Second Life Still Gets Great Press, Even When It's Dying

flunomedWith the art world imploding alongside the economy, we could all use an inspired feel-good-art-is-still-alive story. But to describe Second Life--which has about 65,000 users logged on at any given time--as the zeitgeist of the art world? Maybe if it were 2006. But don't tell that to the editors of The New York Times Magazine, which just ran a huge feature about Filthy Fluno, the influential afroed avatar of Boston-based artist, Jeffrey Lipsky.

Three years ago, Second Life was predicted to be more ubiquitous than MySpace, YouTube, (and probably Facebook, had it been around). Not only was it a virtual world anyone could participate in--as magazines like Business Week splashed on their covers--it was actually poised to be a viable parallel economy with its own currency system and tribes of virtual entrepreneurs. VC's pumped $19 million into the Silicon Valley startup, while marketers, news organizations, and politicians alike (American Apparel, Starwood Hotels, Wired, and Reuters, to name a few) flocked to the avatar-colonized otherworld to connect with the hoards of consumers rumored to be there. Well, it turned out the millions of visitors hyped by Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, were more illusion than reality.

Second Life is now experiencing its own dystopia. Its visionary founder and resident hunky geek CEO, Philip Rosedale, stepped aside as chairman last year, and has since been reduced to a speaking circuit regular. In April Mark Kingdon, a Wharton MBA-turned-PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner-turned-Organic [digital agency] CEO, was named prince of the Linden Lab kingdom, and with him came more veteran grownups, including talent from Pixar, Adobe, and AOL. Most recently Linden--which earns revenue from selling virtual "land" to residents--recruited Big Spaceship, a Brooklyn based digiital shop (behind HBO's hypnotic and controversial Voyeur website), to redesign Second Life's entire user experience, which has been criticized for being too nebulous.

Second Life's biggest hurdle has been seducing the merely curious and turning them into everyday users. The challenge ahead for Kingdon and his team is that the virtual world's 15 minutes of fame is already in the cultural rearview mirror (not to mention its last round of funding, which arrived three years ago). CMO's and consumers have already moved on to the next best thing (Twitter, anyone?).

Is there anything Second Life could possibly do to lure you back for a second time?

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  • Chaz Maz

    Second Life: Land of the WEAK home of the BROKEN

    First of all, I have been there, have done that. Had clubs, owned land, made friends, money, and fell in love. Second life on the surface, especially for the newbie and Entrepreneur/artist is a fun and cool place to make some friends, and make some money. It is looked at as a supercharged chat room, a video game. But the nature of its name is where the insidiousness is. As much of a second life (SL) as it might be, in order to operate you still have to use your Real Life (RL) abilities. You do not follow a different thought and emotional pattern when in SL. You can only use what you know in RL. But kidding yourself is one of the appeals of SL. You eventually get lost in it.
    At first it is new and exciting. Like a new video game. Learning the functions that move your avatar around, visiting places and socializing with the natives. You are perfect, and you can fly. No sickness, no need for money (well not as much) and people don’t have bad breath and, as a “normal”, “intelligent” person, it is an interesting place to explore and learn. But it eventually becomes one of three things. 1. Boring, like a video game you have played over and over. 2. An environment to explore your creative ability to design and sell things. Or, 3 it consumes your psyche.
    The first two are what they are; the third is the meat and potatoes of SL. This is the one that is more consistent. Do you really think the folks at Linden Labs are spending their free time on SL.? No, they are spending the money they are making in RL (SL is a business so it is RL for them) on RL things.
    There comes a saturation point where you walk away or get sucked in. I will say this for the last time and it does not apply to you newbie’s, or the smart ones that are making money off the lonely. It is a place to hide from reality. It is a place where weak, lost souls go to escape from the depth and breadth of life. I will allow some latitude for you shut-ins. Some people have nothing else but the four walls of the room they are in. SL can provide a form of “human” entertainment that they otherwise would not be able to get. But, that just causes the shut-in to let go of their emotional self being even more. This is a hard pill to swallow, no one wants to take a good look at them selves and most do not. But the covert nature of SL allows you to cut loose. Sort of the absolute power corrupts absolutely theory. People that stay too long get lost in it. And yes, justifying all the way, that it is just a game. For the predator, and a predator is weak by nature, it is a place to be free of thought and persecution. To dominate the weak that makes SL their home. And, it is a place for the weak to not be judged, a place that they can feel and accept that who they are is ok, even if it is with the few. Some people can handle the trials and tribulations of life, some can’t and they end up in SL. You start to see a symbiotic circle of relationships in SL. For the people designing objects to sell, they may not interact totally and directly with the person/s and, their sales may come from across the board. The newbie that is playing the “game” to the obsessed, but, the obsessed is a long term customer. Theses business individuals usually get in, add new product, convert their lindens to dollars or pounds and get out.

