August 23, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

'Second Life,' after the backlash

'Second Life,' after the backlash
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When nearly 800 Second Life users hit Chicago this weekend for the third annual Second Life Community Convention, most will acknowledge it hasn't been a smooth ride lately for the virtual world.

At last year's SLCC in San Francisco, Second Life was still viewed by mass media as a quirky hub for bizarre subcultures and utopian dreamers.

But circumstances have changed. The Second Life that will be the centerpiece of 2007's SLCC, an event almost twice as large as its predecessor in terms of attendance, is facing a different public perception as the most written about and sometimes the most reviled virtual environment (even though it's by no means the most popular).

So what happened?

Second Life became a media and corporate darling. Companies from NBC Universal to Coca-Cola commissioned in-game presences. (CNET Networks has its own virtual building.) Events as mainstream as a Jay-Z performance on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night talk show were simulcast in virtual arenas, and the colorful 3D landscape was talked up as the future face of commerce, advertising, job recruiting and even dating.

Within months, there was a backlash. The virtual world's oft-clunky interface became the subject of parody, and the pratfalls of the infrastructure created by parent company Linden Lab became apparent with well-documented lag times and crashes.

The fact that Linden's servers limit virtual event attendance to a few dozen avatars also didn't bode well for companies that wanted a Second Life headquarters to reflect their brand popularity. Skeptical bloggers began posting hand-compiled statistics about how Second Life's's seemingly fast-growing population was largely inactive, and Wired magazine's August issue featured a story by Frank Rose called "How Madison Avenue is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life."

According to active Second Life users, it was too much, too early. "It's an experiential, experimental type of place," said Linda Zimmer, who runs the Business Communicators of Second Life blog. "It's not a mass medium, and it won't be for years down the road...I think that some companies jumped in with unreal expectations."

Tracy Ryan, an associate professor of advertising research at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in the new-media ad landscape, agreed Second Life should be considered an experimental sandbox. "You have to jump in and do it to figure it out, because people haven't been marketing in virtual worlds for very long," Ryan said. "We don't know exactly how it's going to work, or what branding's going to be like, or how residents of Second Life or any other metaverse are going to respond to branded communications in that kind of environment."

"The first mistake is companies assuming, 'OK, well, I have a store on Fifth Avenue that's very successful, so I could put a store in a heavily trafficked area of Second Life and it'll be successful.'"
--Tracy Ryan, associate professor, Virginia Commonwealth University

Companies are learning, she added. Some have backed out, discovering that their brands haven't adapted to Second Life quite as well as they'd have thought. "The first mistake is companies assuming, 'OK, well, I have a store on Fifth Avenue that's very successful, so I could put a store in a heavily trafficked area of Second Life and it'll be successful.' Second Life doesn't work that way."

At SLCC '07, there are no panels about how to brighten Second Life's image in the media or attract mass-market crowds. There are, however, panels about virtual sex and relationships, how your avatar can run its own video blog, the issue of intellectual property rights, and entrepreneurship. There's also a party on Saturday night that's a clear throwback to Second Life's roots as a hub for quirky subculture--a "lace and leather" themed masquerade ball (perhaps not an ideal branding opportunity for Coca-Cola).

There's also live music by artists who have become well-known in Second Life through simulcasted shows. One of them is Chris Shigas, a vice president at emerging media firm French-West-Vaughan, who will be playing on Saturday evening. "I've been doing virtual concerts for about two years," Shigas said. "I think it's wonderful...The ability to perform for an audience from my home was valuable, and it was really attractive to me."

At this weekend's conference, the panels on Saturday and Sunday are divided into four groups--business, education, social and "machinima" (a conglomeration of "machine" and "cinema"). Participants are encouraged to choose one topic and follow it for the weekend, thus narrowing the focus and providing more direction and productivity.

Organization, users say, is going to be key to solving Second Life's identity issues. "Crowdsourcing," or inviting the public to do a task typically performed by an employee, and user-generated content are hot marketing concepts. But when it comes to a massive and versatile platform like Second Life, the laissez-faire Linden Lab essentially gave free license to the marketers and corporations diving in, as well as the journalists meticulously documenting its emergence into the mainstream, to shape and brand the virtual world's image.

CONTINUED: Signs of user-friendliness…
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William Gibson?
"There's already Slurl, a Linden-grown project that assigns HTML addresses to specific in-world locations so that your avatar can "teleport" to a new spot on the grid through your Web browser."

