Ciaran Laval (once again!) lead me to an article on The Register concerning “Ten technology … FAILS” by one Tony Smith. Some of the entries will doubtless raise a smile or two or have some pundits nodding sagely and muttering, “Yep, said it would never work at the time…”
However, on page four of the item comes … Second Life, which is given a dismissive paragraph concluding, “And then, of course, they all realised that living one, real life was busy enough. And social networking was born…”.
Thus, Mr. Smith joins a growing clique of journalists all eager to proclaim that SL has not only failed, it is in fact like the proverbial parrot famed of Monty Python, “No more”. Not only is his view demonstrably wrong (to sum up what follows, “We’re still here, aren’t we?”), in pointing to Second Life, he again, like many who cite its “failure”, reveal a complete lack of awareness of the platform.
Ciaran asks why attitudes such as this prevail in journalistic circles. He points to an article on The Ancient Game Noob, which also attempts to address the question. Both raise fair points. However, there is really only one answer that matters where views such as those expressed in The Register are concerned, and it can be summed up in two words.
Birth of the Myth
For a time, SL was undoubtedly the darling of the media – whether it be bold predictions of a new kind of “virtual entrepreneur” being the wave of the future. The hype, as I’ve covered elsewhere, began in late 2005, in an article which appeared on CNNMoney and which essentially catapulted Anshe Chung onto the cover of Business Week.
This saw the birth of a story which ran and ran, across more than a year through 2006 and 2007, when the media couldn’t get enough of SL – and nor, for a time, could big business – for reasons neither could fully understand (and nor, in fairness, could LL). All that was apparent, was that the bandwagon was passing by, and it was time to jump on or risk missing out – even though “jumping on” and “missing out” were never actually quantified.
And when it comes to media we’re not just talking the “traditional” forms of media, real or digital print; leave us not forget that CBS jumped aboard in 2007, working with Electronic Sheep to bring us a CSI immersive environment, and the appearance of Second Life (albeit rather badly) on a two-parter of CSI:NY. Other shows also jumped in as well, and even pop stars around the world got in on the act, with Duran Duran (2006) perhaps being the most notable (and still very present), while Italian singer Irene Grandi released her 2007 hit Bruci la città (“Burn the City”) with a video produced in part in Second Life, featuring an avatar based upon her.
It all seemed so good at the time, but the fact is almost all the hype was built on shifting sands. When the platform “failed” as a marketing tool for the likes of Toyota, Nike and others, and no more Anshe Chungs popped up to be embraced by the media, the bubble burst. That Second Life continued on its way, and many within it continued to successfully use it as either a primary or supplementary form of income generation (quite aside from all those simply having fun), was entirely beside the point. Within the world of journalism, the myth of Second Life’s failure had been born.
And it is a myth that has persisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, simply because it is easier to embrace the myth than to look at reality. After all, so many articles have been penned outlining why SL has “failed”, and even those once deeply engaged in the platform’s development have written of the “failure”, that it all must be true, right? Why actually go to the trouble of looking for oneself – even if it’s just to ascertain what former Lindens were actually saying.
In some respects, we, as users, don’t help matters. Rightly or wrongly, much of what is written / said about Second Life by those engaged in Second Life is focused on doom and gloom and the imminent arrival of the sky upon our collective heads. Even LL’s efforts to provide tools with which to create more immersive environments in SL or to increase its potential attractiveness to users from other environments have been negatively – in some cases scornfully – received, even before the new gateways have actually been implemented.
Yet the truth is that Second Life, through all the assorted press commentary regarding its “failure” and all the doom and gloom we sometimes generate ourselves, soldiers on. Despite claims it cannot survive as niche product, it continues to do so to the point where Linden Lab refer to 2011 being one of their most successful years in terms of revenue, with it and 2010 providing them with the cashflow to enter into diversification and brand strengthening through a raft of new products. And while some may well be unhappy at the idea that LL are diversifying, it’s still no reason to consider them to be a sign that the Lab is any less committed to the platform than they were in 2010.
Yes, there are problems which do need to be addressed; tier is going to have to be looked at some point – although it must be done with more caution than some calling for an immediate drop in tier prices may appreciate. The issue of user retention also needs to be handled more pragmatically and visibly and – dare I say – more cooperatively with the user community. But again, as Ciaran comments, these are highly indicative of a complete failure within the platform, and while they do present something of a threat, there is still time for LL to take considered and measured steps to avert any crisis.
It’s fair enough to talk about Second Life in terms of how it has perhaps not lived up to the potential expressed for it by its founders – the Snow Crash vision et al. It’s also fair enough to dissect the platform’s history and look at where things may have “gone wrong” (from a user perspective, from a business-enablement perspective and a media hype perspective, etc). But the fact that it remains the largest grid-based virtual environment of its kind, warts and all, with people passionate enough to spend their time not using it, discussing it, blogging about it and helping to develop elements of it. And while in equal fairness there may yet come a time when we can definitively say SL has failed (as the last server is powered down and the last regions poof) – that day has yet to arrive; it therefore remains far too early to discuss Second Life as a viable platform in the past tense.
So to all those journalists who persist in scribing about the failure / passing of Second Life, I dedicate the following (slightly tongue-in-cheek) on behalf of all of us still happily logging-in to SL:
- For a failed technology Second Life is going strong – Ciaran Laval
- Ten technology … FAILS – The Register
- Second Life among technology fails? – The Ancient Gaming Noob
- Why Second Life failed – The Slate
- Why Second Life failed – Gene Yoon
- Too early in the game – Gene Yoon
- LL’s new products aren’t the end of Second Life
- The tracts of our tiers