charging it previously.

Linden Lab's legal department murkily awoke and laid down new trademark use policies that were subsequently wielded as bludgeons against traditional promoters and supporters over the next few years. The new policies overrode or reversed previous guarantees to the point of estoppel (essentially having long encouraged the sort of usage that they suddenly disallowed). This sparked a blogger's strike, which apparently caused little concern at Linden Lab.

Linden Lab slapped a ban on banks – not all banks, but just on banks which were not properly licensed with their government regulatory authorities and offered any form of interest, which was basically almost all of them. Hardly surprising considering the events of the previous year.

Four days earlier, the World Stock Exchange (WSE) closed for one month for upgrades, and as the months went by, there were some announcements and statements, but no sign of it reopening. Surprisingly, it did eventually do so in 2010.

The Lab continued to remove "owned by residents" from all of its websites and promotional material, through 2008. As the year ended, pretty much all traces of user-ownership were eliminated Second Life except for a couple of scattered references the Terms of Service.

Linden Lab finally found someone for the Communications Manager position, that had long gone unfilled. Kathleen Craig was hired from developer Millions of Us.

The first successful Hypergrid transport took place this year, moving an avatar from Second Life to a third-party grid running different software. Less than a year later, Linden Lab would all but abandon interoperability efforts.

And that barely touches on the mammoth welter of events that went on in Second Life during 2008.

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