Second Life Sceptic

I, along with many of my junior PR blogging peers, am an unabashed Second Life sceptic. But I try to keep an open mind and am prepared to give most things a “second” chance.

It was this warm, benevolent nature that saw me sit down with my iStudio colleagues and most notably, Neil Josephus, to take in a presentation/tour from the Marketing Profs yesterday afternoon.

Greg Verdino of Digitas gave the presentation, and led us through the murky underbelly of SL. I’m not sure when it was, but fairly early on I had the epiphany that SL’s hype and potential far outweigh it’s execution.

Barriers to adoption.

Here are my top seven reasons why SL will never be as mainstream as many commentators think.

1. Basic hardware needs are too high. I’ve logged in at work using a pretty sweet iStudio laptop with a 100 mbps connection and found the whole experience just awful. I can’t imagine logging in from home on a 56mbps connection on a laptop with 700 megs of RAM

2. Lack of understanding from the colonials (businesses). Seems that businesses in SL know enough to be dangerous to their shareholders. Yes it’s cool, sure we can throw a few million dollars at this but once they’ve done it, what next? All the investment and these huge landtraps are empty. The Starwood Hotel was empty, the American Apparel store was empty, the Reebok store was empty (I’m sure one of those brands is in conflict with an FH client). Surely an intern with a laptop dedicated to SL would be a good idea and (relatively) cheap investment? Or is it just another place where the customer service experience completely fails?

3. The indiginous population. Who have no interest for brands, marketing or real world businesses. Where is everyone? When they’re there, they’re either gambling or looking at/for porn. But there’s so much business potential “they” say. I say nay, nay and trice nay

4. Interoperability between 3D virtual worlds. Blogger has this awful setting that means only people with blogger accounts can comment on the blog. MSM and Yahoo! (an FH client) only just became interoperable. Social media is about inclusivity over all barriers – why not systems. It’d be awesome if there were portal doors (think Narnia style wardrobes) going from one world to another…that would be cool!

5. Metrics. If good marketers measure, how can you measure anything in SL? Impressions? Time spent with your brand? Anything?

6. The SLers are deviants. During the presentation we were stalked by a furry. Ewww.

7. Ethical dilemmas. One of the reasons indiginous businesses succeed in SL is that they have learnt to optimize their search. They do this by paying avatars, in Lindens, to dance in their businesses, something that never happens in the colonial (brand) locations. If a brand did it, would this be ethical? If not, why not? If so, why should real life ethics and morals not exist in SL – and would this damage the credibility of the platform?

Does anything live up to the potential?

Greg also took a few minutes to talk about competitors including Kaneva and Gaia. Kaneva is a combination of 2D surfing, with 3D chat. Essentially you surf through the profile pages and when you find someone to chat to, you go into a Matrix style chat room. As he said that, I’m thinking “so it’s like a very convoluted version of Y! messenger?” Y!’s IM client allows you do…exactly that…with people you already know. Plus it tells you when they’re online – genius!

Disappointing Questions

Following a very thorough and very well presented erm presentation, I was incredibly disappointed at the quality of the questions. I was, truth be told, expecting some hard questions on metrics, maybe a deeper look at the veracity of the numbers publicised by Linden Lab, possibly a few questions on the reaction marketers can expect from the indiginous SLers or a request for an analysis of the crayon launch.

Instead the questions were “how can I move around?”, “how can I create stuff?”, “how do I search for stuff?” and “where did we visit?”.

One break through idea

At the least I was hoping for an ‘if everyone has to go to orientation island, and most people drop off of using SL after 30 days, can we at least sponsor the island?’.

If those questions were asked, then Marketing Profs should’ve made sure they were answered, not the fluff questions that made it through the filter.

Conclusion

Greg, many thanks for a great presentation but for now I’m leaving SL where it belongs, in Neil’s computer and in the file marked “if only”.

Additional Links

Valleywag – Unless you’re a sexual deviant…

Valleywag – too good to check?

Second Life Herald – gallery of lies

Ed Lee’s del.icio.us tags – second_life_backlash

Update (Jan 16, 2007)

I just found this graph on Kevin Dugan’s blog, Strategic Public Relations. He’s plotted SL onto Gartner (the technology analyst firm that isn’t Forrester)’s hype cycle curve. Interesting to see that the model puts the productivity of the platform somewhere below the bullish potential that Neville, C.C. et al have been building it up to be, but a little above where sceptics such as Chris, Owen and I have been predicting.

secondlifecurve.jpg

21 Responses to Second Life Sceptic

  1. Wow, I don’t even know where to begin with your points.

    The one that pissed me off the most was the comment about “eww” towards furries. Come on now do we really need discrimination like that? Just because people look different and act different then us in RL or SL is NEVER a reason to slam them. I hate people doing this so that one really rubbed me the wrong way.

