Business in Virtual Worlds, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Second Life’s Killer App for Residents: Each Other

Tom Hale Discusses Second Life at Web 2.0
Tom Hale Presents at Web 2.0

Tom Hale, or T Linden in Second Life, recently presented at the Web 2.0 conference at which he proclaimed that while the hype cycle came and went, the world stayed, survived, and thrived. And it did so because of its ‘hardcore’ users who were there not for sex but for because they could connect and socialize with each other.

Now, I’ve seen Hale present a few times, including a keynote at the Second Life Community Convention at which he previewed the new SL client (which by all accounts is a game changer when it comes to advancing the interface for the world), mesh imports and other assorted goodies. Tom also talked about virtual goods during a Metanomics mixed reality event from the San Jose Virtual Goods conference where he spoke about the strength of the SL economy and his commitment to content protection (further steps about which have been taken with the coming crack-down on third-party viewers with their illegal copying tools).

And Tom strikes me as….well, as a grown-up. And as much as I love the Lindens, a lot of them seem like kids – which is either a sign of their enthusiasm for their work, their age, or most likely my own age as I continue my climb up into the anachronism of being an elder.

Tom has this sort of Silicon Valley-meets-Microsoft vibe about him, although his background is with Adobe which in many ways is far more masterful at packaging stuff up than our friendly pals who gave us Vista and Bing – but the Microsoft vibe has something to do with certainty verging on arrogance – a “Listen to me, I’ve been in the trenches, I know what I’m talking about, and I’m older and wiser than you” kind of thing.

So Tom took center stage at Web 2.0 and his presentation was picked up in running commentary at places like CNet which described him as scoffing (buahaha evil laugh) at critics:

“Tom Hale, chief product officer at “Second Life” manufacturer Linden Lab, essentially laughed in the face of critics by pulling out the numbers: the virtual world, which many in the mainstream press have long since written off as a haven for bizarro-world subcultures, expects to chalk up $500 million in user-to-user transactions this year and its membership recently reached 1 billion hours collectively spent “in-world.”"

Tom’s presentation seems to be part of a broader effort to redefine Second Life. The story arch seems to go something like this:

- Yeah, we know – there was tons of hype, and the hype was crazy, and the hype left, but we’re still here
- In fact, we’re still here in a significant way, and you should pay attention, because we’re doing millions in user transactions and billions in voice minutes and we have a massive user-generated platform
- And we’re here in a big way because, really, we’re social media. So if you love Facebook and Twitter, don’t forget to lump us in with those guys as well, because we’re not just social media, we’re PROFITABLE social media

Tom’s speech is probably the best I’ve yet seen from the Lab that puts its user statistics in a context that makes sense to the broader world. He doesn’t deny the fact that Second Life is populated primarily by hardcore users. He puts its ‘geek factor’ in context as well, reminding the audience that while the geeks make the world go around with their scripts and apps and content, the platform is 50% female, there are casual users, and those casual users buy things, socialize, and spend 25 of their 40 monthly hours talking and speaking (a billion hours of voice per month).

“So what’s the lesson there? You need a broad appeal. And how did WE get our broad appeal? Well, it turns out, we outsourced that. It was our content creators and our developers who built the broad appeal because there’s something in Second Life for everyone whether it’s one of the 250,000 items created each day or something from the existing corpus – 270 TERRABYTES of 3D objects, of textures, of scripts. The breadth and scale of this corpus means that if you want something whether it’s a car, or a blimp, or a parachute, or a dress, or a 747 (so you can pretend you’re a Google founder) it’s probably in Second Life. And that is a very sticky application.”

Now, as a resident, Tom doesn’t shed tons of new light on the world. But listening to him reminds me that the vision that the Lab has for the world is evolving: it’s less chaotic and messy and the story about it is more organized and contextual, less organic, less evolutionary. They are creating a storyline for how SL has changed, and they’re pitching that story to a much wider world: first the virtual good folks, and now the techy social media/Web 2.0 crowd, and next the enterprise crew with Nebraska.

But my question is: where’s the storyline headed? And Tom doesn’t have an answer:

“So where does it go? Well, I don’t have time for that, and we probably couldn’t even say for sure. Our communities, our developers, our content creators, our entrepreneurs – they will lead us there. But we do know that virtual worlds and Second Life are here to stay and that we’re laying the foundation for the future and the growth of the next wave of innovation when it hits.”

And there’s the rub, really: because until we hear that rallying cry – that map of possibilities, then Linden Lab’s storyline is only half done.


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