So Long Second Life

It might be too early to completely write off Second Life, but lately the virtual world is looking a lot like Central Florida. Private enterprise fleeing. Citizens moving out. Real estate in foreclosure.

We do creepy really well.

We do "creepy" really well.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Second Life, here’s the short version.

It’s a virtual world developed by the ominous sounding company Linden Lab. You experience Second World completely through the Internet – as an avatar (a digital manifestation of yourself). Second Life is a 3-D representative world where the residents can explore, meet other people to socialize with, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services.

It’s not dissimilar to the gaming universe World of Warcraft – sans the broadswords, elves and magic spells.

Second Life was a media darling in 2006 . Hype was in the stratosphere. The extensive coverage had outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek all declaring that Second Life was the future of the Internet. Companies rolled in to buy up chunks of virtual property and build islands and communities to service the teaming hordes of Second Life residents. Second Life was poised to be the next BIG thing in Internet commerce. Reuters even created a Second Life Bureau and dispatched a correspondent to cover all things Second Life.

But eventually reality came to roost. Reuters closed its bureau in November and reporter Adam Pasick said this about the experience: “The very things that most appeal to Second Life’s hardcore enthusiasts are either boring or creepy for most people” (including lots of virtual sex). Companies have been fleeing — because, in fact, there are no teeming hordes of Second Life residents. And the ones who are there? Well, as Pasick said “they’re creepy.” The Valley Wag recently reported that WGBH recently held a concert in Second Life. Seventy people showed up.

So what happened?

Well, one explanation is that Linden Lab blew it. This is from Slog, a Second Life blog: “Linden Lab is also getting more tyrannical and shutting down everything attractive in SL. From gambling to ageplay to age validation to banking, with each blow, SL becomes poorer, and hordes of people are leaving. The markets crash. Insatisfaction rises. And, well, there is now only the mature content left to entertain the masses; with age validation, or the lack thereof, this will naturally also be deleted.”

Maybe. But what really happened is Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Turns out people – mainstream people – don’t want the commitment and the oddity of a Second Life to partake in the Internet. They want their social media fast, easy, efficient and adding value to their personal and business lives. They want to pop in and out when it is convenient for them.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide that type of experience. Second Life is too complicated, too time consuming. And you don’t have to socialize with the avatar of someone self-identifying as a half-man, half-dog who is on Second Life cruising for virtual sex.

Virtual worlds won’t go away entirely, especially ones that offer gaming platforms. But its time to admit the truth: Second Life wasn’t that good of an idea in the first place.

12 Responses to “So Long Second Life”

  1. It’s odd that of late, I feel as if I’ve become a Second Life cheerleader when that was never my intention. The reason is that I keep seeing articles like this one popping up in my Google Alerts, typically written by folks who have little experience with virtual worlds and who have read about Reuters’ “leaving” Second Life (6 month ago almost) and see it as “proof” that all is doomed to failure in SL and other virtual worlds.

    Reuters’ departure received high profile because it was… well, Reuters! When one of the world’s largest distributors of news information wants to talk about itself, you can bet it can do it big time. Like Fox talking about Fox, the story AND the vendor are one in the same.

    My recent comment on the perceived sorry state of Second Life highlights that when measured objectively, Linden Lab has seen growth consistently for years. Yet some folks seem to find one-off incidents of businesses leaving SL and use a sample size of one to create stories about the End of the (Virtual) World.

    The explosion of social networks clearly has an impact on any type of activity, whether that be in a virtual world or on Facebook, because they all compete for the same finite resource – time. When there are 50 ways to spend your time on line and you have 10 hours of free time per week, you can bet adding 10 more is going to lead to less time spent on each diversion.

    Oh, and if someone could point me to the half-man, half-dog cruising for virtual sex, please do so – I could make some real money writing about THAT one!

  2. Hi Sigmund:
    I don’t believe the fact that Reuters abandoning its Second Life bureau necessarily signals the end of Second Life, but the reasons why they left coupled with many other factors certainly point to evidence that Second Life is on the decline.

    Why did Reuters leave? Because Second Life has proven to be more social club than center of commerce — as it was being billed back in 2006. Reuters and many other businesses decided that socializing with avatars (going to dance clubs, parties and having virtual sex) isn’t a valuable use of their resources.

    Second Life has about 50,000 regular users, according to the numbers on your blog. That’s probably below the number of new people joining Facebook each day. Twitter now brags of having 6 million active users.

    Clearly Second Life has become a niche – rather than a mainstream mode of interaction and communication.

  3. But you can’t fly in First Life!

  4. Thanks for checking the blog, George. The figures from the 2007 article versus the ones from today certainly are interesting. Concurrency rates are not a bad way of measuring growth because they reflect actual use over a period of time. Published figures of “registered users” are open to suspicion simply because (a) folks can be “registered” and never use Second Life, and (b) some folks have multiple avatars.