    I also can’t stress how wrong you are in your point 3 that all we are doing is gambling and f**king in SL? There so much more culture and socialization going beyond that. Art galleries, concerts, discussions, business meetings, and anything else that happens every day in real life.

    It just bothers me to no end to discover close minded people and this post sure makes me feel that way. Calling people deviants and making generalizations for such a diverse population is wrong. I can’t say it any more plain then that.

    You raised some VERY valid points against SL that I agree with, but they were ruined by the other ones.

    Really disappointed to see…

  2. Steve says:

    “3. The indiginous population. Who have no interest for brands, marketing or real world businesses. Where is everyone? When they’re there, they’re either gambling or looking at/for porn.”

    Ed, I think you just wrote off the whole internet as a marketing tool.

  3. Ed Lee says:

    CC, I didn’t mean to fur-secute you or your peers so I do apologise for that one. Point six was supposed to be more light hearted than the rest.

    As for point three, it’s well known that porn and gaming are the two industries who do do a great job in exploiting new media avenues. The fact is, many of the indiginous SL population have rejected the influx of outside brands, yours included (at least initially).

    One point that I didn’t raise, and perhaps this was extremely foolish, is that the limitation on the number of avatars in one place will be a huge problem. If no more than 40, or if you’re on the edge of two SIMS 80, can gather, how can you expect the level of interaction you need to justify the brand expenditure needed to make a splash? (stats from greg’s presentation)

    The point of this post wasn’t to lump everyone who’s in SL in one huge bucket and discriminate against them, but to provide my thoughts to the ongoing debate. Which has been pretty one-sided in favour of SL so far.

  4. What was your question, Ed? Or did it not get through the filters?

  5. Ed Lee says:

    My question was something along the lines of:
    can you address the backlash of the indiginous population against marketers in general and crayon in particular?

    When I left the room we were watching the presentation in (10 mins later or there abouts), the question hadn’t come through.

    In fairness, I did ask it towards the end of the presentation (but before the Q&A and it may have been answered later on.

  6. Chris Clarke says:

    I’m extremely disappointed, too. How come my rants about SL aren’t tagged in your del.icio.us?

    Really disappointed to see…

    Just kidding. I’m with you on the “So it’s like a convoluted version of Y! Messenger?” point you made.

    I have a feeling this comment thread is nowhere near finished yet…

  7. Ed Lee says:

    chris – you’re in! and owen too.

    plus i found a blog called “i hate second life”…

  8. As someone who’s lived through many introductions of IT – starting in the mid-60’s, I can say that there are always sceptics whenever anything new comes along.

    And, somehow, I keep finding myself looking for the good in them when everyone else in knocking away. The microcomputer, virtual reality, the web, blogging, wikis, web 2.0, Second Life…

    By the time the things go mainstream, I’ve moved on. I ought to stick around and make some money!

    Anyway, a lot of what you say about Second Life is fine. The commenters have already taken you to task for some stuff.

    The thing to bear in mind is that it’s early days. Very. Sure, computer specs and bandwidth are issues, but that will change. Just look how far we’ve come – I used to write business software in 2.4k machines: payroll, sales ledger, purchase ledger etc etc.

    Also, just because the world is full of things you don’t like, it doesn’t mean to say that there’s not good in there. It is minority stuff at the moment but, just as the web moved from being a minority sport to a key part of our world (whatever world we inhabit), so Second Life has the same potential.

    This doesn’t mean it will happen. It’s a question of whether it delivers value over and above other information delivery and communication methods. It’s certainly not a substitute for real life, but it could substitute some costly real life activities.

    Better to keep an open mind. Or shut it and let others do the hard work to make it something of value.

    I’m a journalist, not an advocate. But, like you, I was totally hostile to Second Life until I got hold of a second-hand graphics card and a bit more memory and started to look around. Now, I would say that I can see clear differentiation and potential. And, from all my past experiences, I know that it will improve, even if the inhabitant mix doesn’t. As someone said earlier in the comments, this is true of the web too.

