My friend and fellow blogger webspelunker Ghostraven has an article here where he talks about the possible future of SL.... I'm inclined to question one or two of his conclusions, but it's an interesting read nonetheless.
Tali is fond of quoting the Gartner hype cycle which demonstrates the routine change of attitudes towards emerging technologies; according to her, Second Life is clawing its way out of the "Trough of Disillusionment" - it has failed to set the world on fire, an inevitable reaction has set in, and now people are examining it and developing whatever - as it were - incendiary properties it does have.
Well, I've made it plain what I think SL is good for - creativity and socializing are its two foundations, to me - but it's worth noting that other people have different ideas; the esteemed Guvnah of Caledon, Desmond Shang, contributed an article to New World News recently in which he talked about the possibilities of SL from the viewpoint of "augmented reality". I'm not sure I agree, entirely, with his arguments... but one thing we all know for sure, the Guv is no kind of fool, and his ideas are worth listening to. So, there may well be more than one way out of this "Trough" thingy, and that's all to the good.
One thing I am, perhaps, less inclined to be pessimistic about is the apparent contraction of the size of the SL grid, because this is something which might be expected, given the realignments of SL attendant on the development of Marketplace and Direct Delivery and stuff like that. I've mentioned this before; with the aggressive push towards Marketplace, a lot of commercial land in SL - shopping malls and the like - has become simply an unnecessary expense for merchants, and some of them have lost no time in divesting themselves of it. I don't think I'm betraying any confidences when I mention that the Guvnah has already talked about shifts of land utilization in Caledon; we might expect similar shifts to take place across the Grid as a whole. If the Commerce Team at the Lab have done their sums right - and that's a pretty big "if", I grant you - the decline in on-grid regions, though an immediate hit to LL's revenue, will pay for itself in terms of (a) increased Marketplace transactions, of which LL takes its cut, and (b) a saving to the Lab itself, as it no longer has to rent servers to hold all those empty shopping malls. And the smaller Grid will be more widely used for whatever it is SL is actually good for - beauty builds and clubs, according to me, augmented-reality-integrable settings according to the Guv, and who knows what else - ideas, anyone?
To be sure, LL's ceasing to issue reports on inworld economic activity is not a good sign... on the other hand, they may simply be wanting to avoid panic, since some of their traditional activity indicators are going to look poorly as the transition takes place, and we all know that rumours of poor performance spark all kinds of knee-jerk reactions and are often self-fulfilling prophecies. Still, these shifts in SL are cause for concern. As I said, it should all turn out OK if the Lab has got its sums right. Time to cross our fingers and hope, I think.