Where SocialNet Meets the Roadmap

Posted on Wednesday 22 August 2007

While I’ve been too occupied to post any entries this past week, I’ve not been ignoring the news. Truth is, I’ve not found very much of interest. One thing I did find notable was Linden Lab adding the first het grid components to Second Life last week, but the coverage seemed sparse. I can only guess that most bloggers don’t share my thoughts about what it means for Second Life and social networking in general. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

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Meanwhile, being relatively new, I spent a bit more time this past week playing with Facebook. Not impressed (though it makes a nice inventory management system for books/CDs/DVDs). I posted a Twitter saying it felt like someone trying to create a mini-internet on one website.

Not that anyone cares, but I think Facebook made a mistake in opening up registration to everyone and their mother. They’ve even lost Danah Boyd (Link) in the avalanche. If Facebook had retained its niche market and let that feed into a larger niche network aggregator of their making (Lifebook?), then they’d have the option of allowing not just plug-ins for the one application, but marketing-specific plug-ins for a network of modular applications serving targeted communities. Instead, MyLifeBrand (Link) is going to turn into a Trillian for social networking sites; probably losing some of their functionality in the process. And Facebook will probably try to sell itself before it flames out.

Maybe private online networks like aSmallWorld, DiamondLounge and CafeMom will turn out to be the real trend to watch. Okay. Maybe not CafeMom. But volume isn’t the only way to do business. I don’t want to join a social networking site that’s using Wal*Mart tactics to reach profitability.

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You know the whole Web 2.0 social networking thing is getting out of hand when a whole lot of Mashable’s posts contain a number and the word “plug-in” or “tools”; as in “VOIP TOOLBOX: 30+ VoIP Services” or “AMAZON TOOLBOX: 40+ Amazon Tools”. I now have a separate Bookmark’s folder just to collect these posts. I like customization and modularity as much as the next person – probably more – but there’s a tipping point for “Overload”.

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Of course we can’t just leave it with regular old social networking. The big news now is that Conduit Labs has received $5.5M to help them build a “social networking / casual MMO hybrid”. I follow Susan Wu’s blog which has an entry discussing it (Link), but it’s getting attention on Mashable (Link), the Virtual News Network (Link), and – of course – on Raph Koster’s blog (Link).

I’d be lying if I said I was especially interested in Conduit’s project. The whole social networking meme is getting a bit ripe, afaic. Maybe if they introduced virtual epidemics. Those things have certainly sparked some interest (Link). I could see marrying the “Zombie” Facebook app with Gaia Online.

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Which now leads me back to Second Life’s het grid (short for heterogeneous grid). Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think of Linden Lab’s het grid as simply a means to allow users with different client applications to connect to the Second Life servers. I think of it entirely as a necessary pre-cursor to implementing a “grid of grids” (see my earlier post on that – reLink). That’s because I imagine companies want to take their islands and do what Wells Fargo had hoped to do: create a particular Experience which they could control.

The “grid of grids” effort allows companies to host and control their own sim. And if they go through the trouble of hosting their own virtual world simulation, I’ve little doubt they’ll want to customize the client and offer it as a download on their own corporate website.

The het grid effort, as I understand it, would allow someone using that customized (and branded) client to still access Second Life… or some other Linden Lab-supported world. For example, people might be logged into a Dell sim while using a Pontiac client. It’s almost like putting overlay ads on top of videos. So you can see how attractive having a customized client might be for a company (reminds me of the early stories surrounding Netscape and how companies wanted their own, branded browser).

This is why I see Second Life and Multiverse entering the same playing field. And maybe some of my comments above regarding niche applications plugging into a centralized hub make more sense. Because as social networking functionality integrates with MMO’s and starts to bring mainstream users into the fold, it won’t just be first movers using videogames to network. And not everyone wants to play in the same world… even when they’re sharing it.

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