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  Outside Businesses Revising ‘Second Life’ History  
Posted 2006-10-23 by Tony Walsh
Have we learned nothing from real-world history? Ages ago, imperialists planted their flags on "New World" soil, claiming to have discovered virgin territory, oblivious to the natives peering out cautiously from the treeline. Indigenous people, wildlife, and territories were viewed as obstacles to be conquered on the road to profit.

The virtual world is similarly in danger of becoming co-opted. Business interest in Second Life has boomed in the last half of 2006, fueled by a barrage of positive mainstream press about the commercial opportunities for outside companies. Although Second Life is now a few years old, and has amassed hundreds of thousands of "residents" during its short lifespan, some businesses imagine themselves as the first to innovate, planting a flag on digital soil and declaring "We were here first."

This is essentially what newly-announced marketing company "Crayon" has done. "[W]hen we launch on Thursday, we will be the first company to be launched in Second Life," asserts Crayon's Neville Hobson. Not only is this assertation incorrect, it's offensive to the early adopters--the "natives"--of Second Life, who have already been there and done that. Native innovators already broken ground on such productions as global banner-ad network MetaAdverse (2005), photo-sharing service Snapzilla (2005), real/virtual fashion crossovers (2004), real/virtual video game Tringo (2005), or real/virtual blogging system BlogHUD (2006).

Continue reading: Outside Businesses Revising ‘Second Life’ History
  Ben Folds Underwhelms ‘Second Life’ Residents  
Posted 2006-10-20 by Tony Walsh
A recent launch party for recording artist Ben Folds held in the virtual world of Second Life last night appears to have bombed. Australia's The Age reports that only about 25 avatars attended the invite-only event, while in-world media outlet In the Grid paints a more detailed picture: "[F]or some reason, the event actually started over at the new 'aloft' hotel [clickback]... a full hour and a half before Folds was scheduled to show up, basically a dance party for a bunch of journalists who didn't want to dance... it was never really explained what 90 minutes of high-energy techno dance music had to do with uber-slacker pianist Ben Folds, being spun by a non-Sony DJ using non-Sony music." During a Q&A session with Folds, reports The Second Life Herald, "Ben did show his edginess (tm) by telling a questioner to 'fuck off'... As an employee of MTV put it after the event 'He needs SL more than SL needs him.'"

Matt Mihaly of The Forge calls bullshit on the whole affair: "Almost two dozen people attended. That's right, two dozen. Just think of the impact! Why, if only half of them buy his album, he’ll have sold twelve albums!" Obviously an effort like this isn't about record sales, but it's also clearly not about offering Second Life residents a valuable experience. Like the handful of similar events preceding it [1, 2,3], this one could only be leveraged for its external media buzz potential. The Age and other mainstream publications don't know enough to identify events like this as anything but a major-label snow-job (that's what we have bloggers for). The business community thinks events like this are about engagement. Frankly, I think users could be more effectively engaged with a streaming video concert or web-based interactive narrative--at least the audiences in this case could number in the thousands.
  Return of the King  
Posted 2006-10-19 by Tony Walsh
Peter Ludlow, better known in the virtual world of Second Life as Urizenus Sklar, has returned from 10 months of retirement to operate as a contributing editor (formerly publisher and editor-in-chief) of The Second Life Herald . The online tabloid originally earned Ludlow real-world infamy when he exposed the seedy underbelly of The Sims Online, resulting in his exile from The Sims and move to Second Life.

In an address to Herald readers today, Urizenus Sklar promised to once again contribute regularly to the publication, citing as the reason for his return an inability to stomach the onslaught of pie-eyed media attention and other fluffing Second Life has received lately. Quoth the returning journalist, "It is time for the kind of reality therapy that only the Second Life Herald and your faithful public servant Urizenus Sklar can provide." If my own reportage isn't acidic enough for you, I urge you to click immediately over to the Herald for a delicious helping of freshly-raked mud.
  Media Landscape in ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-10-15 by Tony Walsh
Renegade avatar Prokofy Neva has posted an exhaustive examination of the media landscape inside and surrounding Second Life. Neva makes some excellent points--primarily, that the two major sources of mass media in the virtual world are Linden Lab (maker of Second Life), and "griefers" who execute denial of service attacks against the system. Linden Lab has at its disposal system-wide messaging capabilities, as do griefers, who recently broadcast through rapidly-self-replicating objects "Terror will rain down upon the unfit gods and the flock that they govern, from now until the End of Days." I'd add that there's also a method to write over top of Second Life's world map that is visible to all avatars. Aside from these three methods, there aren't many ways I can think of to demand the attention of most of the roughly 11,000 avatars logged in at peak times.

