It's been no less a tumultuous year for Second Life in 2007 this year than any previous year, frankly. There are a few standout items though.
This isn't the list that anyone else might make - We might completely skip over one of the things you see as standing out as a huge impact, based solely on that we don't actually think it was that big a deal in the scheme of things.
Be careful what you wish for
Users spent 2005 and 2006 begging Linden Lab to start behaving like a business. In 2007, Linden Lab certainly did that. Pretty much all the key items for 2007 flow on from a shift towards acting-as-a-business. However Linden Lab may function internally, from the outside there's not much to distinguish them from many public corporations these days.
After the 2006 accusations of Linden Lab signaling imminent rate rises for Class 5 servers to a limited number of people, Linden Lab responded to complaints of such leaks by essentially switching to a policy of zero warning, and little or no community consultation on fiscal or policy matters in 2007, much as Philip Rosedale foreshadowed when discussing the matter in interviews towards the end of 2006.
Like any company accused of insider dealings, Linden Lab shut down all advance notification of major changes until things seem to be set in stone.
Linden Lab became profitable in 2007. We haven't heard that they have become otherwise in the meantime. From all external observations and statements it seems that they are eating up all the profits in extra staffing, expanding as fast as the money will allow.
A tiny piece of one investor's share in Linden Lab sold for somewhere near 500 million US dollars. If you read techcrunch you might think that was 10% of Linden Lab - that is not the case. It was 10% of one shareholder's portion - considerably less than 10% of the total.
Linden Lab opened offices all over the place. Right now, Linden Lab have offices in Boston, Seattle, Mountain View (CA), and San Francisco.
Did you know that Linden Lab has an office in Japan now (see update below)? Managed by one Jun Doi, this office crept in silently in late 2007, only given away by the new map on Linden Lab's website, which prompted us to ask about it. Getting answers is tricky, and getting them at this time of year is trickier still - we'll let you know more about that when we know more.
[Update: LewisPR apparently led us a little astray on this one: "It's true, Linden Lab has opened an office in Japan," apparently actually means, "No, we've just got a single employee there"]
There's a suspicious orange dot in South Korea as well, but the Beijing office is unmarked. We don't know if that's an error on the map or not.
[Update: Likewise, RTMAsia's presence in Beijing does not constitute a Linden Lab office either, despite reports to the contrary. The people there are, instead, helping Linden Lab evaluate if a strategy specific to China makes sense or not. Robin Harper says, "Linden Lab is constantly evaluating new markets and opportunities. Given the high broadband penetration and active Internet user base in China, it makes sense for us to consider a potential presence in that market." - and it does; as well as weighing up the potential barriers and any flaming hoops that have to be jumped through.
Likewise, the dot in South Korea appears to be spurious.]
CTO and co-founder, Cory Ondrejka left Linden Lab in December - though it is certainly not the last we'll hear from him. Differing styles when it comes to internal management of the company has been cited by other parties. Previously, we've seen some accommodation or compromise between two distinct styles. In 2008, one of those will come to dominate. We don't know what those styles are, or which one is the winner.
Daniel Linden also departed. A victim, we think, of the users' shoot-the-messenger strategy.
As with 2006, there were a lot of new hires, and a lot of departures.
The catchphrase "broadly offensive" became popularized after the famously insulting post, Keeping Second Life Safe, Together, repercussions of which are still keeping some users up nights.
Whatever the intent of the post, it could hardly have been phrased in a way that would have caused a worse reception from the Second Life population.
From an expectations-management point of view, it and its follow-ups didn't really fare any better.
Restrictions on sexual ageplay, gambling, sexual ageplay, and sexual ageplay again. Linden Lab apparently felt the need to talk about sexual ageplay a lot - presumably as the result of a part of the German media having used Second Life to create some virtual child pornography, which they then complained about.
This talk from Linden Lab was hampered by ambiguity of phrasing to the point that it was hard to tell what was actually disallowed, and many users decided that short avatars were against the rules.
By the time of November's clarification of the policy, hardly anyone who had gotten the wrong idea in the intervening months was really listening anymore, and the clarification still wasn't quite clear enough for anyone - plus at least one more instance of muddy-language-use casting doubt on the whole matter again.
The gambling ban was a big deal, partly because it was a not unexpected business move that any virtual worlds corporation might have made, but more because virtually every piece of non-Second-Life-specialist media coverage on the matter was essentially incorrect.
That brings us to:
The mainstream media
The media was no kinder to Second Life and Linden Lab in 2007 than in 2006, but no less kind either. By our estimations, Second Life went twice around the hype cycle during 2007, which seems about par for the course.
Positive hype though, or negative hype, there was plenty of hype to go around - which basically meant that most of what people read about Second Life (good or bad) ranged from charitably misleading at best, to downright false.
Second Life appeared on the US version of The Office - an appearance most of the world will not see, as usually only the UK version of The Office is syndicated outside North America.
