Ugotrade Interview with Philip Rosedale at SLCC:
“Bigger than the web” and Second Life in Africa

Wed, Aug 29, 2007


Second Life will be “bigger than the web” and we’re “moving away from being a lab and into an operating system.” These bold statements by Philip Rosedale, in his keynote address at SLCC, inspired my questions in the interview Philip very graciously gave for Ugotrade that morning. Philip is wearing the “Missing Image” T-shirt, created by Millions of Us, that he opened his jacket to reveal during his speech.

The interview is divided in two parts. Part one looks at the possibilities for Second Life in Africa. Part two looks at how Linden Lab “can stop being a lab.”

You can read a full transcript of Philip’s keynote here.

Philip was very present at SLCC. He visited panels, discussed, debated, and answered pressing questions from residents and the press about all aspects of Second life. A stream of admirers seemed to follow him wherever he went asking for autographs, and for pictures of themselves standing next to the man who founded the virtual world that has come to mean so much to them.

But, these quotes, “bigger than the web,” and going from “a lab into an operating system,” certainly got the conversation going.

This is bigger than the Web. That’s a bold statement. How can I defend the statement that what we’re all working on is going to be bigger than the Web.

The essence of Philip’s argument, it seemed to me, hinged around two points. One, that Second Life allows a new form of global communication between cultures that is not limited, like the old Web to predominantly hyper-linked text that you need to be very literate to read and that you visit alone without any way of sharing your experience with others there at the same time.
For example:

[In Second Life] you get to explore it [Tokyo] using a geography and topology that you grew up with. Anyone on the Web, no matter how illiterate, understands it. Want to know more? Walk forward. And the best part, that you don’t see in this picture [screen of Tokyo on Second Life], is there will be other people there.

And secondly, the opportunity Second Life gives people to join a global virtual economy free of “fees and tariffs and taxes.”

I really believe the one thread that I see a lot of lately is that the rapid growth outside the US is confirming a lot of things. The fact that SL is so flat and globalizing is going to be a huge change agent. Globalization involves fees and tariffs and taxes. None of that is going on here. That’s going to be part of the pressure that’s going to drive an enormous amount of interest.

In response to a question by Prokofy Neva who asked about Second Life’s influences on First Life (see transcript), Philip elaborated on the power of Second life’s small but thriving economy (with the caveat, “That’s a big enough question that I obviously can’t say perfectly that I know.”)

shrinking of the communication sphere is one of our biggest influences. And then the other is the entrepreneurial early phase. SL is still very early and small. The thing that makes it grow is the success of individuals in two ways. Being able to find and connect to each other and those individuals who are able to work together. There are about 1000 people who make $1000 or more each month. That’s critical mass. That’s the real-life impact we’re having today. We’re creating jobs and opportunities at a small scale, but at a scale that’s large enough to be irreversible.

After the keynote, I was so excited by the implications of Philip’s projections for the future of Second Life that before I turned on my recorder there were about ten minutes of informal discussion on how Second Life could help the developing world, and Africa in particular. What follows is a transcription of the recorded interview with some editing of my rambling questions!

The unrecorded portion of the interview was a mini brainstorming session on broadband connectivity in Africa, and how Second Life could be made available to Africans. Africans have shown the world how mobile phone technologies can be used for virtual banking and to create new economic opportunities in areas with no banking infrastructure.

“Well over 80% in Egypt and South Africa alone, according to a report by the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad)” rely on mobile phones to run their small businesses (BBC News).

Philip talked with me about the role of Second Life in positive global development at VW2007. And, if Africans had access to the global virtual economy of Second Life and its rich immersive forms of collaboration and communication, all our first lives and second lives might become immeasurably richer.

Africa is often called the “missing link” because until now it has been left out of the global broadband revolution. But, there are many new initiatives to get Africa connected, and to find ways to deliver cheaper international bandwidth.

Well over half of the countries on the continent now have some kind of broadband offer delivered through DSL, wireless or satellite.

If you are not tuned into connectivity issues in Africa yet, the best source for information on African connectivity, that I know, is the Balancing Act News network. For up to date information on the state of the African internet in various markets Balancing Act has (pay for) publications they make available at special rates for students and universities. Also, there is a download zone for longer research publications. If you go into these reports and the data provided you will see, not only is there are some very interesting Data Bandwidth forecasts for (2006 – 2011), but also of particular interest, may be, the paper, “African Broadband, Triple Play and Converged Markets.”

Well enough pre-amble here is my interview:


Part One (my questions in bold type):

How could Second Life bring the benefits of a virtual economy to Africa?

It seems that if there were a few computers, even not individual computers but shareable cafe style computers. And then there was also a mechanism where you could redeem Linden dollars for something – you were talking about phone minutes, or a local currency. If you had that minimal point of infrastructure broadband access and an individual, I suppose to co-ordinate that bank transfer mechanism – my understanding is no-one can use Pay Pal to withdraw money from banks in Africa today, so you would need a person that could pay you in minutes or in local currency. But I think, if those two things were done, and you built a cluster of machines in an area there you might actually be able to see people log in, create accounts, and create jobs for themselves.

