Second Life Enterprise and the Business-Oriented Virtual World

The Second Life Work Marketplace

B2P_OA_photo_2.jpgHowever, starting on the end of the first quarter of 2010, Linden Lab is introducing an even better model. Until then, the only way to get existing content to be deployed on a SLE box is via this special agreement to have LL move a whole region inside a SLE box — a manual process for being thoroughly validated and done on a case-by-case base by Linden Lab.

The Second Life Work Marketplace is a method to speed up the process by making it automatic. Again, a lot of misinformation has been spread about this future project. It’s been seen as a “XstreetSL for LL’s friends to make them rich”. That’s a completely insane notion, but one has to understand why people have that feeling.

Let’s try to go through a simple example to show what Linden Lab has in mind. Suppose that Rivers Run Red has gone through the whole licensing and validation procedure to deploy Immersive Workplaces on a customer’s SLE box, a process which is manual and takes a lot of time. Since RRR has already presented the required contracts and license agreements, why can’t SLE customers simply pay RRR, download the file from somewhere, and install the content by themselves, without patiently waiting for LL to do the whole tedious process?

This is pretty much what SL Work Marketplace is for. Developers having already proven that a region they own only has licensed content for the specific use in SLE will be able to list that content on a new site, accessible only to SLE customers for now (but in the future, it’ll also allow content to be deployed on the SL Grid as well). This site will list the content and the price, and facilitate the transaction between the developer and the SLE box owner; by paying the listed price, they’ll be able to get the terms of use of this content, and a mechanism to download it (a region backup file) and install it on their own SLE boxes. Linden Lab just gets a (heavy) fee for acting as intermediary.

Again, this is just a way to automate the process and nothing else. Of course, being listed as content developers on the SL Work Marketplace requires a long process of certification, validation, and contractual procedures — this is to guarantee that only fully licensed content is actually displayed for sale — and this will not be easy to do for most freelancers and tiny groups in SL. That’s the reason why Linden Lab is initially asking the Second Life Gold Solution Providers to join the beta testing (not unlike what they did with SL Enterprise itself, which started as a “closed beta” for a long time, with a dozen users that included IBM, Intel, and NMC, as well as the US Armed Forces) — Gold Solution Providers have already been certified by Linden Lab before applying to the programme, and they’re known organisations that deploy fully licensed content in SL already. Additionally to those, Linden Lab introduced another category of licensed developers, named Recommended Application Providers (no public information has been released about them yet), which probably aren’t able to go through the very thorough process of accreditation for becoming Gold Solution Providers, but might still have interesting solutions to present to corporate customers and the ability to sign all required contracts and licensing agreements.

Starting with the official launch of the SL Work Marketplace, Linden Lab will both open the website to all developers (provided that they are legally able to sign all contracts) and very likely open the Marketplace to the regular SL Grid as well. For the content creators, this means opening up a completely new market: one that only transacts with licensed content, that has real life business as customers, and that buy solutions for real prices under quite different assumptions (i.e. beyond the mess of the permission systems and the many ways to subvert it…).

Some view this move by Linden Lab as “restrictive” or even “elitist”, in the sense that only a very few companies will actually get listed. I utterly fail to see that; what I see is that LL just opened a market that didn’t exist before and allowed anyone to work there — so long as they are fully aware of the legal implications of licensing contents through a contract. The only content creators disliking this model are the ones that actually have content with dubious origins, e.g. textures copied from the net or created with unlicensed software, or that create derivative works from freebies (since they’re free to copy and modify, many like to interpret that as being “in the public domain” — which is a common fallacy and hardly the case), or, well, that don’t want to go through the hassle of signing documents. Well, there is really nothing to say about that. Most of the top content creators in SL will have absolutely no problem in registering with the SL Work Marketplace, and immediately enjoy the benefit of sales of their items for hundred or thousand times of what they charge in Second Life (even if the market for business-oriented content might be tiny at first!). A few will probably have a few reasons not to register; but they can certainly join forces with someone else who has no such qualms and present a common product line together.

In any case, Linden Lab is really just emulating other Marketplaces. Some are free to register (like Google’s, Facebook’s, or Automattic’s) and have a relatively simple procedure for application; others are cheap enough (like Apple’s App Store for the iPhone) and also don’t require a lot of documentation; most, however, can be very expensive (like Microsoft’s!) and demand a thorough process for getting a “seal of approval” and the ability to get listed as an endorsed application for the business market. This is pretty much industry practice. If you wish to create a Windows application and don’t want to bother to go through Microsoft’s certification process, you can — nothing stops you from doing so. You can set up a site and promote your product and advertise it to your audience as you wish. It’s a free market! But to get an official seal of approval and be listed as a Microsoft-endorsed solution provider — and benefit from Microsoft’s immense marketing and promotion of your application — you have to go through a relatively complex certification process.

Similarly, nobody will prevent any content developer to totally ignore the SL Work Marketplace, set up their own site with business-oriented content, and promote it aggressively through all means available to them. On the customer side, any SLE box owner has full control to the access to their boxes — they can hire people from whomever they wish, and not even Linden Lab can interfere or prevent anyone to be hired to create content there (it’s totally outside LL’s scope, both legal and technical; SLE box owners have the right to do whatever they want inside their boxes, and the LL ToS doesn’t apply to them). So content sale to SLE box owners can happen outside the SL Work Marketplace, and I imagine that most content sold to SLE customers will be done completely outside the new eCommerce site. But if you wish Linden Lab to promote your content through a special site and facilitate the whole process by automating several steps, well, then you have to abide by their rules to get an extra benefit. It’s just like what happens on any other industry really.

All in all, both new business solutions are a great blessing for the enterprise market in Second Life, no matter how small it might be at this moment. I was quite surprised to immediately hear a lot of stories from developers who lost their clients because they lacked control and stability on the SL Grid and are now very eager to deploy SL Enterprise instead. I thought that only big megacorps would be vaguely interested in this kind of product. But, then again, if this only appeals to Fortune 500 companies — the truth is, there are 500 of those 🙂 and, for these companies, US$55,000 is an utter bargain to get your own private virtual world. They might even find it “too cheap”…