Disclaimer: I work in Google's Policy Team, developing multistakeholder cooperations for internet governance & policy themes, hence I want to point out that all the opinions and ruminations on this blog are mine, not Google's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Second Life: critique and tolerance

Below you find some short arguments which I just wrote in a critical email to a friend who sent me his euphoric sales pitch for Second Life (SL). Subsequently i delve into a short cultural reflection about how important tolerance is for bootstrapping thus taking up the cudgels for Second Life and paying respect to their accomplishments.

1) Don't lure them into developing an island by using inflated numbers: I would be very cautious to present the user growth rate with 30% for the 2007 forecast. I don’t think it will continue at that speed. It was a nice media-virus for some month now, but as 'real SL development' with 'real benefits' is much slower I believe it will stabilize and turn to an organic growth.

SL and virtual worlds in general have some very potent value propositions but right now the biggest benefit to create a subsidiary is: marketing/branding: to communicate a) that the organization is a pioneer and b) whatever the SL offer potentially is. I say potentially because it is almost impossible to really fulfill the expectations.

Allow me to elaborate: Take the case of a car-maker who sets up an SL race-course to allow users to "try" a new model. Everybody who actually tries the car in SL will be disappointed because we are used to high-end racing games (need-for-speed, etc.) and in comparison the SL experience is really devastatingly bad. However i believe it is only a matter of time until the 3D web will be able to have people test-drive really good simulations of cars (potentially through the virtual representation of their own neighborhoods). Before that happens at least two conditions have to change: server-infrastructure (connection and resulting graphic) problems have to be taken care of and the know-how of racing-game specialists has to be incorporated. Once we are there i believe it is quite realistic that virtual-world-car-selling becomes a decisive aspect of marketing and selling cars. Will the company that has developed a long term experience in using virtual worlds have an advantage against its competitor who neglected the new medium? Without a doubt.

2) do not forget that in this moment only 40 people can be at an island simultaneously so SL internal out-reach is quite limited. (Of course the solution is to really market the SL footage in traditional media). Another important point seems to me that an entity that runs an island should plan for in-world-representative(s) (and the additional monthly cost). Given that SL is accessed by people from around the world a representative would ideally need to be there 24/7 and speak at least the organizations 'normal' languages. There is technology that communicates to Real Life (through messaging) when someone comes to your island. However this does not solve the 24/7 issue.

Having communicated what IMHO is the current infancy conditions for setting up an SL island (or other venture), while i believe I also outlined the immediate and potential benefits, I feel obliged to pay my respect to the Linden Labs team and everybody who is participating in the realization of the potential by creating this fascinating new world.

Virtual reality is a theme in science fiction for many many years and first attempts to realize this vision have been conducted with various success since the creation of the internet. Hence SL is nothing new as such. BUT SL is the best 3-dimensional cyberspace i have come across so far, AND maybe more important. they have managed to create such a media fuzz around their project that it seems there is a critical mass of users and enough interest from investors and organizations that invest in SL presences that there is enough capital to really boost development and hopefully solve many of the technological problems now present.

So in conclusion it is always difficult to do the splits (find the equilibrium) between being critical (as in enlightened or not-naïve) while tolerating some flaws, and SL surely needs a good dose of both. Whether Second Life as a virtual world developed and run by Linden Labs has a promising future i am critical; That the 3D web is there to stay and that it is very valuable to invest time and money in understanding and exploiting it I am even more convinced.

Thomas Praus, Peter Bihr and myself (a.k.a. MaPeTo) are lately exploring and discussing about SL and virtual worlds. Peter has published his evaluation of the current opportunities and limitations of SL and Thomas will shurely do so very soon.

1 comment:

Peter Bihr said...

Hola Max, thanks for your little rant here. Agreed - Second Life is the best 3D virtual world so far, and Linden Lab deserves credit. Maybe I should have mentioned that in my answer. ;)