Pessimistic as I may sound, I'm actually sympathetic to Second Life's potential. I've long held a sort of visceral sense that 3-D virtual environments would be an incredible way for users to interact with one another, and for businesses, schools, and other institutions to offer services to the public. At first blush, Second Life seemed to be on the track to enabling all that, but Linden Lab's laissez-faire policies left all of the power in the hands of the wrong set of users, driving off those who might have actually been able to build something worthwhile in the metaverse.
Even worse, the devolutionary spiral left many of Linden Lab's most influential business customers feeling burned and looking silly for all the time and treasure they spent constructing ethereal online palaces that nobody visited. That's particularly sad, because it not only hurts Second Life's chances at a recovery, but also poisons the well for any other innovators looking to take a crack at building on the same model.
But if Linden Lab can put Second Life's tawdry past behind it and get focused on creating a compelling user experience that incents ordinary people to keep logging in, the company may yet have a shot at delivering on the promise of virtual reality. While the demands of users may be complex and varied, the demands of businesses are simpler: Give us an audience that we can sell stuff to, and don't tarnish our brand images with a torrential downpour of giant phallic symbols.