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« links for 2006-11-27 | Main | Saddest Song Ever »

10 Reasons to Go Short on Second Life

Preface:   I think what Linden Labs has built is amazing...  its an interesting social experiment, an amazing business, an PR phenomenon...   and I give it kudos for making us all think differently about the way the digital world might move forward.   That being said, to anyone that has been involved with Second Life, please don't take this as a knock, but more as a healthy and perhaps, if I'm lucky, conversation provoking dose of skepticism not on the product itself, but on the approach to it by PR folks, marketers, brands, pundits, etc.  EDIT: (Based on comment #1... I'm not making any sort of direct comparison between SL and the avatars that Oddcast makes, because SL is an immersive world...  Oddcast makes talking avatars that live in the web... they're very different animals used for very different purposes.)

The PR buzz around SecondLife is amazing... (Nice job, Lewis PR...)  and I think it's causing a lot of businesses to wonder if they should be participating.    Consider the following list the "grain of salt" you might want to take Second Life with:

  1. Second Life is not, and probably will never be, mobile.   From cellphones, to the iPod, portable gaming...   the consumer has clearly voted with their wallet that they want to pick up their digital life and take it with them, getting out from behind the PC and the laptop.  SL, because it needs to be online and it requires powerful and complex 3-D rendering, will not wind up on your cellphones anytime soon.  In a world where I can blog and read blogs, take and send pictures, play games, consume and even download music and videos wherever I am, how appealing is a technology going to be if it forces me to sit home behind my PC?
  2. There are no microchunks of a virtual world.  CDs got broken up into tracks.  Movies and TV shows became YouTube clips.  Websites make sure everything has a permalink so that URLs can be tagged and passed along easily.  This is the viral fuel for a short attention span world...  small and bitesized.   SecondLife can't easily be consumed in small bits.  You can't link to an event that already happened, or tag a place, or share it with someone who doesn't have the software.  That also makes it hard to discover things in Second Life when you're not looking for them.  You can't stumble upon it through Google or by browsing social networking profiles.
  3. Second Life is a benevolant dictatorship. If you were doing corporate business development in emerging markets, political stability would be a key factor in measuring the attractiveness of a potential new market.  I think, if given the choice, you'd rather invest in a place with a representative government that has proven to support smooth transition of power in the past.  To me, the fact that a very small group of people basically dictates what goes and what doesn't in this market... a group of people that is not beholden to the residents by law, is a political risk. 
  4. Second Life is a business.  Linden Labs has taken venture capital investment and those firms are going to look for an "exit" at some point over the next four years or so.  Maybe Linden Labs will be profitable enough to go public.  In that case, the founders could remain at the helm, but they'd still have the pressure to grow revenues which may be at odds with the authenticity of the service.  Contrast that with Craigslist, which makes its team enough money to be comfortable and not feel pressure to do anything that it's users might not like... no quarterly numbers to meet and no pressure to grow the business. 
  5.  Diminishing returns for brand participation.  Darren came up with this one and I thought it was very astute.  Right now, you can gain a lot of PR buzz by participating in Second Life... probably enough buzz to justify the investment in development for whatever you build to put in there.  But, how long will that last?  Will you get any buzz for being the 25th retailer in Second Life?   The 50th?  Plus, are you gaining buzz with the right crowd?   If I'm Major League Baseball and American Apparel, I think I'd be doing more in MySpace and Facebook right now because they represent a broader audience.
  6. Requires 100% attention.   I think we all agree that attention is finite.  We just don't have the time to do everything we want to do.   With more and more content and services available to us on a regular basis, consumers are looking for things that either coexist well with other things they spend their time on, or save them time.  I'm generally short on anything that requires my full attention and a lot of time.  You can't casually browse Second Life... you're watching it.. it's full screen on your machine... your character needs to walk around to experience more.  It's very different than an IM window you can put away in the background when you're doing other things.
  7. Lack of context.   The idea that you can be anyone you want and do anything is really cool... conceptually... but with no guidence, no schedule... no context, users find themselves lost over overwhelmed.  That's what happens with blogging sometimes.  A blog with no theme is difficult to keep up with.  When you're in a 3-D game, you have a goal...  the game has rules.  Hardcore SLers might find this constricting, but the more casual mainstream appreciate knowing what to do from the second the game starts.
  8. Digital world with an analog business model.  In Second Life, people make stuff and sell it.  Goods are exchanged for digital items, but because of their digital nature, SL has experienced problems lately with users copying digital items that would otherwise be sold.  The music and movie industry has been fighting this kind of thing for years and still hasn't stamped it out... and that's with big entertainment money behind them.  When you have a world where all of the items are user created, I just can't imagine that the future will offer adequate protection against the free distribution of these items.  DRMing of user created digital goods just seems very counter to the nature of user created works anywhere else on the web.
  9. Reach.   No matter how many registered users you have, getting less than 20K simultaneous users online really isn't very much.  By comparison, many of the online MMOGs get more users than this on a regular basis, with World of Warcraft peaking at half a million users online at the same time.   Yes, it's growing, but interestingly, the number of registration is far outpacing the active usage of the site.  A number of sites I found analyizing the usage on the site showed that online/active as a percent of the total is trending down, meaning that more people are coming to check it out, but they're not sticking around.
  10. Escapism vs. Reality.   The promise of social networks is that you've got digital self expression going on in unprecidented volume.  That makes them interesting to both users and marketers alike...   because of their ability to connect you with real people based on real and authentic things about themselves.  Throw blogs in that category, too.   Second Life is more of a fantasy.  Even the name says it.  This is not your life... it's your other life.  You cannot be yourself.. .you have to change your name.  It's not me and it's not other really other people, either.  I thought the blog/Web 2.0/Cluetrain revolution was all about authenticity and living online the way I do in real life...  my digital world as a reflection of my real interests and real personality?  So far, that seems a lot more compelling for people than fantasy... otherwise, wouldn't most of the profiles on MySpace be roleplaying profiles... fake people created and maintained by real humans behind them?   If I'm a business, I want to make sure I'm connecting in a sincere way with real people as well.... not sponsoring a fantasy.  That's the way I personally want to live online as well.