    The tragedy is the weak and broken. Don’t roll your eyes, In the Real World we are always conned with flashy marketing to get us to buy something or believe something in order to be more acceptable. Magic creams or potions. Don’t kid yourself; Second Life is about making money. Making money off of what? Our loneliness and our lack of self worth in the real world. HELLO, McFly!! It is called Second Life.

    It might be simple, you build a club, people come and visit or create a group, and you solicit for members. People get together and boom, you feel wanted and needed. Building your dream home in the clouds and littering your lawn with cool things like jets and swimming pools. That can make you popular. Walking in a park with your perfect Avatar girlfriend/boyfriend, no RL issues so it is a perfect relationship. That leads to good puppet sex. Mmmm nice. All this is accomplished by tugging on your weakness, your emotional frailty. Either you are not getting it in RL or are too afraid to face the truth of how to exist in RL. You can’t handle the truth and if you are a long term SL puppet, you just can’t handle life, Real Life. Don’t get me wrong, we all like to escape from time to time.

    In some places it is much darker, like I said before, predators hunting the weak. The Gorean Master and the slaves that he takes control of. This one is unusual, in that the Master has total control over the slave. The “slave” giving not only total control of their Avatar, and who can communicate to them, but also, control as to when they will or will not talk to what they can wear. Believe me this does carry over to real life. Imagine the fun of kneeling next to your Avatar Master and saying nothing. Second life being nothing more then a place to be told what to do, serving fake food and ale. You want to call it guided, or taught? Hey, what ever floats your boat? I know just a video game, right? This setup just allows the predator to get in that persons head and develop a false sense of security. Tell that to your husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. Why you are glued to the PC instead of enjoying life, REAL LIFE. And, couples also get on there too, as couples, this is a nutty one. Worked hard all week, beautiful weekend, and, you both are on a computer, every free moment, building and designing that special home, having that child you never could have. (Yes, people do play the part of the child.) I find it unhealthy when instead of developing a better real life and real relationship in RL. You take that precious time and waste it. Yes, ok… You are free to do what you want. But there are plenty of damaged people on SL. And your fantasy could be causing them to loose sense of reality, along with your lost sense of reality. Their marriages, get funky, destroyed, their children get neglected. And you get a ridiculous God complex that makes you anti social in the Real World, which just plummets yourself deeper in to SL. Cha Ching! Sweet business you got Linden People.
    You have the 50+ couple that spends every “free” moment in SL being the King and Queen. Oh, and so good to their obedient subjects. At their beckons call, at their total command. Or, the sexual perverts. Ok, my opinion….. That can now live out the fantasy of doing it with a farm animal. Or, kneeling down and being the public toilet. Sex is rampant in SL. The anonymous nature of your avatar is something too. You really do not know if the man is a woman or the woman is a man, plenty of men that are living out their desire to be a Transsexual, or a woman. Plenty of women that want to love another woman, so she hides in the body of a man. I guess what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Hey, no one is getting hurt, no aids. Nicey nice. The soul is willing but the flesh is weak. So, the wall that SL provides, allows for an easier transition to experiment. Sad part is as your getting deeper and deeper; you are getting more lost in fantasy then reality and they start to blend. Actually, you probably were lost between the two to begin with. Now you go out into the real world. Take a break; meet one of your SL friends. Break the rule, cross that line; remember SL and RL are supposed to be two different places. People meet up, some get married, the rare few. But mostly it is a letdown, disappointment, and harm to others. It is a dirty little secret. Who wants to tell people that you got into that trouble because you decided to meet your “make believe” friend?
    Lips stay sealed, people get hurt. And in the end, the only place they feel right, the only place that people understand is right back on Second Life. CHA CHING!

  • Wizard Gynoid

    This new article:
    http://tech.yahoo.com/news/afp...
    seems to disagree with this article. According to Second Life CEO Mark Kingdon:
    1. Active users has grown by 25% in the last six months.
    2. Residents spent 41.5 million hours in one month in SL, compared to 28.3 million in the same month in 2008. Do the math --> An increase of 46%.
    3. More than 1.3 million dollars in USD exchange hands DAILY in SL.
    4. $360 million was spent in SL last year.
    5. 15,000 active merchants in SL.

  • Ryan Bishop

    yea i was an early user of SL and i always liked it, even tho i never really found a practical and/or profitable RL use for it. SL is just a chat room. if u can't connect with people then u aren't going to like it. the writer here is probably an anti-social loser who can't even get a gf in SL lol

  • John Laury

    Hardly a dying has been, I'm logged on right now with over 85,000 users logged on, a new record. Not that everything is perfect, but Second Life is going through some growing pains, much as the web did 15 years ago. I predict within 15 years, virtual worlds will displace the web. Perhaps you should do a bit more research before announcing the death of Second Life.