Ironically, the media outlets that are the most embedded inside the virtual world have the least amount of reach (this is something I don't think the business community really understands yet). Media inside the world are distributed through specific locations (meaning you have to go somewhere to get it), or via attachments to group messages (reaching potentially dozens, but not thousands of avatars). Even if the in-world media outlets could "broadcast" to a subscriber base, my gut tells me we're talking about hundreds, not thousands, of avatars. It's arguable that in-world media outlets provide more an immersive experience, as opposed to outside media outlets (blogs), but I'd present The Second Life Herald as an example of an immersive outside outlet (your mileage may vary).

Continue reading: Media Landscape in ‘Second Life’
  Reuters Reports From ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-10-14 by Tony Walsh
Reuters has opened up a bureau in the virtual world of Second Life. Tech reporter Adam Pasick will be operating in-world as avatar and bureau chief Adam Reuters during specific hours. Reuters' entry into Second Life seems genuine, although it remains to be seen if reports from within the virtual world will be filed with any kind of regularity. The company's presence in Second Life, even if simply a publicity stunt, will certainly further the virtual world's position as a next-generation platform for serious endeavours. Reuters plans an upcoming announcement about its new bureau, but the details have not yet been revealed.

Last month, CNET opened up a virtual office in Second Life with the intention of using the space to hold promotional events. Prior to the involvement of the mainstream media, Second Life stories have been filed regularly online by such blogs as New World Notes, The Second Life Herald, and Clickable Culture. There is currently an active blogosphere surrounding the virtual world--as well as a few in-world publications--that includes dozens of writers, from amateur to professional.
  danah boyd Says ‘MySpace Isn’t Gray’  
Posted 2006-10-11 by Tony Walsh
Social software sensei danah boyd says both the mainstream media and the blogosphere flubbed a recent claim that half of MySpace's users are older than 35. Boyd points out that nobody seems to have read the complete details of the press release the data was pulled from. It's visitors that are aging up, not users, she says (basically more parents know about, and are visiting MySpace). A major distinction there, and it's a pity few people seem to have really read the source material. Boyd puts it best: "This encourages inaccurate data and affects the entire tech industry as well as policy makers, advertisers, and users. I’m horrified that AP, Slashdot, Wall Street Journal, and numerous respectable bloggers are just reporting this as truth and speaking about it as though this is about users instead of visitors. C’mon now. If we’re going to fetishize quantitative data, let’s at least use a properly critical eye."

I wonder if the misreported data will actually affect MySpace's user demographic. If kids have heard that have of MySpace is populated by adults, users, will they stick around? Come to think of it, I don't think it matters if older folks have MySpace pages or are just visiting--an adult presence is toxic to kids.
  Another Look at ‘Second Life’ Copyright Issues  
Posted 2006-09-11 by Tony Walsh
John Swords, ringleader of the Secondcast podcast pertaining to the virtual world of Second Life, has posted an interesting analysis of some seemingly new portions of SL's Terms of Service (TOS). Second Life is a world that is filled with and formed by user-created content; Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, relinquished its proprietary interest in the creations of its users some time ago. The way Swords slices it, though, ownership of user-created content is still quite murky: "[W]hat rights do content creators retain? Don’t expect Linden Lab to say. Aside from the fact U.S. copyright and intellectual property rights are outside of their jurisdiction, Linden Lab takes measures to distance themselves from helping to figure it out within their TOS."

