Second Life was an exciting combination of people trying to do different things.
Many people came to Get Rich Quick, by reselling server (virtual "land") parcels,
or making clothing and accessories and other objects, or by providing entertainment
services (live music, virtual sex trade).
Some companies came in order to promote themselves, either as
corporate impressions, or even marketing real-world products through
interactions in the virtual world.
Some groups came to try Education on the platform.
Some came to try it out as a virtual Business Meeting space (especially when Voice became supported).
A lot of people came (or quickly discovered) for fun creating with the
3D modelling, making toys, vehicles, games of many kinds, housing,
static/kinetic artwork, scenery, clothing, etc.
And the bulk of the population came to play with all of the above,
not to mention the general activities of Shopping, dressing up your
avatar, and just plain socializing.
All of the above suffered from: technology limitations (the attempt to use it
or business was particularly laughable, given the platform's reliability)
and from Linden Lab's...ummm...dynamic (chaotic and consternating) policies,
and from IP issues.
The "real estate" trade, which allowed a tiny handful of people to actually
get rich, was deliberately killed off by the company as a strategic move.
A notable big business sector in SL was illegal gambling devices,
which came to an end due to legal problems with the U.S. Government.
Most of the content creators who were making significant money went
out of business when two things happened, one after the other.
First, there was no way to prevent copying of most content, and it got
to the point where everything was promptly stolen by illegitimate
competitors. (If your client software can render the content, it can generally
capture the content for theft and re-creation.) Shortly after this became
untenable, new features were introduced to significantly enhance the
quality of new content (aka "mesh"). Creating that content required
external tools, beyond the capabilities of most creators, and it also
resulted in fragmentation of the user base with lots of confusion
about the content. This was after all the "VR" hype and get-rich-quick
had died down, and after people had figured out that SL was not ready
for prime time in the business and education sectors.
Although the primary communication method was text messaging, SL had
about the worst messaging system you could imagine. Very primitive,
and for most of the platform's history, Group instant messaging was
unreliable and crashed all the time. (And though it sounds unforgivably
incompetent, it was related to scaling issues on both the rather
complex server architecture and the structure of the client program.)
Some people will mention griefers, and that was an issue to some degree.
It was only after the place was dead that they finally implemented
rudimentary features for virtually muting people (that is, making them
invisible to you), and even that is not enough. Privacy and Security
seem to be hard to figure out.
Linden Lab cites the newbie user experience as a problem.
Just figuring out how to operate was problematic and confusing.
Some huge (90% ?) of people never even completed the introductory
experience necessary to actually enter the main world.
When they did make it, they were dumped randomly into "help areas"
which were totally infested with griefers just waiting for the fresh
meat. Although some improvements and variations were made on this,
they were not really good enough. And always, those who got past that
were still left wondering, "What is this place for? Is it a game?
How do I win? I heard i could make money here somehow."
And the user interface was indeed a rather technical challenge for
most people (hence the Sansara statement about Sl being just for geeks).
One of the most successful things about Second Life was as an easy
platform for primitive 3D modelling, allowing ordinary people the
ability to create things and play with them. However, this was
difficult to monetize on the scale needed to support the platform.
These amateur content creators will not be around on Sansara, which
uses external, professional tools (not in-world real-time multi-user
primitive tools) to create a much higher-quality VR. The focus of
Sansara will doubtless be consumer-oriented, separating content
creators from the populace. SL proceeded from the notion that everyone
was probably a content creator, even if they only made little throw-away
hings just to try that out.
Interest groups on Second Life were as varied as real life, but just a few of
the more enduring ones have been Steampunk and other roleplaying,
literature (e.g. poetry workshops), content tutorials (e.g. Gimp lessons),
and social games (Tiny Empires). There used to be a lot of live music
performances and also DJ'd "dancing" (animations you could purchase).
By the way, Second Life is still around. It has always been hard to
believe the Linden Lab user statistics, and I very seriously doubt
there are nearly a million active users. That's got to be WAY off.
And almost everyone complains/wonders, "Where is everyone?",
because (a) there are fewer people and (b) it is hard to find them.
Sansara will probably have a much better way to locate communities
that you might be interested in -- before you first log in -- and get
you right specifically into them. This will address the motivation
problem as well as the locating problem.
Lots of questions about how Sansara will work, but little question
that it will be prettier and more visually amazing. As a social
community, a content creator's money platform, an art platform, or a
business or education platform, everything is unknown and we'll have
to see how this next generation system plays out. Headsets like the
Occulus Rift are a whole new game (as it were) with new and greater
expectations. I think it's probably going to be a lot more like what
you saw in "Caprica" (the Battlestar Galactica prequel).
Meanwhile, the future is clearly in augmented reality or mixed reality.
But you have to have something to mix, and that would be Sansara.