    “Niche” is certainly a fair word but I’d suggest it hasn’t “become” one but always was one! The changes in personnel that have taken place over the past year suggest a company that is looking to expand significantly, possibly with an eye to an IPO. There is a fair amount of “behind the scenes” activity that goes on in Second Life, particularly with the education community, and I suspect that this area of marketing operates at a very low key level.

    Linden Lab’s recent acquisition of the XStreet sales company is evidence of an expansionary policy to broaden how it increased revenue. And there is still activity in the SL/IBM collaborative projects going on, which has to be encouraging to investors – and that’s private equity firms currently.

    The rise of a plethora of social network outlets will certainly affect Second Life – and indeed any other online community. All these networks are, as I mentioned, competing for attention and time, a commodity that we all have a finite amount of 😉

  5. That’s an interesting observation about Second Life always being a niche, Sigmund. That actually might be the case, but I think Linden Lab’s aspirations were higher. They flirted with the mainstream – and certainly got the mainstream press intrigued with gushing articles about them. Watching what happens next will be part of the fun.

    And I very much appreciate your informative insights

  6. Virtual immersive online spaces are great and will tramsfor
    the web. But when? Second life has blown it. In fact they are not a technology company anymore. They are trapped in a big software and systems mess. They are pushing a virtual land business which is too expensive and limits user experience to pad their revenues. They further shocked their customers with an outrageous price rip off on the openspaces.

    Anyway, while so will struggle to reposition other better virtual space offerings are maturing . So so ad we knew is over, but virtual is just starting !

  7. Oh boy, is this going to be strange in a lot of people’s eyes.

    Let me say this first. I have been trying for over two years now to get Linden Lab to promote Second Life for what it is, a Virtual Reality; unfortunately Linden Lab would rather kill off the Residents and turn the Grid over to the Educational/Business Market.

    Second Life does have its place among gamers. For those of us who’s Social Life can’t be achieved outside of our homes, then Second Life is a great place. Please remember there are more then a few us “Disabled” Residents that use Second Life for Social Contact; a more broadening experience because we don’t meet people just in our RL Communities, but we meet people from all over the world.

    The problem with Second Life is simply put, Linden Lab. Since 2005, Linden Lab has done nothing but try to sell Businesses on coming to Second Life, not to offer retail products for sale to the Residents there, but to use Second Life as a Virtual Meeting place, and that’s all well and good, but no matter what IBM says, Management really doesn’t want cute little furries at their meetings. SUN provides a more stable and professional Virtual Meeting program for FREE and you have to be a REAL person Avatar.

    I suggested that Linden Lab offer FREE Real Estate to Companies like NetFlix, BlockBuster, Barnes & Noble, etc., service companies, and FREE Support to get Virtual Stores built and operating, and let those Company’s provide Services to the Residents. This might not drive Sales thru the roof, but as you add more and more Company’s in this manner, you get more and more press, which leads to more people coming into the World. As you build your Resident Numbers (the real one’s, not the psuedo-10 Million Registered users).

    Linden Lab should also be working with Online Educational Facilities to offer Online Courses in Second Life for everyone. Once more, the more services you add, the more Residents will eventually come to you.

    As for the Sex, Drugs, Gambling, Rock and Roll, well, there’s always going to be Creepie people anywhere…you aren’t going to give up Real Life just because there are PORN SHOPS in the Real World are you? Avoiding such place in RL is just as easy in SL, enough said.

    So, do I agree that Second Life is dying? Yes, but I don’t blame the Virtual World for that, I blame Linden Lab. Either Linden Lab is incompetent in running Second Life or they just want to kill off the Residents.

    Second Life’s death will be because of Linden Lab!

  8. Thanks RightasRain and Bob. Great contributions.

    Bob, you bring up an important (and often neglected) point about the benefits of virtual worlds to people with disabilities.

    Ironic, that you also believe the creator will be the death of its creation. Mary Shelley anyone?

  9. Any city is made up by its people and second life is no different. There were tons of things they could do with it, but chose not to.

  10. I knew Second Life was a losing proposition when it showed up on “The Office” as both a story element and a not so sly commentary on the detachedness (is that word?) it promoted. Sufficed to say, I never really understood what possible advantage there was for a business to create a Second Life storefront when real brand loyalty lies in the tactile pleasures of shopping for, buying, and then HOLDING IN YOUR REAL HAND the product you were seeking. Virtual represenations of said product never gave you that final feeling…

  11. I find that it is extremely hard to explain what I do in Secondlife to family and friends. The strange expressions of confusion only reinforce the creepiness you described above. These people are the same ones that are constantly trying to get me to join Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Plurk with them. Secondlife offers all the same stuff the above sites offer and more. I can’t help but think that the general public would ruin what make SL so special. Having it become mainstream would kill the vision that Linden Lab so desperately wants to create. Secondlife is for “Geeks” Why doesn’t anyone recognize the artists in SL? Only a small portion of SL residents are self proclaimed geeks. The vast majority create fabulous works of art such as, virtual fashion, sculpture, photography, and architecture. So why are the artists ignored?

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