Sounds like something out of a William Gibson book. Make Second Life an interface for the WWW and it will be something out of a William Gibson book.

PS. The author should have had a space before the paragraph I quoted.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Many changes need to be made in SL
Many of the controls need to be very much like second nature. Users should not have to guess what controls do what.

The graphics are horrible. It makes me feel happy to stay and play WOW.

This SL linden universe apears to me to be fractured in that to see different things you must log into different servers? This liquifies the SL brand by having so many log in servers.
The demo server is different from what lets say CocaCola might host on. So newbies will never see the good stuff unless given the connection address of that server. So all worlds should be merged into one and make the ground slightly curved so people can spin the globe around to visit other places or countries......
Perhaps use warp gates to go to different servers.

SL has a lot to learn from WOW.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well you are right sort of
First of yes I agree with you the UI needs a ton of work...

But you are wrong you do not have to log into diffeent log into the grid and then teleport from island to island...which does happen to be server to server but it is a seemless experience...and you are only logged in least with SL you don't have to purchase the dang software like WOW
Posted by dswatik (54 comments )
Link Flag
There's a lot wrong with SL but not these
I'm not sure where you got this information but it's mostly incorrect.

There are no separate server logons, you log on and you've got access to the entire SL universe.

There is a map facility immediately available that can be zooomed from the current neighborhood to the entire world.

There already is a teleport facility, that's how most people get around. You just click on the map and go.
Posted by Ralph Doctorow (13 comments )
Link Flag
Server-to-server trunk links?
There's a solution to multiple servers - although this may be oversimplifying...

Does anyone remember OpenNAP, before Napster went completely down the tubes?

One thing that was done in the latter days, was server-to-server connections - allowing queries to flow between all similar servers.

Could the same thing be done with the SL servers? Or would the data/processing burden somehow be too great?

Just my $0.02... I'm far more a conceptual designer, than a programmer or anything.
Posted by unigamer69 (75 comments )
Link Flag
Someone at CNET has a 2nd life account
Seriously we see these articles on second life all the time here.

This thing is a non-issue. It's all hype and no substance. There are so many other multi-user spaces out there that are far superior. Why does this thing keep getting press here?

Peek your head out of your second life account and take a look around. There are Free MMOs out there with superior virtual and multiplayer technology. There are communications products like OCS/Livemeeting that decimate the group capabilities of second life.
Posted by smilin:) (889 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Plenty of someones, actually
Several of the C|Net staffers have SL accounts. Daniel and Caroline, at the very least, routinely blog on the program. Daniel has even hosted interviews in-world.

Personally, I don't see the draw. Until I can grab a shotgun and go furry hunting, Second Life has nothing to offer me.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
Cut them some slack
They aren't real journalists in the real world, but they can pretend that they are in a fake world.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
The real issue is the software is broken
The main problem with SL is that it doesn't work very well.

You can't build large complex systems that could be used for selling and advertising real life products because the SL system is so full of bugs. Vehicles don't work outside of very small areas, SL crashes and is unavailable far too often, stuff just vanishes from time to time, the programming language is a complete joke. It's just not a solid enough platform to develop the kinds of content that make the web so attractive.

IMHO an open virtual world like SL is going to be a very BIG THING, however, I'm concerned that Linden Labs as currently organized doesn't have the expertise to build it. Until that changes, the content that will attract a real community won't be created.

In the meantime, it's great for getting experience, both technical and with the social effects of what is close to an anarchy.
Posted by Ralph Doctorow (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
can you say BROKEN
Yet again Second Life fails, because they can`t get al their workers to do in the same dirction. Broken,down,hacked,with hardware older then 3 years old atleast. How can Second Life continue to pull in as many users! Without first adding hardware and workers to the company CAN YOU SAY CHEAP!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Reply Link Flag
2nd life is useless & boring, better alts are Sitesticky & WOW
1st Cnet and big media tried hyping 2ndlife by saying how great and wonderful it is, after people saw how it is NOT and spoke out about that fact and wondered out loud about why the relentless
hype of 2ndlife, they (Cnet, big media) changed tactics in hyping 2ndlife by planting hoax stories about how some people & businesses where finding
it to be so wonderful. After that failed too, and after who wants to download a 40MB software
to chat in a 3D world of SL that is empty and has Herky Jerky feel to it when we can instantly chat in 2D worlds like that offered by SiteSticky which also offers Voice chat or if we really want to play we could go to 3D action game worlds like WOW.

