PC Magazine Takes a Jab at Second Life

Having just witnessed an interview with Second Life’s CEO and founder, Phillip Rosedale, it is incumbent upon me to finally get to my post about PC Magazine’s recent series of less-than-flattering articles about Second Life. As I recall the word “hype” was mentioned multiple times. The bottom line of PC Magazine’s critique was that the figures that Linden Labs uses for Socond Life usage are deceptive. Currently, the number of Seocnd Life residents is over 5 million. That figure reflects the total number of times that a new avatar has been created. It includes all the people who logged in once and tried it out for an hour and have never been back. It also includes avatars who have the same real person behind them. Essentially, this figure is meaningless. It doesn’t really give any idea about how many people are really using Second Life. Even the figures for who has logged in in the last 7, 30, or 60 days aren’t that helpful, since a single real person may have multiple avatars for any number of reasons. Anyhow, PC Magazine estimated that there are around 135,000 real people using Second Life. This represents a terribly small number of people relative to the PLANET EARTH. Meaning that, by comparison with, say, television, advertizing in Second Life isn’t gonna reach too many people. A business considering opening shop in Second Life needs to consider this. There are only so many people in Second Life. More importantly are these the kind of people we are trying to reach? My guess is that this probably isn’t that great a place for a company like Cisco to try to sell routers, switches, and enterprise VOIP solutions. [Point of clarification: Cisco agrees. See the comment below. Cisco and IBM, for that matter, mainly use SL as a means of adding value for customers though meetings, trainging, tech-talks, and soliciting user feedback on new products.] I mean, is your average 13 year old or your average unemployed, living-with-their-mom, socially debilitated 35 year-old really making decisions about enterprise information architectures? I mean, I’m trying get my mind around what kind of person hangs out in a virtual disco or strip club drinking virtual beers? Are these the kind of people who are likely customers for IBM, Cisco, Xerox, and Dell? Ok, so if you elliminate these guys, oh, and also the guy who owns the Star Wars shrine island how many real prospective customers are there? One PC Magazine contributer observed that every virtual store front he visted–Sears, Circuit City, Dell–had no customers when he visited.

What are IBM, Cisco, and other banking on? Well I think that what everyone is longing for is the next great break through. Afterall, the Internet is now mainstream–websurfing, chatting, P2P filesharing–the 2D web. What everyone is waiting for is the 3D web–the web a la “Lawnmover Man,” “The Thirteenth Floor,” “The Matrix,” or even William Gibson’s pre-Interne, early 80’s, novel Neuormancer. I suppose that everyone is banking on Second Life as the world’s best hope for the 3D web. If enough people get behind this and Linden Labs makes the right strategic decisons, they will get credit for the next great break through for infromation revolution. However, if adoption is not there, then Second Life will just be a ghetto on the Internet, a niche for freaky 13 and 35 year-olds.

I personally am not sure that the 3D wed is really all that better than the 2D web. I mean, I can buy a song or album on iTunes with one click. I don’t think that walking into a 3D music store is easier or more compelling than iTunes. The same can be said for Amazon and Froogle. Also since interaction in Second Life takes place through text, how is this so much better than AIM, MS Messenger, or Yahoo Chat?

The bottom line is that it looks like there are major players trying to propel Second Life forward but for me it is not clear that it will replace much of the 2D web. Its a gamble. Early adopters are staking their claims. But, time will tell if Second Life has real staying power. I’m sure similare things were said about podcasting, wiki’s and blogging and those things are pretty-well mainstream now. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

2 thoughts on “PC Magazine Takes a Jab at Second Life

  1. In answer to your question about Cisco in Second Life, we have no plans to sell routers or switches in there. What we do is work with our customers (the SL community founded a Cisco User Group and it has over 100 members currently), channel partners and other partners. We do training, tech talks, user group meetings, and my group specifically (new technology development) actually prototypes new products and elicits feedback from the customer community there.

    I suspect, as you note above, that not many 13 year olds would voluntarily join a Cisco User Group. The people that we have found in SL are early-adopters of new technology, and are in respectable positions in the industry. It is already a useful addition to traditional 2D tools in collaborating with our customers and partners.

  2. Christian,

    I should have been more careful not to misrepresent how Cisco is using the technology. My apologies. However, there is still a valid question here. Cisco has only been in SL for a short time, but I imagine that 100 members is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the traditional 2D collaboration tools that Cisco uses. Also I would imagine that the rate of subscriber sign-up for the conventional methods still significantly out-paces SL sign-ups. I think PC Magazine’s observation should be taken seriously. When making business decisions, one must evaluate cost-benefit. How much money is Cisco spending on each of those 100 members, compared to their other collaboration methods. I’m sure it is still much too early to even predict if it is a cost-effective venture. I’m sure you at Cisco will be keeping a close eye on the usefulness of this product.

    The whole story on Second Life is continuously changing and even my own personal journey with it. I am a new CIO and responsible for evaluating and implementing technology and I would be irrespnsible to write off something that Cisco, IBM and others are taking pretty seriously. Our organization is distributed across two continents and several countries and we are interested to see if SL would complement our own collaboration efforts. It is a complicated equation. I think the observation of most concern to me that many 40+ individuals have trouble getting used to the interface and have written the thing off entirely. In sharp contrast, my generation and younger who were raised with video games are up and running very quickly and older technophiles similarly have little problems. We have customers who print off their emails and write their responses by hand on the print out. We aren’t going to reach these individuals with the 2D Web 3D web or what ever else is coming no matter what we try. But there are people all along this spectrum and we have the complex decision of choosing which technologies to implement to build and strengthen relationship. And we have limted budgets… well maybe not Cisco, but we do.

    Thanks for your comments and I will correct my post to reflect your imput.

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