Reader Comments (15)

And so you are pushing little flat talking head&shoulders ventriloquist dummies because they are more authentic than second life? Interesting...
November 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBeat Biondi
Charlie, your posts points to 9 opportunities for companies/developers. These types of services or products will be needed to either push or respond to the movement toward rich media/3D display of information.

As for as #10, Second Life is a fantasy for some, but it is a work space for many. As far as names, Linden Lab is offering custom last names; and as other business-oriented worlds are developed and come online, names will be as we want them - just like they are in other social networks. Second Life *is* a social network - the interface is quite different (and immature) compared to the 2D social networks we are familiar with.

And one comment on #3 - Second Life is just one virtual world - there are many others that have far more users. New ones are also in serious development and will follow different models. More like hosted solutions of today's web applications.

Thanks for a great post!
November 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Zimmer
one reason to go long: casinos are legal. im sure one day one company will open and bypass the american bank account ban-- after all you convert to linden dollars (i think thats what they are called?)
November 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjeremy
one reason to go long: casinos are legal. im sure one day one company will open and bypass the american bank account ban-- after all you convert to linden dollars (i think thats what they are called?)
November 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjeremy
I agree and disagree. (A typical answer from me)

Those are some thoughtful reasons which fit existing business model strategies on many tiers. The Mobile point is rather good, especially, since I am a member of MobileActive - yet participation over a mobile phone may become a reality in another year... I doubt it will have the 3d environment, but the web services... could be useful.

Del.icio.using... worth discussing in other blog posts I do... thanks for the thoughts.
Hey everyone, on a related note we just posted a podcast and video interview with Philip Rosedale a couple of hours ago over at .
November 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatt
What a great post for starting a conversation!

#1 seems like a straw-man, because portable devices like the PSP already render shared 3D spaces, but perhaps you meant that you can't just shove the entire SL client interface onto a phone, which is obviously true. At the same time, there are already movements to use libsecondlife in mobile apps to access SL information and chat so I wouldn't write mobile Second Life off just yet.

#2 Microchunks: SL machinima, a rich blogger culture, multiple news sites, DestroyTV, podcasts, SLurls,and the growing number of third party SL web services are as much viral media as a young service can expect.

#3 and #4: Amen to breaking up the company town.

#5 I'd change that to "Diminishing returns for broadcast style brand participation." Companies that come in for a conversation instead of handing out brochures will find a nice ROI.

#6 Requires 100% attention: I see a lot of AFK avatars, so I think a lot of people are mixing SL into their pool of continuous partial attention.

#7 Lack of context: Since it isn't a game but a platform, your point is only trivially true. That said, SL could have a better new user experience.

You're on a roll with numbers 8, 9, and 10, and I have no argument with them except that it isn't clear that companies shouldn't learn how to do business with people using pseudonyms. It's clear from the number of active web communities that use pseudonyms that it plays an important role for many people, so why walk away from those business opportunities because they're new?

Good job with this post, and I hope you can keep the dialog alive.

Shameless plug: You might be interested in the Ogoglio Project ( which has a different take on some of the issues you raise.
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTrevor F. Smith
1. It already is.. you need to study your subject carefully before criticizing. You can interact with SL via irc, IM, cell phones, whatever. Been there done that long 'time ago.

