When I was at the Second Life Community Convention in August, I had the pleasure of seeing Mitch Kapor give the opening keynote. In it he stressed the key ingredients a company (like Linden Lab) must provide in order to facilitate innovation: Infrastructure, Core Capabilities, Overall Management of Economy, and Social Order. No doubt, we can agree he’s on the right track. Funny enough, a few days after the convention, Nicholas Kulish, a NY Times columnist, wrote an inspiring piece (NY Times Select subscription req’d) on America’s crumbling infrastructure, including some frightening spending and performance numbers that just don’t make sense for a country that once led in its superior infrastructure.
SL’s infrastructure is huge and getting bigger every day as more users come aboard. Like online gaming, these types of applications requiring exceptional broadband speeds are multiplying. I believe that online gaming and/or virtual worlds are the applications driving the demand for bandwidth. But the network has to get better. In comparison to other parts of the world, U.S. broadband speeds are pathetic. The FCC recently reported that 57.6% of high-speed lines are greater or equal to 2.5 Mbps but less than 10 Mbps. In South Korea users can expect average speeds of 10 Mbps. And that’s just going to get bigger since Asians are the most bandwidth-hungry consumers out there. Nielsen/NetRatings research shows that the number of U.S. active Web users connecting through broadband has grown to 72%. Ok, users are here and coming by the droves, for goodness sakes, bring on the speed.
Of course, I’m not trying to make the case for better broadband just so I can have an ideal online multimedia experience. As Kulish pointed out, America is the one who started the Internet economy but it looks like we’re well on the road to being unseated. Unless the U.S.wants to continue to lose market share in these areas to Asia and Europe, then its time for everyone involved to really invest in infrastructure. Personally, I don’t believe in that expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” Let’s try this one on for size, “Even if it ain’t broke, keep fixin’ it.”
Before I end this, I want to address Kapor’s final ingredient to fostering innovation—Social Order. While I agree that it’s crucial, I also want to stress the importance of personal responsibility in an e-commerce world. This week, numerous outlets reported on Second Life’s unfortunate, but inevitable, security breach. Second Life users were alerted by Linden Lab last week, just as they should have been. Let me stress “inevitable” here. SF Chronicle’s Dan Fost points out that there are risks in any online transaction, calling it a “fact of life.” I concur. People have been participating in online transactions for years now. This is nothing new and just as when your real life credit card gets stolen, it is up to you to call your bank ASAP and report it. It is absolutely the responsibility of Linden Lab to alert its users immediately to a breach and any hint of compromised data—which they did. But now it’s up to the users to take matters in their own hands and change their passwords, call their bank, etc…