Media Pendulum Swings On Second Life

Yeah, the media's honeymoon with Second Life is clearly over. Time mag has listed it among five worst sites to avoid: "We're sure that somebody out there is enjoying Second Life, but why? You interact in the space through an avatar, but creating and personalizing this animated representation of yourself is tedious. Movements feel clunky and there can be a terrible lag."

Compare this with:

Time, November 18, 2002: "... a startlingly lifelike 3-D virtual world now evolving on the Internet."

Time, June 30, 2003: "Second Life is a 3-D online world where you can do whatever you want, build whatever you want and be whoever you want."

In April 2007, the magazine featured Philip Rosedale in its Builders & Titans section and in the Time 100 list.

This shift is pervasive. Forbes on July 2: "It turns out that avatars seem more interested in having sex and hatching pranks than spending time warming up to real-world brands." Last December: "It is easier to describe Second Life’s growth: Very fast." LA Times last week: "Four years after Second Life debuted, some marketers are second-guessing the money and time they've put into it."

You can tell things don't look bright when even Business Week, which had famously put a Second Life resident on its cover, is writing a year later, "After all, the Web-based parallel universe is a messy marketplace where you're as likely to see a bare-chested, rabbit-headed avatar trolling for adult-themed entertainment or vandalizing a digital store as a corporate suit leading a training session."

By the way, LA Times writes that American Apparel has closed its Second Life outlet that had opened almost exactly a year ago.

Credit: LA Times, July 11, 2007. American Apparel store boarded up.

American Apparel store before its official launch, June 2006. More details at this archived post.

Is it over for Second Life then? Probably not, since the core user base is much more stable than at, say, MySpace. These people might switch to a world that has a richer and a better implemented feature set, but there aren't clear alternatives yet. As for the advertisers still eying Second Life for their campaigns, the somber media mood is a mixed blessing. It will be much harder to convince clients to invest in the world now that the hype is over, but on the other hand there's plenty of accumulated collective experience to learn from, and the field will probably get less crowded very soon, too.

Update [July 18 ' 07] Ha, funny. I just ran into a banner on Techcrunch for Second Life's PR agency, Lewis PR.


  1. Top 10 reasons Second Life is no longer the "next big thing"

    10) All the girls are supermodels, but look nothing like the 17 year old boys that own the accounts.
    9) Demographics are based on usage over past 60 days...something wrong with industry standard 30 days?
    8) The crashing and freezing is tolerable at first, then just freaking annoying.
    7) HTTEISPITA ("Having to type everything is a pain in the ass.") LOL.
    6) The "Linden" thing gets old real fast, as does that question "have you read Gibson???"
    5) Any global platform that can only accomodate 100 people at a time is, well, severely limiting for anything other than reaching 100 people.
    4) The ROI is impossible to assess, and "forget the ROI" is not an appropriate answer for clients.
    3) There are only 40,000 people on at any one time. That's a revolution?
    2) Repeate, the ROI is impossible to assess, and "forget the ROI" is not an answer for clients.
    1) Second Life is like "pong," you got to love it, but in three years, it will be hopelessly quaint.

  2. My thoughts on the numerous comments about brands leaving Second Life.

    Firstly, remember that in many ways, Second Life (and other virtual worlds) is just another marketing channel, albeit with unique characteristics.

    When companies run marketing campaigns on other channels (such as TV, radio or print) and the campaign fails to deliver the desired level of response, one of two things happen:

    1. The creative concept is critised as not being appropriate or good enough. In other words it did not resonate enough with the target audience or deliver the right messages.

    2. Expectations were too high in the first place. Either because they were not correctly analysed or the channel has a different set of metrics.

    You rarely hear about the media channel being critised as being incorrect. Some brands have run campaigns in Second Life and the platform has been critised with very little commentary on the quality of the actual concept or the metrics being used to assess the success.

    The concept of media planning in Second Life (understanding the attributes of the channel audience - what motivates them - what they want - what the platform can deliver) has been overlooked to a very high degree to date in Second Life. This is the area that successful virtual world campaigns should focus on.


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