It hit me tonight what was so deja vu about hanging out in Second Life on my pre-Intel iBook: it's like surfing the web on dial-up.
Tonight I wanted to visit some parties, maybe get some new hair, and change my walking animation. Instead I spent almost the entire time waiting for images to render. And waiting. And waiting.
For those who haven't been, when you first teleport into Second Life, everything and everyone appears as gray sillouettes. Depending on how fast your computer is, how connect to the internet, the graphical complexity of the sim you are in, and how the Linden gods are feeling that day, it can take anywhere from a second to a minute to never for the textures to fully load.
While you are waiting, you can still walk around and fly. But you risk bumping into things, or worse, other people, which is very embarassing and annoying since you can't see what you just smacked into.
As is much lamented by residents, the requirements for access to Second Life are quite steep. If you don't have a late model computer (i.e. purchased in the last couple of years), a decent graphics card, and a fast pipe to the internet, you might as well forget it.
Second Life has close to 750,000 residents, well on its way toward their goal of 1 million registered users. The problem being that no one says how many of those 750,000 are people who tried out Second Life for a day, realized how sucky it looked on their computer, and gave up after a couple of tries. I'm going to guess that a huge proportion of the registered population are lapsed accounts of people who just quit after a few trips to gray-ville.
There are no easy answers. Residents are always pushing the envelope of graphical complexity and bandwidth, wanting to add more streaming audio and video, more complex shapes and structures, and even dragging the World Wide Web into the virtual world.
The scourge of grayness doesn't look like its going to get any better as Second Life grows. CNET asks if Second Life is going to be able to scale to accommodate all of these new users. The answer is that they have to, cause waiting for textures to load is the suck big time.