Wednesday's post outlined a series of milestones marking Second Life's transition from innovative frontier to conservative corporatocracy. The surface narrative since 2008 revolves around the downward spiral in the relationship between Linden Lab and the Second Life community. But underneath the never-ending controversy there is a hidden story of technical debt that is just as consequential.
In a world unconstrained by time, money and competitive pressure a software product's underlying code would be consistently refined and refactored. In reality, companies usually focus their resources on short-term tactical requirements instead of the less urgent task of optimizing code and updating architecture. Over time, a product's codebase can become so kludgy, convoluted and incompatible with current technology that significant improvement is too costly and complex to be practical. Second Life sits on a codebase with a decade's accumulation of technical debt.
For the foreseeable future, Second Life will continue to serve as a new frontier on a personal level for people who are exploring virtual worlds and avatar identity. It's a rich platform with diverse user communities, a massive amount of available content and a mature feature set supporting social activity and creative expression.
I don't think Second Life will continue its leadership as a virtual world platform. It's too tied to outdated technology, legacy code and an established community that has a huge amount of equity in the current paradigm. I don't know if Cloud Party is going to be the company that takes us on the next leap forward, but it's more likely to be a small start-up than one of the established players.