  9. […] Second Life Sceptic Canadian colleague Ed Lee reiterates his scepticism over Second Life with some telling criticisms. My colleague Trevor Cook remains a sceptic. I’m an evangelist. We are still friends [smile] (tags: ed_lee second_life secondlife) […]

  10. Ed Lee says:

    David, you make some very valid points extremely well, but I feel I need to reiterate the fact that I’m a huge believer in the potential of SL but believe that, as I said in the post:

    “SL’s hype and potential far outweigh it’s execution.”

    I think my closing sentance also shows this pretty well –

    for now I’m leaving SL where it belongs, in Neil’s computer and in the file marked “if only”.”

    I’ve never said I’m completely closed off from SL…or from any other 3D virtual worlds.

  11. David Jones says:

    Great post. Great comments. I’m with you on the fact that the hype is far beyond the user experience right now. We need guys like CC who can see the future that a virtual world could possibly have for business.

    There is potential, it will evolve…but it’s not there yet as the barriers for entry are large, including the learning curve and potential ROI. Kinda sounds like the first internet bubble. Lotsa hype around things that didn’t really work as promised or deliver the huge value they were supposed to.

    It’s definitely a sandbox that we should be experimenting with, but it’s not the second coming.

  12. Sounds like we’re all converging. Valuable conversation. Thanks for starting it Ed.

  13. Hey there, Chris: Did you also venture into Second Life for the Marketing Profs presentation, as Ed did, or does your criticism remain from a complete outsider’s point of view? As you see, Chris, at least Ed ventured into Second Life, which gives means his criticism carries a little more weight.

    Good question, Ed. A shame that it didn’t seem to make it through the queue.

  14. John Young says:

    Hi all! This is John Young (Tikaro Oxberger in-world) — I was the one driving the avatar, while Greg did all the talking. We definitely had a mix of questions ranging from the total n00b to some folks that have been in-world longer than I have, and gave me some cool new landmarks that I hadn’t seen yet. Sorry we didn’t get to your question! If you’re in-world, send me an IM, and I’ll be happy to show you around.

    As for your question about backlash, you should read SL Blogger Urizenus Sklar’s purple prose on the subject. Here’s a good representative flame:
    http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/11/crayonistas_tal.html

    My own opinion about Second Life? It’s all true, both the good and the bad. Just like the Web itself was in 1996. Seriously, fire up the Internet Wayback Machine and start reading the consternation about web pages (only 256 colors!?!?.)

    Anyhow, like I said (and this is where I’m agreeing with you), it’s absolutely NOT a foregone conclusion that SL in particular, or metaverses in general, are a fertile or productive space for marketers right now. But this isn’t a “let’s wait and see” cop-out — SL represents a *way* of being online that is congruent with where the next generation is going. You’ve heard that the Digital Generation kiddies prefer IM to email, right? Well, something about the immediacy and limitations of the experience in SL is EXACTLY WHERE THAT TREND IS GOING. It’s the Internet as a hangout spot, taken far along the line towards its logical conclusion.

    Does this mean you should buy a brand island? Hell no. Does this mean you should have the client installed on your own computer? No way. I’d recommend, however, that you make friends with that intern in your organization who has that laptop, and check in with them every once in a while: “hey, how’s your prim hair coming?” “What’s going on in there?” “How you making your Lindens these days?”

    Feel free to IM me in-world, too, if you want — I’m busy retrofitting an rusty old fishing trawler to be our new corporate HQ🙂

  15. John Young says:

    Hi all! This is John Young, “Tikaro Oxberger” in world. In the Marketing Profs tour, I was the one driving the avatar — Teller to Greg’s Penn. Sorry we didn’t get to your question!

    I think we all agree that he hype is a red herring — on both sides. I do agree with you that up to this point, it’s been MOSTLY positive hype, and we’re in for a spate of backlash that will be about as relevant Ogre shouting “NER-R-R-R-R-RDS!”

    As a developer, I like Second Life because it takes my coding skills and gives them a new sphere of operation: suddenly, knowing your way around a curly brace means you can make “physical” objects with magical properties. That’s, of course, for a certain very narrow definition of “physical.” And most of the time, the stuff you make is just for fun. However, I submit that’s how a lot of cool stuff gets invented.

    As a marketer — and this is important! — my interest in second life is insofar as it is representative of a WAY of being online that is increasingly popular. Trend from asynchronous to synchronous communication? Check. Application of arbitrarily-introduced constraints (in this case, an anologue of “physical” space) to reduce the giant soup of information out there? Check. Users “own” the space by virtue of creating the content? Very much check.

