The clever boffins at Google have given a peek (Web) at the latest enhancements to Google Maps (Web), the service that at minimum shows maps but has so much more tucked in every corner of it's code, and as you can see from the video above, the new additions are spectacular. In the first release of Google Maps, one could "fly" a point-to-point route along the maps and that was not only useful, but fascinating. I remember spending many an hour retracing family trips and pretending to be on adventures. Later, 3D-rendered structures, albeit simple gray blocks, were added to many cities and "flyby" took on new meaning as I soared through the concrete canyons of major cities. Now, Google is pairing it's Street View (Web) with the 3D modeling to provide a more realistic flyby experience. Now I can trace that one-time 86 block walk with my brother from New York City's Times Square to a comic book shop without my feet hurting so much.
But why does this make me think that Google should buy Linden Lab (AKA, The Lab), one of the leaders in online 3D worlds? A few reasons, actually, not the least of which is innovation. As demonstrated in the video, Google is more forward thinking than The Lab and has the deep pockets to let this creative expression loose. Admittedly, developing a non-goal oriented "game" akin to predecessors like World of Warcraft was innovative and more than a bit cheeky, but The Lab has done little innovation since. Adding Windlight, Mono scripting, and a variety of ways to acquire land were simply expected evolutionary changes, not revolutionary leaps that tickle the imagination. One could argue that Google's photo realistic offering is only evolutionary as well, but I say it is not. The revolution is that the growth wasn't necessary to sustain the product. Further, it defines a forward-looking progression that opens a variety of leads for further change. What has The Lab done to this end?
The term photo realistic makes me think of another reason Google should buy The Lab: The current push by The Lab to make the in-world experience a more photo realistic one; an experience more akin to so-called real life than the cartoon-verse other online worlds provide. Linden Homes (Web) is an example. The Lab is clearly trying to direct the look and feel of being in-world by having structures and landscapes that are not the typically fanciful fare one often finds on the Mainland or in parceled rental regions where aesthetics are not governed. The fantasy regions of the Elderglen (pictured here) are a slight exception, but the uniformity and enforced building standards belie the outwardly whimsical appearance. Log out of the Second Life home page (Web) if you are not logged in and explore the 'What is Second Life?' section to see the current emphasis on In-World as Real Life. If you've seen the Get an Avatar campaign (sorry, I don't know it's exact name nor can I find an example of it at the time I write this post), you have seen that all the examples are of residents with avatars that resemble their Real Life persons. If this is truly the direction that The Lab wants to go, integration with Google Maps or Google Earth (Web) is a must. No other service is as advanced, detailed, or forward-thinking.
But the innovative spirit and the push toward photo realism are just two reasons Google needs to buy Linden Lab. There are many less obvious reasons, but if you combine these two with The Lab's greater push to monetize the World (do you really think they bought XStreetSL to make our shopping lives easier?) an enveloping matrix develops: Second Life is not a game, it is a lifestyle. Certainly, Residents that form the core users knew this. Definitely the large percentage of noobs that try SL for a few days and drop out because there is no "end goal" learn this. If The Lab truly wants to integrate the virtual life with our meatspace lives beyond almost requiring use of Twitter and Facebook and Avatars United. Google is a leader in social media, a bleeding-edge tech developer, and has more money than most nations. The Lab needs Google.
Google probably doesn't need The Lab. And it has other options such as Blue Mars (a really, really photo realistic world, I hear; Web) if it needs such an acquisition. But I believe that such a combination will happen regardless of the parties involved. The Internet is becoming both an information appliance and a place to live. We just need to determine who will redefine that world.