Crowdsourcing in Second Life

Crowdsourcing in Second Life has had lots of attention because it is address two hot topics of the moment.

Obviously the success of Second Life is due to the enthusiastic support from the users, not to cheapen the huge resources poured into it by Linden Lab.

There is a tendency to compare open source development to crowdsourcing because of the community contributing so much work for very little or no reward.

To a degree, and assuming that the “residents” were common users of any other software platform, LL already deploys crowdsourcing — at the content level. There wouldn’t be a point of having 3300 sims available on a grid, if they didn’t have any content at all (although, granted, the quality of content varies wildly — but so varies the quality on the Web!). Instead, Linden Lab learned how to employ the users — very successfully — to develop the content by themselves. Without paying a cent. Or even better: charging users for displaying their own content!

There is lots of discussion of the impending and desired changes to Second Life requiring access to an API or protocol for interaction with the interface rather than the objects within. When crowdsourcing is discussed in relation to an API and the companies intellectual property, several important points are made.

Crowdsourcing seems to be a very good compromise when open sourcing is not possible (for several reasons). It keeps all propriety rights inside Linden Lab. Their own patents and copyrights are safe. Paranoid users will still prefer to use Linden Lab’s client instead of others. They would protect their investment and keep the important technological know-how inside the company. But they would, at the same time, open a new door for a whole host of developers to integrate with their grid in completely new ways — and very likely attend the needs of those residents who spend all their time bitching on forums or the feature voting tool for more features or bug-fixing. Crowdsourcing is about allowing all these people to concentrate on their own implementations instead of complaining about the company. In a sense, empowering the users, by turning them into developers (even under a closed and proprietary environment), is sound business logic. Google has learned that lesson; and so did Microsoft before them; and these days there is practically no type of “social” application on the Web that doesn’t have an open API as well.

They cannot be all wrong.

Crowdsourcing does not have to be an all or nothing strategy. Crowdsourcing can be used to solve problems that may be larger than the organisation trying to solve them. And when you’ve got several million avid users, perhaps you’d be crazy not to ask for help.

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