On Friday 21st June, the BBC once again asked, “Whatever happened to Second Life?“. It’s not the first time they’ve asked the question, a link on the page takes you back to 2009, when they asked the same question.
At that time, the Beeb looked at SL form a largely corporate perspective, highlighting some of the pitfalls of the platform (not all of which were of LL’s making; there is a certain amount of blame to be placed with the media for spinning the hype to such an extent that corporations were foolish enough to all leaping without looking).
In the latest piece, which takes the form of a video cast, the Beeb again largely retreads the same theme, seeing SL purely in terms of being a corporate tool. While the piece starts off somewhat positively, looking at the in-world music group, Redzone, and highlighting how they can reach a global audience at minimal cost, it quickly ramps down to kind of narrow-focus piece which tends to typify the fact that, as Draxtor Depres has commented in our Drax Files conversations, much of the media is actually too lazy to make the effort to actually report on SL, and is far more content to retread old themes.
In the BBC’s case, this takes the form of once more banging the corporate drum as to how companies poured into SL, “spent millions”, only to subsequently pull-out and raised the idea that “everyone” who used SL has “moved on” to other social media platforms (as if it is a case of one or the other).
The general observation that corporations are somewhat more cautious nowadays when investing in social media is actually a fair point to make. However, as an attempt to address the question of “whatever happened to Second Life”, it is at best lopsided, once again generating the impression that simply because “big business” failed to understand and exploit Second Life, the platform itself has passed its sell-by date.
It’s an unfortunate angle to take, one which suggests that the BBC consider Second Life to be something barely worth the effort of addressing beyond the scope of past reports, despite this weekend marking the platform’s tenth anniversary. And it is hardly likely that the Beeb weren’t aware of this, given the press release and infographic (rright) the Lab issued earlier in the week on the subject.
In fact it’s fair to say that rather than managing to answer the very question they ask in the title of the piece, the BBC seem content to raise several more questions about SL – and then leave them hanging. Which is a shame, because had they bothered to make something of an effort instead of opting the “rinse / repeat” route, they may have discovered some surprising answers.
Making something of an effort is exactly what Benny Evangelista, a tech and business writer at the San Francisco Chronicle did. No doubt spurred-on by the Lab’s press release and infographic, Evangelista interviews the Lab’s CEO, Rod Humble. In doing so, he is able to present a piece which is informative, providing some interesting insight into goings-on at the Lab and Humble’s own thinking on the future. In doing so, it goes a heck of a lot further in answering the question marks left in the BBC’s piece.
Take, for example the issue of corporations and business in SL. The BBC point to IBM and others with the attitude, “they came, they failed, they left – game over”. However, when raising much the same point with Humble, Evangelista gets a very different answer which presents a much broader and fairer perspective:
Evangelista: There was once great talk about companies coming in and setting up virtual shops, and it being a potential source of revenue for them. And then they pulled back.
Humble: And it was taken up by amateurs or people who specialized in it. So (of) the people who make money now within Second Life, there are people who sublet land, and they help maintain the land.
And there are people who make good money – and by good money, I mean hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – making hair, making virtual pets and animals. So it’s those people who are used to the virtual world, rather than big, established companies who are like, “OK, we’ll have a showroom within the world.” So I think (the promise of virtual commerce) was realized, it was just in a very different way.
I always hate waxing pretentious, but indulge me for a moment. I do think there’s a shift within the worldwide economy of people making money in more diverse ways. The nature of work itself is changing. In the same way that people make a good livelihood making objects in Second Life, you’re starting to see people generate significant revenue from posting their cat pictures on YouTube. Now you get an ad-sharing thing. That’s a trend that’s going to continue, and it’s certainly helped propel Second Life.
Humble also offers an alternative view to the idea that SL has perhaps failed because it is not as easy to navigate and understand as the Internet, and hence not as popular as social networking sites:
It’s different for sure. I think there is something (about) being within a 3-D space that’s entirely user-created that is more magical than looking at an image on a Web browser.
Usually it’s around that sense of place. But also there’s a sense of intimacy when you’re talking with someone in a virtual world, and at any time you can walk around, and you get to see what they’ve chosen to represent themselves, that I think is different from pushing a text message somewhere. I don’t know why it’s different, but it is.
Elsewhere in the article, Humble touches on the future and the fact that LL are still investing in Second Life and “virtual worlds”, although – and as he stated a while back in this blog – whatever they’re working on is still a few years down the road. We also know they are investing in at least one other virtual world development: Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity (scroll down the page of the list of investors).
Commenting on their own work in this area, Humble says, “What we’ll call it, I don’t know. The fundamental aim is to make sure that everybody who wanted to love Second Life will love our future products.” Nor does he leave it there; in commenting on this particular aspect of the future, he reveals what is perhaps his toughest goal and responds to one of the hardest critiques made about Second Life today – ” the users who got away” -, stating:
There’s an awful lot of people who tried Second Life and for whatever reason, it didn’t resonate for them. That number is 36 million. That’s a lot of people who tried it and said “meh,” for whatever reason. My aim is to get those people (back).
That’s a pretty hefty ambition, however you look at it, and one that speaks strongly to the company’s commitment to virtual environments.
It’s easy to critique any piece like the SF Chronicle’s coverage and dismiss it on the basis that the Lab tends to pick and choose the questions it wants to answer (as is the way with most corporations – that’s any most of them have a press office / officer); or to see it as failing to answer the questions we, as users / customers want answered.
However, any piece offering so brief a look at Second Life’s long and complex history and internal machinations is bound to come across as “light” in places. There’s also the fact that the media, even if primed, aren’t actually going to be interested in asking many of the questions users might feel deserve answering.
As it stands, the SF Chronicle’s piece makes worthwhile reading. Yes there is some re-treading of themes – but again, that’s the nature of the beast with any company wishing to shine a light on its own achievements. More importantly, however, it does give more insight into some of the thinking that goes on at the top of the company, and helps put more perspective on the Lab’s thinking with Second Life and their future directions.
There may well be warts, large and small which still need addressing. There are still questions many of us engaged with Second Life would like to see addressed in some way. But putting these aside for the time being, and instead laying Rod Humble’s responses to Benny Evangelista’s questions alongside the question asked by the BBC at the top of their piece, it would seem we have an answer:
Whatever happened to Second Life? Well, it’s doing rather nicely, tyvm.
- Whatever happened to Second Life? – BBC, June 21st
- Will Second Life have a second life? – San Francisco Chronicle, June 23rd
- Rod Humble talks-up new products, creativity and Second Life – this blog, October 14, 2012
Quotes courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.
With thanks to Saffia Widdershins for the pointer to the SF Chronicle’s article.