    So I think the things that make SL popular are very similar to the things that made the Web itself popular in the nineties; both positive AND negative. Just check the Internet Wayback machine to get lots of hating on “Personal Home Pages”, and then “Weblogs.” This is the part that I should quote Santayana about the lessons of history, I guess.🙂 Good thing I’m not a pompous blowhard, or I… oops, too late.

    Anyhow, to answer your question, why did Crayon get pants-ed? Well, Urizenus Sklar says it both better and more vehemently than I would have:
    http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/11/crayonistas_tal.html

    Tell that intern with the laptop to IM me in-world, and I’ll be happy to talk in more detail with them. Basically, I see SL as a social phenomenon, important insofar as it is a key to understanding developing digital social behavior.

  16. John Young says:

    Oy, yoy yoy. Ed, I think you’re right that my comment got flagged by WP as spam, due to the links (it didn’t give me any indication), so you get the same post twice. Ahem! I’m usually just KIND of prolix, not RIDICULOUSLY prolix. Please delete, let’s say.. the first. Thanks😛

    By the way, over email, you said to me “…I’m yet to be convinced that this iteration of a 3d virtual world will be the one to go mainstream.” I totally agree with you!

    1st iteration of a 3d Virtual world: 1992’s “The Lawnmower Man.” Now rightly ridiculed.
    2nd interation: Second Life and its clones.

    Now, I’m not trying to make a case that SL will go *mainstream* — merely that there’s something here that bears watching.

  17. Ed Lee says:

    John, oy vey! I actually think (all) your comments have something different in them that adds to the disucssion so I think it’s a good idea to leave them in and not have to worry about editorialising them!

    All in all, a great discussion which seems to have concluded:

    Seriously:
    a)3D virtual worlds have great potential
    b)SL may not be the final form on which to judge the execution and/or relevance
    c)SL has been overhyped. T.S. Eliot would say it best – “between the idea and the reality lies the shadow”. The shadow is pretty huge right now

    Not so seriously:
    d)People in SL do more than screwing and gambling. Apparently
    e)People who choose to dress up as animals and indulge in some sort of pseudo-bestiality should not be mocked for their choices but instead should be welcomed into the world and accepted.

    Anyone else have their 2 cents to throw in?

  18. Well, my two extra cents:

    * A large part of Second Life’s hype — rightly or wrongly — has come from the constant references to total residents. Cracked a million in October, cracked two million in December, will probably crack three million early next month. And yet, this number really only points to total accounts ever registered, not active users.

    The latter number, which Linden Lab CTO acknowledged earlier this month (http://news.com.com/Counting+the+real+Second+Life+population/2100-1043_3-6146943.html), is only between 200,000 – 250,000, or about 10% of total registered users. Most users typically abandon the world within the first couple of weeks of registering.

    While this doesn’t have to be about the numbers, this very big discrepancy does make a difference in my eyes. There’s been a lot more hype than substance about the extent of the sustained interest in Second Life.

    As I see it, Second Life offers tremendous potential, some of which is tapped day after day by thousands of creative people (I hope that CaseCamp Second Life, which I helped to organize, was a good example of that). But the present-day reality is that Second Life is still frustratingly difficult to use, has a very high learning curve, and, can be pretty boring if you’re not sure where to go — unless I log in for a specific event.

    Still, as a business communicator, I believe it is important to at least keep tabs on the space, just as John writes. I have no doubt that the near future holds plenty for 3D virtual worlds, whether it be Second Life or a company that does it better. It’s why I make sure to pop into SL every week or two. I’d encourage you to do the same, Ed.

  19. Ed Lee says:

    Maybe not every week, but certainly more than I’m currently doing. Maybe I’ll even sign up and become one of the the great unwashed.

    Or should that be ten of the great unwashed?

  20. John Wall says:

    Rather that debate the merits of an emerging space, how about the fact that GoToMeeting and a Skype cam blow Second Life away as far as business applications and capacity?

  21. Ed. I’ve been waiting to read something like this on SL. I’ve been hearing a lot about it lately, all of it positive — too good to be true. Not to say that it can’t work, but I’ve learned to be hesitant over the last ten years whenever I’ve heard about new technologies like this. Obviously some, such as the internet itself and e-mail, have panned out nicely, and others haven’t. I think we often get more excited about the “Gee whiz” factor than about what it can actually do for us. That said, I’ve heard some fairly compelling arguments in favor of SL for business and personal us. So, I’m not giving up on it, actually, but you raise some good and sobering points. Thanks.

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