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  ‘Second Life’ Through a Hype-Cycle Lens  
Posted 2007-01-01 by Tony Walsh
Kevin Dugan of the Strategic Public Relations blog considers Second Life's position on Gartner's Hype Cycle, finding that the virtual world is sliding down the slope of "Inflated Expectations" towards the dreaded "Trough of Disillusionment." Linda Zimmer of the Business Communicators of Second Life blog mulls the matter over, ultimately agreeing with Dugan. Both viewpoints--each from a relative newcomer to Second Life--are worth reading, and mark what I consider to be reactions to the second Hype Cycle for the virtual world platform. I've been a "resident" of Second Life since 2004 and feel I've seen a complete first-round cycle run its course while a second wave runs its course.

The Hype Cycle, a way of describing the public relations impact of new technologies, is comprised of 5 phases:
  • Technology Trigger: A breakthrough, product launch or other event generating significant interest.
  • Peak of Inflated Expectations: A publicity frenzy has resulted in over-hype and unrealistic expectations. There are more failures with the technology than successful applications.
  • Trough of Disillusionment: The technology fails to meet inflated expectations, and is shunned.
  • Slope of Enlightenment: Press coverage slows down or stops. Some businesses begin to find useful applications for the technology.
  • Plateau of Productivity: Benefits of the technology are demonstrated and widely accepted. Improvements are made to the technology--it may be broadly adopted or find a niche market.

Here's a modified version of Kevin Dugan's graph, showing where I believe the first and second Hype Cycles have roughly overlapped:

As I see it, the first wave involved early adopters, a handful of dedicated bloggers, and a few specific mainstream journalists. The first wave peaked before the second wave (comprised of a more mainstream audience, higher-profile bloggers, and numerous mainstream media outlets) even started. This contributed to significant dissonance and disagreement between some early adopters/veteran residents and the second wave of Second Lifers. In other words, the "been there" attitude of some veteran users (such as myself) conflicted directly with the "gold rush" or "gee whiz" attitude of a much larger number of mainstream users--primarily businesspeople. The second wave is much louder than the first, which is in jeopardy of being forgotten--looking back can be a useful exercise when moving ahead.

At the beginning of 2007, I see the first wave of adopters--individual users as well as "metaverse services" companies such as The Electric Sheep and Millions of Us--climbing up the shallow slope of Enlightenment, finding more workarounds for existing problems, further interesting or functional uses for the platform, and improving the overall user experience. Meanwhile, the second wave will be crashing down towards disillusionment, as discussed by Dugan and Zimmer. Although the second wave is louder and higher-profile, I think the second wave could be informed by the first. It seems entirely possible that developments from the first wave of users will even out the disillusionment dip, propelling both waves towards the Plateau of Productivity. My greatest concern in this context as we head into 2007 is whether or not Second Life as a platform can hold out long enough to allow us to reach that plateau.
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Comment posted by lzimmer
January 1, 2007 @ 2:02 pm
Tony, thanks for jumping in on the discussion and posting about this. The dissonance you speak of is characteristic of pretty much every technology adoption cycle - so here we are with SL. I share your concerns about SL holding out as a platform to allow us to experience the Plateau of Productivity.

I agree that the first wave of adopters are - or should be - informing the second. The few innovators (pre-early adopters) reach the "enlightenment phase"(or "we've done that story already" phase) before early adopters even learn of it. One of the problems is that the innovators often "move on" to the "next thing" and early adopters don't get informed well. It is a problem with media coverage/publicity, it is a problem for the adoption of the technology.

What is your persepctive on how (or if) that can happen better/more productively?
Comment posted by csven
January 1, 2007 @ 4:02 pm
I enjoyed seeing this as what you're saying coincides with my comments directed at Bruce Nussbaum over on BusinessWeek. The Terra Nova post on SL "backlash" is a nice companion piece, and as I mentioned there (quoting from a previous post of mine), a bridge of sorts between that downward slope of the 2nd curve and the enlightment portion of the 1st may be an integrated browser. Social virtual net surfing could be a huge development.

No prediction, but I suspect we'll be hearing something significant on that feature by March.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 1, 2007 @ 8:54 pm
Thanks for the feedback.

Linda, I'm going to have to think hard about how staggered cycles can work together. Solutions may not be quick to arrive at, although a few minor ones are on the front-burner already.

Csven, I'm going to re-read some of those Terra Nova posts in more detail, thanks for the reminder.
Comment posted by prblog
January 1, 2007 @ 10:44 pm
Tony - What an improvement to the visual! I updated my post with everyone's insights:
to show how the concept is being refined.

Thank you for your input.
Comment posted by HiroPendragon
January 2, 2007 @ 12:14 pm
Tony, I can't believe you bought into this chart - which itself is pure hype. There's 0 numbers, no quantities or studies to back this up. This is like someone quoting statistics to prove a point and not even having statistics.

3 things show the real success of SL: Concurrent users, land owned, and US$ sold on the Lindex. They keep going up.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 2, 2007 @ 12:40 pm
Hiro, I didn't buy into the chart. I said what it was meant to model, and then applied that model to Second Life based on my personal experience and the experiences of two other bloggers. Nothing wrong with that. As you've pointed out, the Gartner Hype Cycle doesn't "prove" anything, and I agree. But from my personal perspective, I can see how the model can be applied to Second Life. Simple as that. No buy-in, just looking at SL through a specific lens.
Comment posted by HiroPendragon
January 2, 2007 @ 12:53 pm
My reaction:
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 2, 2007 @ 1:45 pm
Harsh. Responding to your accusations that I hold up the Gartner Hype Cycle as canon, and that I am drinking the "Kool Aid," I think if that were true, I wouldn't be open to alternative viewpoints on the matter. The Hype Cycle is just a model, and my application of it to SL is not exclusive of other models. I am open to alternatives. For example, I told you I agree the Hype Cycle doesn't prove anything. But I am not concerned with whether it proves anything or not. It just happens to agree with my personal perception of SL's peaks and valleys, however incorrect that perception might be. I don't insist that you agree with my perception, but you seem to be insisting I'm beyond reason.

