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9/17/2008
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Second Life Tries For A Second Act

The online virtual world has weathered a boom-and-bust cycle. Now it has a new CEO. Can this social networking phenom attract a new wave of consumers and enterprise users?

I first joined Second Life in January 2007, near the peak of the hype cycle. Second Life was supposedly the next technology megatrend. It would transform the face of the Internet and make present-day technology obsolete.




Research shows that Second Life users identify with their avatars, and are more willing to take risks.
(click for image gallery)

Then the hype cycle burst. Second Life didn't change the Internet much. Journalists quit the service en masse to follow the next big trend.

But I didn't leave Second Life. I stuck around. I cut back my professional involvement to an article or blog every few months. But I still spend a few hours a week in Second Life, just playing and keeping in touch with friends.

And Second Life stuck around too. It's profitable, and it's hanging on to a core of dedicated users. The internal economy of Second Life users exchanging virtual goods and services is growing. And, perhaps most important of all, the unquantifiable creative soup of Second Life continues at a rolling boil, with new businesses and activities and art popping up every day.

Linden Lab, the company that created and operates Second Life, is growing up. Founder Philip Rosedale stepped aside as CEO, while hanging on as chairman. Linden Lab replaced Rosedale with Mark Kingdon, an Internet marketing veteran.

Where Rosedale often speaks of Second Life in mystical terms, Kingdon has a Wharton MBA and a solid, practical business background. Organic, the Internet marketing company where he was previously CEO, was failing when he came on board; he turned it around. And he also has 12 years' experience with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he was most recently a senior partner.

Kingdon must grapple with a number of problems: Making Second Life simple enough for most Internet users to get into it, improving stability of the very buggy service, streamlining the user interface, and dealing with a corporate culture that's often more interested in mystical vision than the hard job of running a business.

Perfect On Paper

On paper, Kingdon has the perfect resume for incoming Linden Lab CEO, as I wrote in April: "The Organic experience presumably makes him comfortable working with idiosyncratic, creative people. On the other hand, the experience at button-down PWC will hopefully help empower him to inject some starch and discipline into Linden Lab."

After starting at Linden Lab in May, Kingdon was mostly quiet his first few months, but he recently surfaced for an interview to talk about the company's future business, technology direction and the health of its economy and community.

Kingdon said the company's main focus is to improve uptime, stability, and retention of people who log in to the service and try it out -- converting newbies into active users.

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