Swords might not be a lawyer, but he raises some points worthy of clarification by Linden Lab. Swords supposes that "The TOS grants all users royalty-free rights to everyone else's content," which, if true, would be a disaster for virtual world business-owners, many of whom rely upon customers paying for specific rights. Swords notes, as I did earlier this year, that while Linden Lab doesn't claim to own user-created content, it does assert ownership of one's account and "related data"--essentially one's means of existing in the virtual world and one's inventory of virtual posessions.

Continue reading: Another Look at ‘Second Life’ Copyright Issues
  Steve Rubel on ‘Second Life’ Public Relations  
Posted 2006-08-02 by Tony Walsh
 captured some of PR expert Steve Rubel's thoughts yesterday on engaging residents of the virtual world Second Life. Following is my transcription of the video soundbite, and my commentary about it:

"Second Life is the best example of a virtual world because it's high profile, it's getting a lot of attention, yet it still has a relatively small user base of, I think, three hundred and fifty thousand. But the thing that I find most amazing is that [...] we have people who are starting media publications inside Second Life. That alone should want to make a PR professional want to be there. But again, it's not about pushing messages out, it's about having a dialog [...] Second Life is all about escapism--any metaverse that we're talking about here--it's all about... people are going into these universes to escape their lives and have a virtual life and live that. Again, what do you do in there, how do you enable that community to achieve that? How do you create vehicles for them to do that? It's not about just pitching stories, or going in there and tapping on people [...] or doing some kind of fake buzz marketing thing [...] It's all about empowerment, and I don't think that we do that... I think that we're thinking all about us, not thinking about them."

Continue reading: Steve Rubel on ‘Second Life’ Public Relations
  Pew on the American Blogosphere  
Posted 2006-07-20 by Tony Walsh
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released stats from a 2005-2006 study on American bloggers (available as a PDF). In summary:
  • 12 million American adults keep a blog (that's 8% of all internet users).
  • 57 million American adults read blogs (39% of internet users).
  • 54% of bloggers are under the age of 30.
  • "[B]loggers are less likely to be white than the general internet population." 60% of American bloggers are white, 11% are African American, 19% are English-speaking hispanic.
  • 59% of bloggers spend 1-2 hours weekly blogging. 10% spend 10+ hours weekly on their blog.
  • 52% of bloggers write mostly for themselves. 32% write mostly for an audience.
  • 54% of bloggers have never published in any other format. 44% have published in other formats or media.
  • 37% of bloggers document their life and experiences, 11% blog about politics, 7% about entertainment, 6% about sports, 5% about business, 5% about general news, 4% about technology, 2% about spirituality, and 1% about a specific hobby, illness, or health problem.
  • 34% of bloggers believe they're journalists, while 65% do not. 56% of bloggers fact-check "sometimes" or "often."
  • 87% of bloggers allow comments on their blog.
  • 18% of bloggers offer an RSS feed.
The Pew survey was conducted between between November-December 2005 and February-April 2006, with a combined sample of 7,012 adults, aged 18 and older.
  MySpace Stats Noted  
Posted 2006-06-27 by Tony Walsh
The Virtual Handshake Blog took notes at a recent iBreakfast meetup, where MySpace's senior vice president of marketing and content Shawn Gold revealed (I suspect informally) some recent stats. I've placed a selection of these stats next to data presented earlier this year by Steve Rubel.
MySpace Stats
June, 2006 [source] March, 2006 [source]
84m registered users
2m new registered users per week (size of Houston)
48m uniques/month
61m registered users
220,000 new registrants daily [1.5m per week]
21m unique visitors [per month?]
2nd-most popular site for content consumption as defined by page views 2nd largest destination on the web, as defined by page views
29,000 indie film profiles
1.8m music profiles
87m stories in the database
They have 1.4 million registered bands
350,000 band blogs
Myspace reaches 51% of 13-17 year olds online (which is 85% of all 13-17 year olds)
79% of the site is 18+
25M users are 30+
The primary age demo is 16-34
Average page is visited 30 times a day. --
25,000 volunteers police school site --

Obviously some steady growth and solid numbers here. But when will MySpace reach its peak?
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