I would be happy to consider applying another lens, should one be introduced to me. If you were to more formally describe your own model, I could potentially apply it. Your position, as I understand it, is that the statistics show growth in the areas of SL you consider important. It's worth noting that the 2006 population explosion fits the first peak of the Gartner Hype Cycle pretty well. Whether that means anything may become clearer over time. The stats could continue to rise, or if the platform can't hold out, the whole thing could nosedive.
Comment posted by HiroPendragon
January 2, 2007 @ 2:07 pm
Tony, I say you're drinking the Kool-Aid because your posting of it is a validation. Then you make your own chart based on this hype-cycle theory; how exactly is that not buying into the theory? You say you're "open" to another point of you, but the only one you've bothered to research is this one.

You say that the growth resembles the first part of the curve. That would mean you're saying that *if* the chart was accurate, the analysis is completely off and that SL is still on that initial rise, not heading down into a "trough".

But more-so, I can draw any chart I want, and as long as it has a rise, I could apply your logic to it. That doesn't validate the chart.

But I'll raise to your challenge; I got your charts right here:

Here's an alternative viewpoint, assuming that SL is indeed lives up to its hype. The hype about SL, of course, is "SL turning into a platform that is equatable to the 3-D aspect of the Internet". (e.g. Metaverse.)

Or we could go middle of the road. Let's assume SL falls under MMORPGs. We go to Sir Bruce's and find a fairly regular trend:
A MMORPG has exponential growth, then peaks at a plateau, then hovers there until major sequels and competitors ultimately squash it, then has the infamous long-tail that draws down to nothing. Assuming that, SL is still in the exponential growth period, and has not reached a plateau. Now, if no competitor to SL beats it, this would indicate that it will reach a plateau and stay there. (i.e. the Metavere theory). If a competitor comes along and beats it in features and reliability and such, then we could expect it to continue in a similar trend.
Comment posted by csven
January 2, 2007 @ 2:08 pm
I don't see any relation to the "Hype Cycle" (which is, by default, an immeasurable thing) and "concurrent users, land owned, and US$ sold on the Lindex" which are hard data points.

Comment posted by HiroPendragon
January 2, 2007 @ 2:16 pm
> I don't see any relation to the "Hype Cycle" (which is, by default, an immeasurable thing) and "concurrent users, land owned, and US$ sold on the Lindex" which are hard data points.


The "Hype Cycle" is immeasurable, unscientific, and attempts to predict how things in SL will grow via these nonsensical non-measures.

"concurrent users, land owned, and US$ sold on the Lindex" are indeed all hard data points which DO provide valid data to predict how SL will grow.
Comment posted by lzimmer
January 2, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

If I may inject a few facts here (related also to your reaction post). First, Gartner is not a PR agency, they are an IT research and analytical firm. Second, Gartner has been doing these Hype Cycle reports for eleven years and release about 68 different ones each year.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly to the discussion, this is a commentary - not a scientific measurement and Gartner clearly states that fact. It is meant to show their analysis of the "human response" to a technology introduction, and is used as an educational tool for IT managers to make decisions about when it might be a good (ROI) time for them to invest in a technology. Gartner also clearly advises clients that the tool is to educate them to look at their own goals rather than the hype when making decisions about which technologies to invest in.

I think somewhere along the line the Hype Cycle is being interpreted as some sort of measurement tool. It isn't and doesn't claim to be.
Comment posted by lzimmer
January 2, 2007 @ 3:31 pm
Sorry, one more fact - reported via Reuters Second Life coverage yesterday. Gartner themsevles hasn't placed virtual worlds on their own Hype Cycle yet.
Comment posted by HiroPendragon
January 2, 2007 @ 3:49 pm
Hey Tony, an update:
Comment posted by csven
January 2, 2007 @ 7:18 pm
I think you're over-reacting, Hiro. I read your blog entry "part 2" and I didn't view this as a "technology" cycle as suggested; I took it as being about Second Life. That however doesn't make a difference to me. You're pointing out that the curve doesn't represent hard data isn't something we (or at least I) didn't know. After all, how does one actually measure hype??? Of course the curve is an interpretation. So what?

The thing is, perception for many people *is* reality. I've used examples before of where, during focus group tests, average people will swear up and down that, for example, Product A is heavier than Product B simply because it *looks* like it should be heavier. That's why we weighted the models in the first place and asked the questions. Now, given this tendency for people to dismiss measurable data they can actually hold in their hands, is it such a surprise that hype is - like it or not - an important and worthwhile consideration? Not to me. And not, for example, to the car companies who pay fantastic salaries to stylists to make a car look a certain way (fast, luxurious, dependable, aso).

I recall reading once that the Soviet Union even had designers help make their warships *look* more intimidating than they were because it helped them (to use a military-political term) "project their presence".

All perception. But not worthless of consideration.

That said, when I read your posts now (including the rare comment on my blog), I get the sense I'm reading the reaction of someone who is losing their objectivity regarding Second Life. Instead of ranting about how the curves don't represent real data (which most everyone probably knows), why not overlay a *real* growth curve on top of the hype curve? After all, as you're arguing, growth continues irrespective of the news stories. So maybe a way to bridge the two (as I did in my example by stating that the Big object was presumed to be the Heavier object) is to put them in better relation to each other so that we can see *if* the hype curve and some measurable growth curve might indicate the effects of perception on user adoption. That, to me, makes far more sense than simply getting worked up about it.
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