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  Validation For ‘Second Life’ Skeptics  
Posted 2006-12-12 by Tony Walsh
Social software superhero Clay Shirky gave Second Life critics an indirect nod of approval today in a post on the Many-to-Many blog entitled "Second Life: What are the real numbers?" Here, Shirky goes through the same exercise many of us following the virtual world have already slapped our foreheads over. He comes to pretty much the same conclusions--if you won't listen to me, maybe you'll take his word for it. Following is my tainted summary of and commentary on Shirky's main points:

  • A "user" is someone who actually "uses" the service, not just someone who signs up. Shirky says there's a 63% retention-rate, except that Linden Lab's CEO already said there's a 10% retention rate. See the next point...
  • "I suspect Second Life is largely a 'Try Me' virus, where reports of a strange and wonderful new thing draw the masses to log in and try it, but whose ability to retain anything but a fraction of those users is limited." Same here! We should get married.
  • Many of today's tech journalists are too young to remember past failures such as VRML. Christ, some are too young to remember the dot com bust. They aren't wired to see problems or history repeating itself. Oh, and apparently they don't care much for fact-checking when it comes to Second Life [1,2,3,4,5].
  • Second Life is a simple concept. Like I've said, the idea will outlive the platform. That's a strength.
  • The press loves a "content is king" story. And 90% of everything is crap.
  • It doesn't matter if outside businesses set up in Second Life. It matters if the effort was worth it. Currently, it's almost worth it on media attention alone. Just look at the lineup of outside companies piling in this month.
  • Second Life's hype is built on a flimsy foundation. The media is taking these so-called "population" numbers and going koo-koo with them. Interestingly, Linden Lab doesn't seem to be rushing to correct positive misconceptions.

It's about time someone with as much experience as Shirky took a hard look at Second Life. I'm beginning to see the collection of serious critics expand from a handful to something like an armful, as the dust from the empty hype begins to settle for an increasing number of people. If Second Life is going to be a serious platform, we need to continue to look at it seriously.
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Comment posted by Ryan Anderson
December 13, 2006 @ 1:45 am
That's really funny. I had this post in conversation form just today. With less footnotes, of course.
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
December 13, 2006 @ 9:23 am
Oh, bleh, Clay Shirky is just shoring up his own worldview that pays his own bills -- he didn't even make the sort of cursory glance at the economics stats page that you'd chastise a Guardian or a Financial Times for not making.

And while I agree he's de-inflated some important fake numbers, as you have, Tony, he then goes after various other aspects of SL in a way that is merely symptomatic of the scarred, era geek who can't let go and move aside for a new generation who refuse to be hobbled by past paradigms -- and even older people like me that never accepted that I should be paying people like Mr. Clay Shirky $50 an hour or more to communicate with other human beings.

and what if 90 percent is crap? Crap to a tiny sect of tekkies? It isn't to those who made it. I have two words for you: MySpace.

I await further and better analysis of the numbers without the gloom-and-doom lense, just as I don't want the rose lense.

If half a million people try something once because the old dinosaur push media pushed it to them, don't you think this old media and the experts they rely on need to take a second look?
Comment posted by csven
December 13, 2006 @ 11:33 am
Consider this backlash Exhibit A wrt it perhaps being too late for LL to get their PR act together.

And fwiw, I think Prok has a point. While I agree with much of what Shirky says, I find fault with some of it as well. In addition, when I read the occasional post by some 1990's-era vr people, I also get a sense of "we tried it, we failed, it'll never work". Some apparently are still pushing their old standards which continue to be mostly ignored. I personally wonder if they're discouraged with the public's lack of acceptance for those things that first made their names synonymous with vr, and that this is why they find nothing redeeming in current efforts; it's become personal for some of them.
Comment posted by Brace
December 13, 2006 @ 12:48 pm
"Many of today's tech journalists are too young to remember past failures"

Not to mention a big portion of SL users uhh players, whatevers. Many of the woot SL will last fereverr types are barely scraping 20

And LL employees. And I suppose phillys experience was just fabu during that time - cuz he seems to be suffering from a serious case of amnesia or summat

anyhoo nuff said reely when it comes to SL - its just a waiting game now. (or crying game? I forget..)

Comment posted by Urizenus
December 13, 2006 @ 3:23 pm
I dunno, I think Clay was a day late and a dollar short with this critique.

In the first place, he is a good six months behind the SL blogosphere and maybe a day or to in front of the LA Times in his SL hype-deflation. I mean if he had said something 6 months ago it might have made a difference to the way Linden Lab was selling itself (and already getting into trouble), but now the hype bubble has grown to the point where it is absolutely obvious to everyone that it is a hype bubble. It should have been popped long ago.

But the other thing is that all of Clay's numbers seem to be pulled out of his ass, which really surprised and disappointed me. Sometimes his numbers are insanely positive even by Linden standards (60% retention? As Tony points out Philip's numbers are 10%, and the Live Help people say 2%), and then he doesn't address what is genuinely positive (the strong growth in virtual real estate, which from LL's perspective is the only number that really truly matters, since that is the only figure that correlates with revenue for LL).

And yeah, 90% of the content is crap, but that is a lot better than the real world.
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