Yes, in Africa people use mobile phones to send money to each other in areas were there are no banks or ATMs for miles. And local entrepreneurs set up kiosks where people can redeem their minutes for currency…

Well we could probably make it possible even for people to trade Linden dollars. It would be relatively easy to trade Linden dollars for phone minutes directly. I mean if there is a phone company running a back bone there where that is quite common, it would probably to fairly simple to make it possible for somebody to take Linden dollars even on our site and say redeem them as phone minutes on the exchange. That would be something that we could potentially do, if there was a way to pay for phone minutes in the US in dollars and essentially get minutes on the phones there. We could allow someone to go to our exchange and put Linden dollars up for sale, get dollars back and have them basically put in their phone as minutes.

Given the current high rates for broadband in many parts of Africa, do you think it would be possible to organize and fund the introduction of Second Life in a community there, at least a proof of concept, even before these hoped for changes in broadband costs and connectivity have occurred?

I think the thing that I am a little skeptical about in that is, if you fund a program like that and then you come back and you say, “Wow we can give jobs to people in Africa if only broadband didn’t cost anything,” I would be rather frustrated by that because then you can’t just snap your fingers, nobody is just going to relent and say broadband is free in Africa now. I guess an interesting problem in all this is, if cheap broadband is absolutely necessary, I think you need the cheap broadband first. You can’t really use Second Life to argue that people should have cheap broadband somewhere, you need to provide it.

The thing to demonstrate is a wholly entrepreneurial model. Where I guess you could charitably help the world develop are those places where you can show an operational model that soup to nuts makes money for someone. I mean if someone could go into Africa somewhere and make money by allowing people in Africa to have the jobs using something like Second Life then you’ve got it. So the trick is how to finagle that. It seems that the connectivity is the key problem there.

Part 2:

At this point in the interview, I took sometime explain to Philip how interested and excited I am about the future role of Second Life in reducing the world’s carbon footprint through large scale energy monitoring, facility management, network control centers and other projects that link Second and First life in sensor/actuator networks for the mutual benefit of both.

I have blogged a lot about the potential of such real/second life integrations, so I launched into a rather long preamble that I won’t transcribe here, as there I have many posts on this topic. But, Philip quickly teased out the main question hidden in my long intro about such projects that must have secure and powerful communications between Second and Real Life!

“You mean how quickly are we going to open things up?” he asked.

Yes, I said. And, is it all going to happen at once or are there steps that can happen first, like will people be able to back up their own assets soon?

Well I think backing up assets is something that will be very soon. We are working on it right now, so that you can do much better off line back up of assets. But, that only covers one piece of it. You still have a state, how much money you have, the various flags and global markers that are on things are not things you can back up and restore. But I am not sure what else you have in mind……

Well I know Second Life can be incredibly useful not only for facility management and energy monitoring but for city and an environmental planning. And for these applications you need to be able to import large scale architectural models, for example?

With the open source code you will basically be able to do any kind of object importing and exporting you want. And the open source that is available on the site today will allow you to do multiple imports of CADs.

But, I think I have heard from architects that using the current tools to do this is a very long and complicated procedure?

I think in the next couple of quarters we will probably have rich interchange formats for objects – we like that. But I can’t tell you anything too specific about it right now.

When will it be possible to own islands on our own computer and connect to the main grid asset server?

That is the nearest term thing that we are going to try to do with respect to opening up the back end of the system. So that what we want to do is to allow people to, even before we are able to open source all the technology, we will probably find ways to have people operating servers outside of our building. We probably will not, until we reach the full open source point, have enough security in place to trust un-trusted individuals to run servers on the grid. But initially what we can do is we can establish a relationship with larger companies of operators that we would be able to trust with everyone’s assets in second Life.

Yes, its a good interim thing…

Yes, it’s a great interim thing! What I would like to do is have servers operate internationally as soon as possible so that people in Australia, for example, put their land on servers that are hosted in Australia. So that is something that we are working very hard on right now.

So how will Linden Labs make money after the opening sourcing of everything?

It is easy for us to make money this is just one of those things. If there are network effects, which push everyone to being in one single world, we can charge fees where appropriate for registering or connecting to that world. So even if we don’t host a server for example, we can still charge you whatever we like for attaching your server to the grid. We control the registry, we control DNS if you want to be to the North East of somebody else’s island only we can put you there, even if it is your computer, even if you are the one hosting it.

So that is a fine model. It is similar to DNS. It is one in which we basically we provide a global function to people, naming and the allocation of spaces, and charge a fee for it. And, that will actually look relatively similar to the business today. So we should be able to let people run their own servers, charge them a fee for attaching those servers to the grid, run some of our own servers that we collect if you will the whole fee for and it all works fine.