Now the question is why the hype about 2ndlife by cnet and big media? Because the silicon valley VC Mafia has big investments in 2ndlife and they want to hype 2ndlife for a possible IPO to dump its stock on the public or sell it to another publicly traded company which is another way to dump their stock in this useless company on the public.
Posted by caudio_roma (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lies, Sex, and Broken servers
If anyome is foolish enought to play on Second Life Or dum enough to pay for yearly fees. Would now how Linden labs has lied, tricked and totally hurts its users. Support? Noway! Letting alts in to abuse others, cheating and stealing! YES Linden Labs is allowing this. Stupid and totally unprofessional In world Lindens? YES. Can the workers within SL build a better UI? LOL NOWAY IN HELL! Can they break codes? YES this happens offen! Sl is now ALT HELL, where nobody pays money where nobody is a live during game time ( meaning AFK on money giving devices ). This is NOT A GAME ITS A WORSELESS SIMULATION THAT NOBODY PAYS FOR. IF YOUR NOT IN SECOND LIFE DON`T START. If your looking to extend your Real Life company in to Second Life Don`t bother! You lose money and you will learn that Linden Lab servers are so baly maintained its not funny! Just STAY AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE!
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why is this rated as High Impact??
SL is not nor has it been high impact, ever!

The fact that big corp and the media have bought into the myth and are now getting burned might be. But in the grand scheme of things MMO, it's not even close or ready for the level of use that the above deep pockets would like it to be.

You want deep impact?! Try looking at WoW that has millions of players or even better EVE Online that consistently has 20,000 players loged in ON ONE SERVER!

SL is an experiment, a test for building a virtual world online and so far it fails. Worse, others are beating it on a hourly basis.

C|net fails and this article does not deliver.
Posted by Far Star (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's high impact because
Cnet has an agenda here and pushing it is more important than journalistic integrity.

This has been happening since cnet created their virtual building in SL and their writers started getting accounts.
Posted by smilin:) (889 comments )
Link Flag
CNet's declaration?
Maybe it's high-impact because is declaring that they've wasted their time writing about a crappy MMO that they thought they would turn into something better by hyping the sh*t out of it non-stop?

And maybe now CNet is catching flak from businesses that are saying "Your reporting has cost us a million dollars because we thought there was this huge fan base, we're pulling our ads from Cnet!"

And CNet was writing about WoW a lot for a while. Perhaps when WoW didn't start advertising like crazy they decided it wasn't relevant anymore
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
Link Flag
What in the world are you talking about?
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Link Flag
ummm, what backlash ? as far as MMO's go, the main ones I see are WoW, GW, D2LoD, ...
-can someone at CNET actually write about something interesting ?
-like maybe find out if Blizzard is ever gonna create a Diablo 3 ?
now that would atleast be newsworthy as opposed to this "2nd LIFE BACKTRASH".
Posted by RickNekus (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Second Hype
Second Life has been hyped beyond belief for what it theoretically can be.

Unfortunately, anyone who has played a real MMORPG realizes that the interface is crap, the lag times are awful, and there's this little issue that sometimes having too few rules can lead to abuse.

I was a big WoW player for a while, but the constant C/Net hype of Second Life made me interested to see. I created an account and played with it for 1 night and realized I'd never go back. Horrible server lag, bad graphics, and nothing to do.
I liked the idea of being able to customize my avatar and people had some fun ones showing off. So, I could invest a TON of time tricking out my avatar or building something, but really, why would I? I was in "Second Life" for all of an hour before I was REALLY bored. Why have a tricked out avatar in a boring world with huge lag time and crappy graphics? Just because it's free doesn't excuse it being boring.

I'm sure that my 1 hour, year-old account is still considered one of "millions" of online Second Life players.
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BOTS and statistice
THe Second Life statistics are actually meaningless since there are so many "BOTS" out there.

I have friends who operate 50 to 100 "bots" or Zombies all the time! Not the approved "alts", but totally anonymous accounts.

The "land bots" which search for land for sale at bargain prices are well known, then there are "copy bots" which copy all of the textures, and finally "camping bots" which go around occupying chairs for pay so that the region will score high in the popularity ratings.

I am sure there are many others out there that I don't know about yet ...
Posted by Karen Palen (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sooner or later LL will no allow "BOTS" its only a matter of time. Copybot is not around anymore, even if people are saying it is. Its Just forum BULLCRAP.
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Link Flag

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