It might be too early to completely write off Second Life, but lately the virtual world is looking a lot like Central Florida. Private enterprise fleeing. Citizens moving out. Real estate in foreclosure.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Second Life, here’s the short version.
It’s a virtual world developed by the ominous sounding company Linden Lab. You experience Second World completely through the Internet – as an avatar (a digital manifestation of yourself). Second Life is a 3-D representative world where the residents can explore, meet other people to socialize with, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services.
It’s not dissimilar to the gaming universe World of Warcraft – sans the broadswords, elves and magic spells.
Second Life was a media darling in 2006 . Hype was in the stratosphere. The extensive coverage had outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek all declaring that Second Life was the future of the Internet. Companies rolled in to buy up chunks of virtual property and build islands and communities to service the teaming hordes of Second Life residents. Second Life was poised to be the next BIG thing in Internet commerce. Reuters even created a Second Life Bureau and dispatched a correspondent to cover all things Second Life.
But eventually reality came to roost. Reuters closed its bureau in November and reporter Adam Pasick said this about the experience: “The very things that most appeal to Second Life’s hardcore enthusiasts are either boring or creepy for most people” (including lots of virtual sex). Companies have been fleeing — because, in fact, there are no teeming hordes of Second Life residents. And the ones who are there? Well, as Pasick said “they’re creepy.” The Valley Wag recently reported that WGBH recently held a concert in Second Life. Seventy people showed up.
So what happened?
Well, one explanation is that Linden Lab blew it. This is from Slog, a Second Life blog: “Linden Lab is also getting more tyrannical and shutting down everything attractive in SL. From gambling to ageplay to age validation to banking, with each blow, SL becomes poorer, and hordes of people are leaving. The markets crash. Insatisfaction rises. And, well, there is now only the mature content left to entertain the masses; with age validation, or the lack thereof, this will naturally also be deleted.”
Maybe. But what really happened is Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Turns out people – mainstream people – don’t want the commitment and the oddity of a Second Life to partake in the Internet. They want their social media fast, easy, efficient and adding value to their personal and business lives. They want to pop in and out when it is convenient for them.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide that type of experience. Second Life is too complicated, too time consuming. And you don’t have to socialize with the avatar of someone self-identifying as a half-man, half-dog who is on Second Life cruising for virtual sex.
Virtual worlds won’t go away entirely, especially ones that offer gaming platforms. But its time to admit the truth: Second Life wasn’t that good of an idea in the first place.