I want to be clear about that, because many people have read my recent post about Second Life as a denunciation of it. Which it was not. I still value the time I spent there, and maybe I’ll be back one day.
I might even be back soon. My life has been very busy since the beginning of December. But things seem to be calming down to manageable proportions.
Here’s how I came to write that post: A friend had been asking me to give him a tour of Second Life, and I’d been reluctant to do it. I asked myself why, and realized I haven’t spent any significant amount of time in Second Life for at least a month. And I asked myself why that was, and came to the conclusions I outlined in the earlier post.
And of course after I wrote a post about how I didn’t log in to Second Life anymore, it was inevitable that I’d spend a couple of hours in SL the next day or so. I finally gave my friend the Second Life tour and it was a capsule of the best and worst of Second Life:
- I encountered some very nice people. I tweeted out a request for suggestions of places to take my friend to visit, and got a number of good responses. One of them was from Rod Humble, the CEO of Linden Lab (!), who invited me to join him in-world, which was extremely gracious of him.
- I saw some nice-looking 3D creations, including an AM Radio landscape I hadn’t seen before.
- I got to spend a couple of hours talking with a friend who I haven’t talked with in months.
And all the good of the experience was very nearly overwhelmed by technology problems.
In particular, I was unable to download — in Second Life jargon, “rezz” — my clothes and default avatar shape. I spent most of the session with my friend wandering around nearly naked, in a primitive Second Life avatar shape. In Second Life jargon, I was “ruthed.”
In Second Life, you identify with your avatar very closely. Being mostly naked and ruthed for most of two hours was like walking out of the house with an enormous zit on my forehead; it felt extremely uncomfortable. Once I was finally able to rezz my favorite avatar, clothes, and accessories, I actually felt a physical sense of relief.
I got a lot of great comments on my earlier post. I want to single out just one, from Dusan Writer, a/k/a Toronto marketing maven Doug Thompson.
He writes that I’m partly right; Second Life is inconvenient. And that’s one of its virtues. Sure, it should be easier to use and less buggy, but the essential nature of Second Life is that it’s interruptive. You can’t just dip into it for a second or two, as you do on Facebook or Twitter. Second Life requires most of your attention for an extended period of time. That is it’s nature, and attempts to dilute Second Life to make it less interruptive are a terrible idea.
I think Dusan is 100% right here (that is, assuming I’m quoting him correctly, which I think I am). And I need to think about the implications to marketing of what he’s saying for my work on The CMO Site.
Earlier, I wrote:
I think Second Life, and virtual worlds, may have gone as far as they can go, that maybe the whole avatar-in-an-imaginary landscape metaphor is the wrong metaphor to best achieve the benefits that Second Life provides, just as Usenet was the wrong metaphor for mass adoption of online discussions, and blogs turned out to be the right one.
I’d love to be wrong about this. Linden Lab, the company which built and operates Second Life, has a new CEO, Rod Humble, and people I respect seem to be very impressed by him. But I’ve been through this before, I liked and respected both of Linden Lab’s previous CEOs, and see no reason to be optimistic this time. I think the world may have simply moved on from virtual worlds (and maybe it moved on three years ago and those of us who continued to advocate VWs were stubborn).
I’m not confident about those two paragraphs anymore. I think I fell into the very common trap of assuming that everything needs to become as popular as Facebook. Everything needs to go mainstream, or it’s a failure.
This delusion, and the related delusion of obsessing about market share, seems to be unique to the technology industry. In other businesses, so long as a company is profitable and satisfies its customers, that company is considered a success.
That’s why I think Second Life and virtual worlds still have an opportunity to succeed. Who cares if the virtual world user base is well under 1% of the user base of Facebook, as long as VW users are satisfied, and the business is profitable? And that’s just viewing Second Life as a business; thousands of people who use SL for hobbies or art don’t and shouldn’t care about profitability at all.
Update: A friend described this as a “please stop throwing cabbages at me follow-up post.” However, I expect it will actually result in EVEN MORE CABBAGES.