  • Joni West

    It was just October of 2008 that Fast Company did a profile on Second Life highlighting the successes that I have had with my agency, This Second Marketing, bringing real world companies into SL. The big mistakes and over-hype happened when the very first companies went into SL and were getting their marketing advice from people who were excellent at building virtual islands but knew almost nothing about marketing and consumer experience. Things have changed. There are numerous successes listed on www.ThisSecondMarketing.com and we continue to bring a variety of real world businesses into this virtual world. I was personally interviewed for numerous media outlets during 2007-2008 and found that most of the people who interviewed me for mainstream media newspapers had never entered Second Life and could not be convinces to try it even with my offers to hand their hands the entire process. The things that make Second Life so unique and important take more than a sentence to explain. There truly is nothing else REALLY like Second Life where a person can create their entire environment and experience. Virtual worlds are not going away. Second Life is going threw the same growing pains that the web did in the early days. Lots of hype followed by media claiming it was all porn and a waste of time for people with no lives. Yet somehow, the user base is rising and real world entities of all kinds are coming into Second Life and seeing its value. What I don't understand is the zeal with which the media now attacks Second Life. It seems as if there are a lot of people who would like to see Second Life fail and I am not sure why that is. In the meantime, like you, I find that a good Second Life story still garners lots of great press whether from the New York Times or Fast Company Magazine!

  • Dale Walker

    Numbers of simultaneous users are climbing, not falling. Last time I logged in there were 79,000 resident online (I think there was a peak of 85,0000 not so long ago). That doesn't seem to me to be a 'dying' environment to me. OK, those numbers are tiny in comparison to the likes of Facebook but Second Life is profitable on those numbers and has been for a while now. You can't say that for Facebook or Twitter with all their millions.

    If you ask me it just the usual "build 'em up, pull 'em down" cycle that the media love.

    SL has simply gone out of favour with the journalists, the major corporations just didn't take the time to get involved with the social mechanics of Second Life and relied solely on real world marketing tricks that simply don't work in this environment. Those 'creative' entrepreneurs (as opposed to the 'get rich quick' types that didn't get out in time when their greed pulled the rug from under them) that have built their little businesses from scratch and whilst I would suggest most of these little businesses are simply there to pay for the land fees and purchases within the environment, they're still there, still making money and expanding.

    Sure, there was a lot of hot air a few years ago and some of the claims were outlandish, even to me but Second Life is a solid environment for a certain demographic. I would be the first to admit it will never suit everybody. There's no plan or goals for those that prefer games, Facebook is more immediate for social networking and Second Life residents just don't want big corporations trying to muscle in on their little cottage industries so in many cases actively ignore the big guys. Second Life as a marketing environment has failed and in my eyes that actually benefits it's existence not hinders it.

    Where SL does score for me at least is that it's a place where I can build and create something of my own and maybe add scripts to give it some functionality, as well as form. The fact I can then show off my invention to other people and maybe sell it is a fantastic bonus. These building tools are what makes Second Life so appealing to educational establishments and for others it's a place where people with dreams can start small and work their way up.

  • Wizard Gynoid

    This kind of ignorant posturing is barely worth my time to respond to. Second Life's success is different from a lot of the early-on starry-eyed expectations. 1. It's profitable, therefore it will survive. 2. Concurrent logins continue to rise. (BTW, it's usually more than 65,000.) That's another sign of survival. 3. Sim sales continue to rise. Again, another plus in the slowest economy in over twenty years. Since SL will survive, it will continue to evolve in its own special way, which is unlikely to be a predictable one. That is another of SL's intriguing attributes, it continues to surprise. Clearly, the author of this article has no connection with the myriad of clever, talented, creative, brilliant, and motivated avatars in SL who continue to evolve its content. It's not the fault of Second Life or its residents that you didn't have a good experience. Frankly, we're better off without you and your kind.

  • Opensource Obscure

    I think that this article is heavily biased against Second Life, and it omits some facts that are relevant to the matter.

    It doesn't mention for example that hundreds of universities all over the world are increasingly using Second Life, nor that Linden Lab is profitable, nor _who_ actually predicted Second Life's ubiquity (mostly mainstream press that at first over-hypes technologies, than blame them).

    Also, there is a substantial error when talking about Big Spaceship: they didn't work on the Second Life user experience at all, as they only worked on a section of the secondlife.com website (a section that only non-Second Life-users see). By the way, Second Life runs in a separate application, not in the web browser.

    All these facts have been addressed in a better way than what I'm doing here by many sources, as massively.com, pbs.org, readwriteweb.com, virtualworldsnews.com, webworkerdaily.com