A Second look at Second Life


I had a play with Second Life when it was still in beta (way back in the pre version 1 days in 2004). At that point it was interesting, a nice concept, you could just build things, do a little scripting, the client was a little flaky at best. But I could see potential, one problem, no residents (users in Second Life), it was hard to find your fellow users. It was seen at that point as little more than a fancy IRC. But business called and I left Second Life behind to focus on my First Life.

What is Second Life, (for those not in the know) it’s an Internet-based virtual world developed by Linden Labs, it’s based around a free downloaded client application. But you know that Second Life all over the mainstream media.

Later in 2005 I looked back into Second Life, okay better scripting, easier to build things (in relative terms), and at least the client worked most of the time. Some residents had setup business in Second Life. Most of the time it was focused around sex or gambling. I know it’s generalising, but how different is this to the real web. The sex (porn) industry and online gambling have led the technological adoption in this area, so why not Second Life too. But again my First Life called, and Second Life remained an unused icon on the desktop.

Fast forward to the present day, recently Kathryn Greenhill has tempted me back into Second Life.

Yeap things have changed. Major real world enterpises have now set themselves up in Second Life, buying up entire islands to promote their real world products. But the real point of interest is the introduction of small business outside of the sex and gambling industries. There is even a community based wiki for Second Life, and there are tutorials all over the blogosphere on Second Life scripting, building, avatar construction, making money, the works. The volume of information on Second Life is just amazing, it really has ramped up over the last year or so, a  good comparison point is the reviews from Tony Walsh.

Even Gartner is getting on board, predicting:

80 Percent of Active Internet Users Will Have A “Second Life” in the Virtual World by the End of 2011.

Has Second Life finally got it together?

Well yes and no. Sure you arrive and there are always a few residents around in certain central hubs of activity (estimated at 100,000 active users, with a churn rate of 85%). Yes there are lot of things to look at and buy now in Second Life, there are even educational institutions moving into Second Life. And there is the darker element of Second Life, the gangs of thugs vandalising and harassing other residents. Like all online communities you gets the thugs, the trolls, it happened in MOOs and MUDs so why not Second Life, good thing is you can just logoff, and leave.

But still where are all the other residents. You arrive and besides a few residents milling around that’s it. It’s hard, very hard to find other residents with like interests; even with the interest groups feature.

Second Life really needs to extend the social networking aspect into it’s functionality of resident/user findability. Now it may be present, but it’s not blatantly obvious to me. So if I don’t know, how does a complete newbie find other residents with like interests. I can understand why it’s got a 85% churn rate. New residents would just wander around, can’t find anyone to really relate to and hence you leave, bored.

I believe for Second Life to really take off it has to move out of the technical literate user and it the world of the general gamer or non technical user. It should be as easy to use Second Life as it is the use MySpace or a generic first person shooter console game. Currently Second Life seems to be stuck in the Technosphere. Sure the exposure in the general media will help, but it really depends on how easy the client software is to use for the general user. Presently it just seems to take too much effort to do anything (it has got better than it used to be), even the simple things are hard to do. But I’m being unfair here, if you look at it side by side it’s in fact easier to do things in Second Life. But usability wise the main stumbling block seems to be the mouse click circular menu system.

Has Gartner got it right? They have pointed out that the smaller businesses will succeed over the enterprises simply because they are adding value, they understand that behind each avatar there is a real person. There is going to have to be a shift in functionality and ease of use for virtual worlds before we come close to the Gartner predictions. And then there is the issue of bandwidth. Virtual worlds like this can really only be accessed on high speed boardband. Okay if you are in an area with this type of connectivity.

Is Second Life worth the effort from a social networking view point. Or is it just a trendy geeky community and likely to remain so into the future, despite the recent media attention? Is Second Life just a MUD with window dressing? Or am I just missing something and not getting it, maybe spending too much time in my First Life?

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,