What benefit is there of linking totally decoupled websites, ones were there are games, financial transactions, healthcare information, discussion fora, personal diaries, etc.? I believe the benefits would be that of a platform, namely one that becomes more and more valuable as more uses or functions are available through it. The same could be though of as the wide diversity of islands within Second Life. There are an enormous variety of subcultures in SL, and it is likely that not all of them would ever be accessed by any one particular individual or group. I find it impossible to keep up with even the major announcements for particular use, e.g., the k-12/teen use, the artistic creation/production use, the classroom use, the advertising and public relations use, the business meeting and collaboration use, etc.
Shapiro & Varian’s Information Rules (1999). Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA. is a great and easily accessible primer on “network effects”, pricing, versioning, standards, and intellectual property. (Disclosure: Hal Varian was Dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at Berkeley when I attended as a masters’ student). My belief is that these network and digital information effects will have an enormous impact on the 3d web as much as 2d, though there will of course be differences. I agree that avatar issues represent significant challenges (Do the inventory objects traverse virtual worlds like they do SIM boundaries? Do scripts work in different worlds?). This is where the web services model of tying things together will likely proliferate (See Amazon.com’s Web Services Evangelist Jeff Barr’s blog, as well as the pluggable browser (e.g., Firefox + plug-ins), and 3d standards (x3d, see Media Machines and Ajax 3d).
An analog in 2d web history for the concerns, the costs, and the timeframe of development is online banking. This was seen as a huge security concern (and still is). However, ecommerce and Internet banking is here to stay. Still, it took a while for banking customers to become comfortable with online banking, and many still are not. There is a definite “diffusion of innovation” process at work (Rogers, 2003, Diffusion of Innovation, 5th edition).
On a personal note, I hope that Linden Labs will or will have learned the lessons that AOL seems not to have, namely the absolute necessity of canibalizing their current busines model (…in time, in time…) to embrace and extend to the 3D web. The web (and the massive diversity and negligible barriers to entry) could most instructively be understood as a market, not as a competitor. What does that mean? Leverage the possibilities by virtualizing as much of the infrastructure as possible. Maintain mindshare as the portal through which access most effectively (and intuitively) begins. Enhance and extend search and directory services. Find ways to attract major user segments and become the customer-facing partner of choice. Develop a venture fund and partner and acquire those components which are most effective at extending the reach and value of Second Life. At the same time, if LL wants to pursue the S3 business model, that might work (at least in the short-term, in the medium- or long-term, the growth factor will not be scalable, and other platforms will grow as well).
Note a conversation on Terra Nova that discusses this issue…