Multiple Takes on Second Life

Lots of talk about virtual world Second Life today; not all of it good. On the one hand, Clay Shirky has considerably upped the volume in his post “Second Life: A story too good to check” (Link) on some things that I and others have been saying: that the media (and to some degree Linden Lab itself) is making too many mistakes(?) in their overzealous effort to fuel and/or be a part of the hype machine. On the other hand comes news from C|Net (Link) that IBM is continuing their relatively large-scale effort inside Second Life. Earlier today I caught that well-traffic’d blog 3pointD had a post (Link) on the bullish atmosphere allowing even new businesses to grab projects. But on the other side of the coin Clickable Culture and I are splitting hairs over “how late is too late” (Link) for LL to get its story straight before it loses credibility (assuming it hasn’t already) and damages future prospects.

So where I come out on this is pretty simple:

a) with regard to Shirky’s comments, I tend to believe that just because we saw the hype once in the mid-90’s doesn’t negate the possibility that 3D interfaces aren’t on the way. The reference to videophones he makes is, imo, not an especially good one. The truth is that technically we *could* have them today. That we don’t have them now says more, imo, about the user than it does about the technology.

One has to ask why we don’t have videophones today when we clearly could. I tend to believe that the majority of consumers just weren’t and perhaps still aren’t ready. One consideration is that there’s a kind of privacy in only being a disembodied voice that is shattered when a photographic image is transmitted. For older generations, potentially transmitting images of themselves to telephone marketers or wrong number callers or stalkers might be more intrusion than they desire. Furthermore, if one looks at cell phone use, it’s just as likely people will take images of something else than as of themselves.

Additionally, people have been dumping landlines for cells, so the lesson seems to be that they care more about constant connectivity (even primitive texting) than about the kind of connectivity. Relative to surfing the net, virtual world interfaces are actually better in meeting those kinds of wants, meaning that even primitive worlds are sufficient so long as the connectivity and their buddies are there. Assuming Second Life ever gets an integrated browser up and running so that people can socially surf the net, things could change dramatically.

However, as to the rest of his post, I’m essentially in agreement {meaning I obviously don’t agree with everything Shirky says and am mostly happy the issue has been raised a notch}. In fact, I’ve been vocal in my opinion that Second Life is mostly a good testbed for what will eventually come along.

b) That leads to the 3pointD post. My feeling is that the bulls will run until early Spring. Why? Couple of reasons. The first is that users in the northern hemisphere (the bulk of Second Life’s users) are indoors due to the winter season. This elevates user numbers and will keep the interest alive. Furthermore, come January 1st, most corporate coffers reset so that projects are continued or are started because there is a new budget with which to play. Consequently, as I already see a downturn around March, I’m moving toward bearish now. We’ll see how things go. If that integrated browser arrives, all bets are off.

c) What could either hurt or help whether things tank or get through the March downturn is how Linden Lab manages their PR. They simply can’t have different voices trying to give “tricky” answers to questions about the statistics. Too many people have been fooled too many times in real life to not be able to sniff out the deception hiding behind carefully wordsmithed comments. I’m not sure they can clean up the mess that’s resulted, but at least they could try. They have their so-called “user” numbers. Time to get real (so to speak).

d) What better way to end than with IBM. I don’t know specifics about most companies that have entered SL, but the two of which I’m aware that seem to truly grok this are IBM and Amazon (technically that’s one, since the Amazon employees are *supposedly* working on their off hours, last I heard). Both of them seem to get that the opportunity isn’t in Advertising and Sales at this time, it’s in the Research and Development to support those future activities. So while Second Life-based consulting groups are chasing Marketing departments knowing that the Advertising/Media industry is desperate and clutching at every opportunity that comes along, the real opportunities in my opinion are in selling SL as a research tool. And what better time to do it than when LL’s statistics are so much in doubt.

(Note: I’d include eBay among those two, but other than investing in SL, I’m unsure what the company is doing – if anything.)

6 thoughts on “Multiple Takes on Second Life

  1. The resaerch and development into what all this means is certainly something that is important. Many of us as IBMers have been exploring Second Life for all sort so reasons from all sorts of walks of life.
    One of the big draws is the added human element to electronic commnuications. It is not the only way to commnucate, but the fact that people gather for events, attend and event, and mingle briefuly afterwards already has the drop on Video and Tel Conferencing.
    We already use chat, with Sametime as our client for an aweful lot of things. SL gives us chat and a richer stack of ways to interact and emote.
    This in istelf is reasearch, as the principles of meeting in a virtual world, and not shooting one another is new in this context.
    So just as with all the ther potential aspects we have to learn and study and experience these things.

  2. This in itself is research.


    When I first got into SL, my own research was mostly of the typically academic variety: find paths from virtual stuff to CAD and rapid prototyping. However, after spending time *inside* and experiencing the immersion, I realized there was much, much more to be learned and significantly more going on. It’s the difference between wading in the shallow waters of the beach – head and shoulders above the water – and deep sea diving.

    That’s why the standard announcements I read are so disappointing to me. Hiring a consulting group to mostly only build up a virtual “store” neglects that immersive element and treats SL as a media platform; and their constructs are more akin to a commercial. That makes sense to me if the business has never bothered to actually immerse themselves. They’re in the shallow water. But for those who are immersed, it’s a questionable endeavor.

    Believe me, I never really thought of IBM as the kind of company that would be on my list of companies that would grok what’s going on (at least not until it began reinventing itself a few years back; away from a hardware company and towards a knowledge-based business). However, I do think it’s cool that such a long-lived corporation is in there with the likes of Amazon.

  3. Pingback: Second Life: Get A Life » Webomatica

  4. Opened up feeds months ago, mon.

    Thanks for the link. I flipped through the slide show on the AdLab blog, but don’t recall the extensive write-up. Will have to give it a read.

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