But if you open all the protocols then other people can do that?

No, because they won’t be able to get a hold of you. There is only one world that you have the name that you have in Second Life.

So they will have to set up competing worlds, if they don’t link to Second Life, closed of to your grid and then who would want to be there because no-one else would be there?

There is a powerful network effect behavior there. New York will always be the largest city in the continental United States. It has been that way for 200 years. So if you are the largest virtual city, you will always remain the largest virtual city. And, we are. So that means we can open up everything we are doing without the kind of risk that you might normally see.

So are you going to open up everything all the protocols?

Yes, everything.

So some people will just go off and do their own thing?

There is a good place for lots of little or purposeful applications to be built. But the internet was completely open protocols to begin with. I notice it is not fragmented. There is only one internet. Big surprise [said with irony!].

Thanks so much Philip, perhaps you could say it one more time about going completely open source!

Yes, open, open!



Doing what they love & getting paid for it on Motarati Island.

The picture below shows Toby Rainbow and Suku Ming from Ponitiac’s Motarati Island in Second Life, and the USA in First Life. I met them while they were standing patiently in the long line of residents waiting to speak to Philip after his keynote at SLCC. They built a stock car racing track that caught the attention of Pontiac. Now it is part of Motarati Island. And, you can find them there everyday doing what they love, and getting paid for it!


categories: Africa, Metaverse, Mixed Reality, Mobile Phones in Africa, Mobile Technology, open source, Second Life, social media, Virtual Citizenship, Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0, Web 3D, Web3.D, World 2.0

5 Comments For This Post

  1. Aleister Kronos Says:

    Very interesting interview…
    Mr R seems to be talking about an expanded Second Life, rather than web3D, at least in the near-term. I know LL have to move fast if they are to grab the high ground of web3D, but I find the NYC analogy is flawed. SL has seen meteoric growth is the last 18 months, but it is also true that the actual number of distinct individuals (ie not alts) staying in SL beyond a couple of weeks is far lower. It’s almost like saying Heathrow Airport (and the suburbs around it) is a big city because it has a population of 67 million. No, most of these people simply pass thru. I hope retention rates go up – but right now vitual worlds are still small, and being the biggest of the tinies is not such a big deal.

    Over the horizon we have Entropia’s grand schemes for China; then there’s HiPiHi and its recent statements over standardising and interoperating 3D worlds:

    Linden Lab have to press on with their vision thang… but unless they’re looking at (even if not talking publicly about) 3D world interoperability, then I think they are in danger of ending with an exotic, cut-off variant of web3D.

    And remember, their big chums in the IT industry are not only in SL. The infrastructure guys are building their own variants (“3D intranet”) and the software guys are seeking markets in other VWs.

    In the interoperable 3D world (and I am convinced that is the end game), where do LL get their monies?

  2. Marat Says:

    I’d be really interested to see Second Life offer a different way of putting money in besides credit cards. Something like the Steve Case GratisCard that was competitive on interchange fees. Especially for merchants, who should be an important part of growing SL. It’s a complicated

    It’s an issue I consult on for a merchant group in DC. If it’s a new issue to you, I highly recommend checking out

  3. Lem Skall Says:

    People running their own servers sooner than we thought. That’s going to be very interesting, I think it will change a lot of things. How is that going to affect the TOS and all the legal issues? Will anyone be allowed to run gambling on their own off-shore servers, for instance? We’ll probably have the definitive answer only once that happens, but it’s certainly going to be interesting. I can’t wait.

    Thanks Tara for this interview.

  4. Lem Skall Says:

    Ooops, should have paid more attention to the details. Only “larger companies of operators” at first, so no gambling back soon :). Still, as a matter of principle, what will be the legal responsibilities of LL and what will be the legal responsibilities of the server operators?

  5. Lem Skall Says:

    And there it goes. No time to wrap our heads around it. The website is there, the rules are there (whatever they mean, they mean something to LL and that’s what will apply anyway). No discussion, no dialogue. No listening.

    I thought that Philip’s keynote at the SLCC was very good. But even then, I thought, it was all just a speech for now and what was going to matter was the actions to follow. “I think as a company we’re at a transition point.” Are we there yet? Voice, IDV, third-party providers, all within a few weeks, that still looks like the “Lab” way of doing things. “I just want to say that we hear you.” Hear us maybe, but is LL actively listening to us? Are we having a dialogue?

    Shouldn’t we be involved? Shouldn’t we have a say in these decisions? The TOS does not say that. But we certainly expect it anyway. LL does not deny it and keeps feeding that expectation. They don’t tell us to bugger off and that it’s none of our business, they keep telling us instead that it is “our world” and that they “hear” us.

    I can’t say yet whether this is going to be good or bad. But not having a dialogue before the decision was made makes it wrong anyway.

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