Business in Virtual Worlds, Deep Thoughts, Second Life

M and His Second Month in Second Life: We Are Really Real

M Linden has capped his first two months at Linden Lab with a stunning overview of his thoughts, observations, a bit of rah rah, and a lot of stats and support for his view that perception and reality are perhaps at odds.

By perception, I suppose he means the resident community of Second Life, which after months, er, years of being burned – bank closures, age verification, grid instability, concurrency limits, and poor communication. The media, on the other hand, which abandoned SL after the failure of the ‘big brands’ to make a go of opening poorly designed stores with poorly designed clothes, have been piling on again, so while the spin has been positive for Second Life in the wider media universe, this has fallen of deaf ears in the SL community who has been long frustrated and needs more than a few lag-free nights to revive the faith.

But all signs are that at least M is paying attention.

I recently argued that Google’s Lively was a play on trying to monetize social media, something that the Facebooks and youTubes and mySpace crowd has had a hard time doing, serving up banners that people ignore and trying to embed themselves in conversations where they don’t belong. M has a similar take on the inability of social media to ‘monetize’ itself, and points out that, well, Second Life actually makes money, and that can’t be a bad thing:

“Second Life is the only social media/social computing property where, at its core, user-generated content and the economy is the experience. As a result, our estimates place our monetization levels at 3-30x that of major media and social computing properties.”

M chalks this up to the unique user-driven content model that is Second Life:

“Users buy and sell the digital goods they make using our virtual currency — Linden Dollar. We generate revenue by selling land (where merchants build stores, land owners rent houses, educators teach and companies meet) and collecting monthly maintenance fees (somewhat analogous to hosting services), charging for currency exchange services (Linden Dollars to US Dollars and vice-versa) and for search and classified ad placement. We also make money as the economy expands and we issue Linden dollars to stabilize the exchange rate.”

M highlights projects that are extending the platform ranging from education to health, from government user to the British Computer Society.

And then he brings up that word, ‘interoperability’, that either leaves you quaking and shaking or leaves you hopeful that some sort of system can be built that will protect Second Life as a unique world, yet let us move through different expressions of 3D environments with more ease than needing to sign up to 1,000 worlds and create 1,000 avatars.

Well Laid Plans

OK, so I’m going to give M some kudos here. At least he blogged, which is more than we can say for Philip, although this particular post almost feels like Obama in Berlin – sure, he’s speaking to the residents but the message seems intended for another audience, namely those folks outside SL who need it explained to them what a Linden is, and that yeah, it’s worth real money.

I’m guessing the Lab’s blog is picked up by more than the people inSL (TM) so sure, he’s got a wider audience, but the lesson on selling land and how people sell virtual goods feels a little odd.

But having said that he’s building a case, post by post, interview by interview.

First off, join the lab and enthuse, feel the excitement, give some press either to Hamlet over on GigaOM and NWN, talk priorities, talk mechanics, talk focus.

And I love the consistency at least:
- User experience needs to improve
- First hour is hell and needs a massive overhaul
- UI needs an overhaul

Then, pick up the Philip/Mitch meme – the early pioneers were the ones to populate that creaky asset server with their trillions of objects, but look, there’s some serious players coming on board, and we’re not talking CSI or NIKE, we’re talking Cigna and the Christian Science Monitor.

But next up in the roll-out of the M era, I’d expect, if this continues to look like an actual PLANNED strategy (as compared to a bunch of patches and whims by the code geeks) would be the following:

- Do what you say. Improve stability, focus relentlessly on the first hour and the interface, fix search, and don’t screw around with the stuff that’s better left alone (land pricing being the prime example).

- Throw us some dazzle. Um, sorry, wrong choice of words. But something to bring back that sense of awe, excitement, something new, valuable – bring us a social networking system that works, that embeds in the Web, that lets us keep our groups organized and lets us tag our friend lists.

- Start hinting at a Second Life 2.0. A radical overhaul like you’ve been hinting at. Something that will take time, and perseverance, and community input, with a proper road map and a full communication plan to inform developers, residents, and outside partners.

- And then get marketing.

Boldly Go
But here’s the thing. For all the buzzy joy of Philip and improving humanity, I’d like to hear a vision. I’d like to hear the “why”. I’d like to know why Second Life matters not in some fuzzy way like “collaboration and saving the ozone layer” or “education is cool”, but why the Metaverse will make a difference, in a tangible, understandable, concise way that I can use to tell my mother. Or the person in the office who’s never played a game and doesn’t understand that it’s YOU in a virtual world and not some cartoon character.

Because I don’t know what it is, but there’s something that happens in Second Life. And sure, you can call it a class, or you can call it dancing in a club, or rezzing prims, or seeing great art. But it’s something different – it’s a connection to people you never would have connected with otherwise, and it’s a perspective that leaves you thinking about stuff you never would have pondered before, and sure, maybe it leaves you wondering whether you’re crazy to want the perfect pair of shoes or the best beach house – but WHY does that stuff matter? It’s not an illusion, right? I mean, it’s a real place, with real culture, and real dreams, and you don’t even need all these outside badges to say that “hey, if the universities can come this must be the real deal”, those just help to sell the story, and sure, to deepen this place that many people call home.

Serendipity. Awe. Art. Ways of looking at information, architecture, design. Issues and opportunities for identity and culture. And a description of the unique power of Second Life as a world – a world that I hope will create linkages with other domains for sociality and 3D interaction, but a world nonetheless.

If we shift into talking only about platforms and applications, then you’re selling a product not a vision, and as much as Mitch might like to jettison the pioneers for the Cignas, its the pioneers that are in the DNA, who saw something deeper than monetizing Web 2.0 and who might help with that thing Philip’s going on about – the one about connecting us all for some deeper good.


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