Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 Year in Review

2017 had a number of triumphs, stumbles, and mixed bags for the residents of the virtual world of Second Life. Before we close the book on the old year, let's look at some of the highlights.

Some of the news discussed by residents was of developments outside Second Life that had the potential of affect the grid. One that got plenty of talk was Sansar, Linden Lab's next-generation virtual world. In development for over three years, it was made open to a selected group of volunteers in a closed beta in mid-2016. Originally slated to open to all in January 2017, Linden Lab kept postponing the opening until July 31. This new world was the subject of a lot of talk by residents when under development, including a few conspiracy theories that Linden Lab would close Second Life and force everyone into Sansar despite people pointing out that the Lab would likely be cutting it's own throat on such a move. When it did open, Sansar got a number of curious looks by residents in it's first few days, then activity fell to a small fraction of what it was. While there were a few people whom were enthusiastic about it, most Second Life residents found little to keep their attention. Indeed there were suggestions that Sansar was evidence that Linden Lab had lost the creative spark it had at it's beginning when it created Second Life. At best, most residents felt Sansar's best quality was it's room for improvement, and moved on back to developments in the virtual world they had known.

One issue talked about by residents wasn't so much about Second Life but the Internet in general. In November, the chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai announced a plan that would scrap US laws protecting Net Neutrality, the principle that Internet Service Providers should treat data content and access to it equally instead of blocking or slowing down access to certain places, such as websites and games owned by business rivals, or slowing down or "throttling" speeds of customers unless they pay more. Despite most of the public being against the repeal, as well as many tech companies, including Linden Lab with issued a last-minute statement calling for the existing law to be preserves, the FCC voted to scrap the protections. Linden Lab's founder Philip Rosedale (Philip Linden) predicted the move could have "especially negative" consequences for Second Life as some ISPs could start charging heavily for bandwidth usage. There are efforts by various states' Attorney Generals and in Congress to bring back the protections. But what happens to the Internet and Second Life remains to be seen in 2018.

Of technical developments, Bento appeared in late 2016, and many designers began making items such as body parts for avatars that incorporated it. One side effect was that older viewers such as Singularity couldn't see Bento items properly, and as they became more and more popular some users began switching to more frequently updated ones such as Firestorm and the new Black Dragon. One development that was announced late in the year was Animesh, which promises "independent objects to use rigged mesh and animations." So far, it's still in development, but promises more natural looking virtual pets and NPCs in the future. Linden Lab also introduced a new game to Second Life, "Tyrah and the Magical Glitches." Unlike previous Linden games, residents could make their sims part of the action just by offering to.

Linden Lab would continue to interact with the residents, with events such as the "Snowball Showdowns," "Hug a Linden/Dunk a Linden," and the "Creepy Crawl." They would also have a music event in cooperation with the resident-run Second Life Birthday. They would also do something new: taking part directly in the Relay for Life with their own "Bid Me Bald," and there were "meet and greet" events with the Lindens at the Second Life Birthday and the Relay for Life's Castle Home and Garden. But for all of these public-relations boons, there was one bust near the end of the year when blogger Strawberry Singh was asked to edit or take down a tutorial video of the newcomer entry area due to it having Second Life's trademark's symbol, though Linden Lab soon apologized and thanked her, and others, for their coverage.

Politics was quite a topic in Second Life in 2016 as there was a Presidential Election in the US. In 2017, the topic died down somewhat but not completely. On Inauguration Day, the new President was honored in London City. But not everyone was impressed with him, a group of artists organizing calling themselves, "Avatars Against Trump." One conservative podcaster whom broadcasted from Second Life announced he was temporarily putting his reports on pause, saying political discussion was becoming too repetitive. Linden Lab would step in political matters a few times, making statements against two of President's executive orders on immigration, and as mentioned earlier calling for the laws preserving Net Neutrality be maintained.

Besides the Linden-run events, there were many resident-run ones as well that took place over almost every month of the year. As before, the resident-run Second Life Birthday celebration was a success. The Relay for Life in Second Life as before had a number of events, such as the Fantasy Faire, Making Strides for Breast Cancer, the Christmas Expo, and their official season with the Relay Walk as the high point. While no doubt their official season was a success, they couldn't help but notice they were not making as much as a few years ago. So came "Project Relay Refresh" with the goal of revitalizing the Relay though various changes such as a shorter season. Besides the Relay, there were other events to raise funds for charity, such as those by Team Diabetes, Creation for Parkinsons' Halloween-themed Gotham Island event, the monthly concerts at Veterans Isle for Homes For Our Troops, and others. There was also the One Billion Rising event to raise awareness to violence against women around the world. When Hurricane Harvey hit hard in Texas, there were some impromptu small-scale fundraising events. When content creators Elicio Ember and Maxwell Graf fell on hard times, fundraisers were quickly organized to help them out, both raising more than a million Linden dollars apiece.

2017 would see some goodbyes. Breezes Babii, who was a longtime friend of the Newser and wrote some articles for the paper, passed away this year after a long illness. She was given a memorial service by the Tombstone community that was attended by many. Others who passed away included Riven Homewood whom was in several library and volunteer groups, Foxkin Impfondo whom was an estate owner, Spike Nico whom founded and ran the Rainbow Tiger club, and Jaxx Tarvis whom lived in the Sunweaver community where the Newser makes it's home.

There were also some sim closings. After getting a reprieve last year when they were originally due to close, two of the University of Western Australia sims were closed down. The Basilique sim owned by Canary Beck closed it's doors. Late in the year, the owner of the St. John Estates announced they would be closing. One famous line of breedables, Ozimals, shut down their line of bunnies which they were noted for and helped breedable pets in Second Life become popular several years ago. The shutdown was due to a cease-and-desist legal order. While Ozimals announced plans to launch another line of bunnies, there has been no date yet set.

But there would be some openings and comebacks as well. After being without a home for over a year, the Steelhead community had a sim again with the founding of Steelhead Bay. The Newser office's neighborhood, the Sunweaver Estates, would see four new sims added, plus two swapping owners and getting whole new looks. The Sunweaver/Angels' Club Zero Gravity space station club, which had closed down three years ago, was reopened. Among the new places opened were Montecito Bay, Furry Tiki Island, Palm Coast, Cerridwen's Cauldron, and more.

Second Life would get some mention not only in tech media, but also more mainstream media. Ars Technica, an online publication about tech media, published an article by a writer who returned to the virtual world after being out for several years. A writer for the Atlantic Monthly would visit the Grid for the first time and do a report. Both articles gave an overall positive message about Second Life.

Besides Sansar and the Net Neutrality issue, there were a number of other things online worth mentioning. Bitcoin, the noted virtual currency, skyrocketed in value from about $1000 each in value to over $19,000 before going down again, closing the year at $13451. In gaming, lootboxes became a source of controversy with charges of being a form of legalized gambling, particularly when they were made a key part of how to advance in EA's "Star Wars Battlefront II." The Conan Exiles game was also a source of some controversy due to the ability of players to enslave NPCs.

For the Second Life Newser, it was a busy year with over a thousand articles, press releases and announcements, reader submissions, and cartoons. We've had some exciting new talent come in to give their stories around the virtual world. In our eighth year, we will continue to report the news, large and small, of the people, places, and events across the Grid.

Bixyl Shuftan
Editor/Head Reporter
Second Life Newser

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