It has been a few days now since the announcement that There, Inc. would be shifting effort almost entirely from providing the consumer service — running the world we've come to know and love, in other words — to working on the "technology platform". I've seen a lot of strong reactions by others in forums and elsewhere: ranging between "the sky is falling" to "this is a tremendous opportunity for the membership".
The sky has clearly not fallen, as yet, and we have been half-promised that the service will remain open for at least 90 days. I can still do the things I enjoy with the friends I've found here, so I'm certainly not on my way elsewhere as yet. This blog, the technical wiki, my There software and the Community Rapid Transit System aren't going anywhere either.
I'm not as optimistic as some about the longer term future of the There world. Even if There, Inc. successfully refocus on platform development, I don't foresee a time when that new platform will be reintegrated with what we have now; that's just in the nature of "forked" development. We are more likely to see, for example, There, Inc.'s wonderfully expressive avatar technology in Half Life 3 in 2007 than we are to get any significant enhancements to the existing world in a few months time.
The reality is that this change has come about for hard commercial reasons: not enough members have joined the consumer service and spent real cash in-world to make it worth expending the significant effort required to continue actively enhancing it. What's more, I can only guess that this must be quite definitively true; the figures must be such that There, Inc. didn't see that situation as being likely to change in the foreseeable future.
We can hope that the cost/benefit equation is much closer to balance now, after re-deployment of many technical resources and (we understand) a significant round of layoffs. Maybe that will keep the world alive beyond the 90-day evaluation period; I certainly hope so. Whether the world survives or not, though, the commercial failure of There's consumer service is a disappointment. As Dan Hunter says at Terra Nova:
[…] it can't be good news for the development of virtual worlds beyond the typical D&D-inspired MMOGs.
See you in There… I hope.