2. Snapzilla. In fact, it could be said this is one of the greatest reasons to go long on SL. Your logic here is completely baffling.

3. LL has been moving towards open source / open standards since day one. Again, study your subject.

4. It's a business so you shouldn't go long? Huh? AdSense? EBay? PayPal? These are all web 2.0 and they're changing the world.

5. This has nothing to do with SL or it's success, just how some people have foolishly tried to use it.

6. Uhh. I'm in SL in my store right now as I post this and answering customer queries. Again, study your subject.

7. Lack of context? I loved this point, because it shows how lack of thought your list has.

8. Again, study your subject. You clearly have no idea what the business models are.

9. Reach - yes! Finally, a point that is worthy of debate. I agree this is a big weakness and a reason to 'go short' on SecondLife. Even better, would be say CPU / Gigabyte per capita. SL is very very intensive on resources per person 'reached'. It's a problem, but, with all problems are really oppourtunities, and hey any virtual world is going to have that problem. But, yeah, good point.

10. Good point if it were true. Again, study your subject. Though I agree, the name could have been better chosen, but hey, in brings in the chicks.
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered
#1 ... SL as a 3D virtual experience is not mobile. Same with Facebook. Just because I can SMS something to it doesn't make it mobile... Gaming is truely mobile.. music is truly mobile. You can't walk around in SL through a handheld device.

#2 ... Again... when I'm talking about SL... I'm talking about as a whole 3D interactive experience.. which is what its core is. Just b/c you can take a picture of it and show it to someone doesn't mean that person has experienced SL. I think Microchunks as something that still retains the core essence of what the original whole is.

#3 Open source and standards does not solve the fact someone can decide unilaterially to change community rules.

#4 That's a reminder. When you buy from eBay, you realize that its a business. Some people maintain a life in SL and forget about the fact that, within the next few years Linden Labs will sell the company to someone.

#5 You're right... it's not a LL decision... but if businesses can play foolishly in there, it lowers the ROI for everyone.

#6 Its really irratating when, just because you disagree with me, you believe I must not have studied my subject hard enough. I have a different opinion of the attention second life demands. When I turn on AIM, I can just leave it... only answer once in a while... Maybe an expert user leaves it on all the time, but the average newbie wouldn't leave SL on and running any sooner than they would life a video game on to run by itself.

#7 I thought about it a lot, actually. Second life, unlike a video game, has no initial context for action. Even MySpace, the most open and flexible social network started out around music and music is what ties most of the profiles together.

#8 SL's biz model is a first derivative of an offline e-commerce model. You buy things in Linden Dollars and they make money off conversion and purchase of real estate.

#10... There you go again... study your subject. So, by definition, if I disagree with you, I simply do not understand what you understand? That's really closed minded.
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie
Interesting analysis, albeit, kinda weird. What SL are you playing? Heh. Here's my take.

1. Was curious your thoughts on video games and mobility? Some video games have mobile editions; some video games are completely console based (XBOX 360 mobile? Didn't think so), and yet there are plenty of ways to tap into SL remotely, simply because of the i/o that exists in various apps in SL an out of.

2. Again, I point to gaming. I might also point to parts of real life (RL), but gaming has plenty of moments-- a great raid and such. Is this a video game issue? And there are plenty of things that have nothing to do with other things. A more open server/client can enable us to have dozen of SLs. I have a pretty good sized chunk myself, and I've never seen porn-casinos on it. Heh.

3. Like Microsoft? Hehe. I never believed there was a monopoly with M$ since I have plenty of choices. The DIY game space is next. It's early. But a great R&D, easy-buzz platform. Benefits outweigh the risks for sure... it's no different than podcasting to me.

4. Craigslist is a mighty legendary example, perhaps contrasting SL to the game space or perhaps something community-passionate like Flickr, now part of Yahoo!?

5. Sure, because 'first' never seems to matter. "Best" does. Google wasn't first. Not by a long shot. And look where we are.

6. Absolutely SL requires 100% attention, something the ADD-plagued blogosphere might not like. Then again, Wii, PS3, 360, PSP, GBA.... I'm thinkin' we aren't skimming here. You better WORK, to steal the line from RuPaul. Of course we know SL isn't a game, but the space is too close to ignore. What do you know about the dozens of games in SL, like Darklife, Tringo, Combat Island, CCC aircraft and others, not to mention the RP regions, the complex RP worlds and so on. If you don't pay attention, you suck.

7. I agree with #7, this is partially the bad side of DIY media, YouTube and everything else. There's a fine line between the anarchization of media and the walled garden. SL ain't in the middle.

