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.