Second Life also appeared on CSI:NY - an appearance that most of us won't see on television for a few more years, due to licensing, scheduling and syndication delays.
Neither appearance was, perhaps, any more significant than seeing a lolcat in the newspaper or on a TV show. Basically, a new piece of common culture found it's way onto TV, though in both cases, fared far better than the Web does when it manages to appear in Film or Television.
Linden Lab cracked down on gambling, settled with Marc Bragg, got named in a suit (by a French group who apparently prefers to allow the Internet to raise their children unassisted), and started charging VAT per the relevant EU directive - but apparently are not complying with the EU Data Protection Act (though age-verification does). Maybe in 2008. The French lawsuit was thrown out of court before it actually went anywhere.
Age-verification made a huge splash at it's announcement, transformed to identity verification, then back to age-verification again. Age-verification is in beta now, but its teeth have been pulled by policy reversals, in such a way that users no longer need to care about it (as there is no requirement or enforcement) - and subject to the usual sorts of identification inaccuracies that it doesn't seem to be trustworthy.
Linden Lab opened up the source code to a number of their technologies in 2007, including the viewer and assorted utility libraries used on the server side. The process is by no means complete, and the practicalities of doing so appear to conflict with existing development processes internally, leading to glitches and confusion - but also to a flood of minor fixes and features.
Message Liberation decoupled different versions of different systems, allowing the grid to have major updates applied in real-time, rather than having a half-day shutdown for each update. Additionally, it also decoupled versions of the viewer software from the versions running on the servers, reducing the number of mandatory updates.
Linden Lab bought some US East Coast game developers, and their Windlight technology - which was then released in preview viewers and as source code. Windlight has wooed in new users, and more importantly lured back a lot of lapsed users, although the technology requirements are quite steep.
Griefers were very much big in the news throughout 2007, though the groups commonly associated (correctly or incorrectly) with griefing, such as the SA Goons, /b/tards, Patriotic Nigras, and so on have increasingly diminished in overall public awareness - such that the majority of active Second Life users no longer have any idea who these groups are.
The much-vaunted Second Life Liberation Army turned out to not really exist - with evidence uncovered that it was just a data-gathering front for a Corporate Intelligence business, and didn't actually do any griefing, but just wrote some tasty press-releases and shot some videos of members griefing each-other. The fracture caused a couple of spinoff groups who have never been heard from again.
Actually, not so important in the scheme of things for 2007 - originally introduced, we understand, to support a different piece of technology that no longer seems to be in active development. In the end, it should mean much more stable sims, but until it rolls out on the main grid, it's not a matter of much impact.
Voice more or less eliminated welcome areas as PG spaces, and has reduced participation in classes and events that rely on it - but otherwise doesn't seem to have made nearly as big an impact (positive or negative) as expected. Second Life continues to be predominantly a text space.
Second Life began the year with 2,282,345 signups and finished with 11,706,104. That's 9,423,759 signups for the year - an overall rise of 4,046%. While 90-day retention remains at 10% according to Linden Lab, that's still an average signup rate through the year of over 1,000 signups per hour.
While signup medians were around 1,600 per hour in the early part of the year, by the end of 2007, the median per-hour signup rate had fallen to 695.
Peak concurrency for January 2007 was 29,760; for December 2007 it was 58,300 - a 95% gain for the year.
Premium accounts - well, we don't have data for December 2007, yet, but to the end of November 2007, the number of premium account holders rose from 49,776 to 92,595 - an overall growth of 86%.
Total land area grew from 293.65 square kilometres to 939.11 square kilometres by the end of November 2007 - an increase of 219%. During the same period the percentage of Linden estate (mainland) sims dropped from approximately 30% of the total to approximately 20% as the balance has shifted increasingly towards privately owned estates during the year.
The number of Linden Dollars in circulation in 2007 has grown from 1.41 billion at the beginning of the year, to 3.75 billion, an increase of 164%.
Active users (60 day sliding window) has grown from 844,310 (beginning of January) to 1,427,521 (end of December) - an overall gain of 69% (though the number peaked at 1,779,338 on 5 July 2007).
From a numbers-perspective, growth hasn't been very shabby at all.
Things that didn't make the list
Ginko, financial scams, landbots, ad farms and all that - frankly, 2007 featured the same minority-of-people-trying-to-cheat-or-gain-unfair-advantage-over-others that you find every year. Maybe the tools are different, maybe the scams have different names, but there didn't seem to be any overall percentage rise (or fall) in the cheats and the cons in 2007.
Megaprims didn't change the world, either - but nobody really expected them to. Likewise sculptie-prims gave everyone a thrill - but not that much of one.
Many corporations launched a presence in Second Life and treated the users with contempt, disinterest or complete incomprehension. Some few did otherwise, and either engaged the community or used Second Life for their own internal purposes. In both cases neither camp appeared to change the social landscape in 2007 any more than they did in 2006.