8. This is interesting from the perspective that the current population is used to the analog space, where digital folks have a different approach, with open content being able to generate revenue for paid content. Hotly debated. It's not proper to sweepingly state this about SL, no more than it is proper to say 'it's all porn and nightclubs'... maybe it is if that's where YOU hang out, but not me. Heh.

9. Keep in mind, how many of those users can talk to each other if they aren't on the same server? Do we want to have a mass media approach, because if so, we need more Big Corp, Incs to fit that model. Or, we can see the success of groups. My immediate crew in SL is tiny, my blog audience is massive. I'm the portal in. In Warcraft, the guild I'm in has 400 people and counting, and they are far more important to me than 20K simultaneous random people. Quality is not directly equal to quantity.

10. Heh, well if we reject escapism we reject movies and video games--- you mean I'm NOT commanding a mech battle machine in Battlefield 2142? OMG. And most people know that Spin Martin = Eric Rice, I choose to disclose that. In Warcraft I'm someone else, and so on. This is part of the Web 2.0 Koolaid. The cluetrain is important, read/write is important, but sometimes we need to grow a set and tell people to mind their own damn business.

Trust is trust, regardless of what the form is. I'm sure the Electric Sheep Co do not have problems with clients interacting in the place because there is trust, authenticity and transparency. Just like RL. :)
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEric Rice
Eric: This was aimed at brands and businesses that might want to play here... it wasn't to knock the user experience. Some of your points make me think you took this as me knocking SL itself as a business, vs. whether or not other businesses want to extend themselves into SL. Regarding #10... I'm not rejecting escapism. I'm just saying that brands might not want to play in a world that is more of a fantasy. For example, Massive and IGA, the in game advertising companies, can really only sell ads in reality based and sports games. Does it make any sense for a Coke ad to pop up on a billboard in Battlefield 2142? No, not really.
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie
Welcome to the club: people who prefer discreet worlds.
Lots of good points. Thanks for presenting the side that all the PR hype doesn't.

But I have to agree wholeheartedly with Cisco's CEO (who is no slouch on the subject). VR is an inevitable part of the future of the Web.

Any corporation that starts learning how to utilize Second Life as a marketing tool *today* will have a jump on the competition tomorrow and that's a huge part of a businesses success.

In the future, processors, video cards, and internet connections will be fast enough so that people will be less likely to bail after a first visit. In the future SL and its inevitable competition will have improved the new user experience substatially. In the future SL et al will most certainly be mobile. At some point you'll be able to unroll your computer as if it were a magazine or put on a pair of VR glasses.

I'm betting that in the future having your own virtual reality grid on your own website as an option for your customers is inevitable even if far off. And I also believe that these grids will interconnect so that you can "teleport" from one to another with just as much ease as teleporting from Scion's sim to Pontiac's sim on SL or from one website to another today.

In the future there will be a slew of VR colleges and universities and niche schools to attend. And kids will be as deft in VR as today's kids are in MySpace or YouTube. Second Life is a whole lot more fun and adventurous than ANY "flat" entertainment centered website, and a lot easier commute for students. And where the surfers go, the marketing money goes.

I suspect that someone somewhere is plotting a competing business model that makes Second Life look like Alta Vista does today beside Google. And Second Life's nearly useless, spam-ridden classified search system will be replaced by something very similar to Google.

Nobody really knows how businesses will use VR for marketing in the future. But that's being worked out by the business that are there TODAY.

It's not for everyone yet, SL won't benefit a wallpaper manufacturer as much as it will an energy drink brand. But as an internet marketing consultant in real life, my advice to my clients is this: Get involved early. Learn how to market and promote your particular product line in a VR environtment. Get a head start on the competition.
December 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRick Schettino
Hi, Charlie -

Thanks for your note; I actually loved this post - I probably should've commented more on my own blog. I think you've made some extremely interesting and valid observations about SL and its scalability/liklihood for adoption.

Allow me to share an exerpt from my response to another reader here:

While SL as we know it suffers from all the challenges you've outlined above, it could be indicative of a new way of interacting with online content, and with each other...and that is the most fascinating aspect for me. We've watched as instant messaging and RSS have started to supplant email as preferred methods of info dissemination and communication. We're now seeing IM (and the message boards of yore) evolving into fully-featured (avatars, multimedia, etc.) environments. Once the technology improves (as it surely will...SL is a proprietary platform; imagine when the open source crowd starts replicating these worlds)I can see all kinds of applications for this: better social networking apps, virtual trade shows, support groups...or 3D commerce like Amazon is testing.

Anyway, you've started a great discussion above, and now that I'm here I'm going to scroll up and read all the other comments :)


Stephanie(original article:
December 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Rogers

Hello! Can you tell me how i can register mail at google google

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommentertyncPolycle

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