On a discussion board recently, someone asked me what I thought about Second LIfe and was a bit surprised when I responded that I thought it was interesting, but that it didn’t really have staying power because of some fundamental architectural flaws in its design. Based on his response, I thought it would be interesting for me to post my message here too and solicit input from the general blogosphere on SL, virtual worlds and the challenges and opportunities of massively multiplayer online communities.
My initial comment in the discussion was thus:
“My take: Second Life is an evolutionary step, but unto itself is definitely overhyped. We will get interesting virtual worlds in the next few years that will offer opportunities for businesses, but SL is faddish and already seems to have “come and gone” with the popular press, bloggers, etc. The problem is that the network and computer software can’t keep up with the demands of a true 3D environment where everything has to be downloaded on demand. Compare it to something like World of Warcraft, another huge 3d virtual world, but one where the avatars are custom and the landscape is created using a very small number of shapes and textures, and you’ll see that SL is far inferior as a user experience.”
I then expanded on my thoughts quite a bit…
Truth be told, I think one of things we’re seeing with the rise of Second Life is that no-one’s really sure how realistic a virtual world should be. I know that when I first connected to Second Life I was surprised that the first order of business was figuring out how to earn money, where to live, and what to buy to furnish your space. Even the kid-oriented Club Penguin has the same sort of realism (though since you’re putting toys in an igloo it’s not quite the same!). But do people want to go through the same hassles in a virtual world that we do in the real world?
(By “people” I should clarify that I don’t mean the few thousand geeks who are obsessed with SL, but the average Joe and Jane. It’s mass adoption that makes something interesting to sales and marketing: the Internet wasn’t an interesting place to do business until it hit critical mass, for example)
Of course, if your target market is those geeks, if you have a product on “building a great house in Second Life” then you need to have a presence, but companies like IBM (NYSE: IBM), Reuters (NASDAQ: RTRSY), GM (NYSE: GM) and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC have poured a lot of money into a rather daft gamble by creating complex worlds in Second Life. It’s a drug. On the one hand, if one or two companies are there, then you probably should be too, but it can also be a dead shopping mall where all the big merchants sign up because, well, because their competitors are there, but no-one actually checks to see if there’s the necessary target demographic in the area.
Again, though, I want to emphasize that whether it has long-term staying power or not, Second Life, like so many other sites on the Internet (think MySpace, Facebook, Digg, De.licio.us, etc), can be a savvy place for you to create some sort of presence if their demographic (or demographics) are a good match with your target customers or online community.
From my own experiences, I spend time on MySpace (here’s my profile: myspace.com/d1taylor) and generate both traffic and revenue from that time spent because MySpace is one of my target demographics. If it weren’t, I’d be outta there like a bullet. 🙂
You also ask about a virtual world that competes with a site like eBay. I think it’s more likely that we’ll see the rise of virtual analogs to physical properties like a virtual Barnes & Noble bookstore where you can wander around, browse the shelves, grab a virtual cup of tea and chat with fellow book lovers, etc. Sounds pretty cool now that I mention it!
The problem with a virtual eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) is that it would be like the world’s biggest flea market and when you have 350 copies of J. K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter book, how would that look in a 3d representation? Vertical stacks of books, so you can quickly see which are the most popular or have the fewest competitors? And how would that help you find, say, a replacement hubcap for your ’67 Mustang?
I know there are a lot of Second Life fans in the blogosphere. Am I all washed up, totally missing the point and clueless about the draw and value of SL, or do you agree with me?