As a journalist and Second Life enthusiast, I'm annoyed by irresponsible articles that take it for granted that the virtual world is dying, or already dead, or a failure. In fact, Second Life is healthy and growing -- I say this based on personal experience, and statements made by officials of Linden Lab, the company that created, develops and operates Second Life.Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon described a couple of the signs of Second Life's health in an interview Wednesday conducted inworld at Metanomics, an interview program sponsored by Cornell University, conducted inside Second Life.
The number of active users now stands at about 600,000, Kingdon said; that's up from about a half-million last year, and it follows a period of roughly a year when Second Life's user base had plateaued. Blogger Wagner James Au analyzed the growth last month at GigaOM. Monthly repeat logins -- people who logged in more than once per month -- were 731,000 in March, climbing upward since August. Active users -- people who'd spent more than an hour in Second Life -- were 650,000.
Moreover, Second Life users are more engaged that players of other games, spending an average of more than 12 hours a week in-world -- more than World of Warcraft and Half-Life 2.
Linden Lab is "growing and comfortably profitable," Kingdon said, although he declined to provide specifics. "We have a very sound balance sheet," he said.
The company has been adding headcount, hiring 100 people over the last 12 months to bring the total number of employees to about 300.
My personal experience also tells me that Second Life is healthy. There seem to be more things to do, and more interesting things to do, every week.
And yet some journalists take it for granted that Second Life is a failure. For example, see this article. It's a self-perpetuating cycle of sloppy journalism: Writers who haven't been in Second Life themselves for years read other articles written by similarly unqualified people stating Second Life is failing, and they repeat the premise without bothering to do research.
Another example: This piece states:
Once touted as an essential locale for hip businesses to open up their doors, Second Life saw something of a real estate boom as companies such as Dell and IBM rushed to build their presence on Second Life's sprawling landscape. But once built, these massive corporate structures turned out to be little more than vast wastes of time and money--gigantic ghost towns in a non-existent gold rush.
While it's true that Second Life has lost its glamor as a hip marketing destination, many real-world companies still do business in Second Life. Two examples: Dell and IBM. While the article cites them as examples of Second Life failures, in fact they're successful. Dell and IBM are still active in Second Life, as are Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Nokia, Cornell University (hosts of Metanomics), and the U.S. Armed Forces, to name just a few examples.
Another factor in the backlash against Second Life: The platform was the subject of outrageously dumb hype in 2006-2007. Journalists predicted that Second Life would replace the Internet, and wrote that virtual businesses could make easy money in-world. Real-world companies threw a lot of marketing money at Second Life, and many chose not to renew the investment.
That hype bubble is gone, and Second Life is still chugging along.
Kingdon had some other interesting tidbits in his Metanomics interview, mostly of interest to current Second Life enthusiasts:
Linden Lab is working on a new, easier-to-use Second Life viewer, part of an ongoing effort to improve what the company calls the "first hour experience."
This addresses an extremely valid criticism of Second Life: It's tough to figure out how to use it at first, and if you don't know anybody already using SL, it's tough to figure out what to do in there. You teleport from one part of Second Life to another, many of them are quite lovely, but most of them are empty most of the time.
New users need easier ways to find out what to do in SL. One resource I find invaluable: The weekly calendar of events on Au's Second Life blog New World Notes.
Linden Lab is also planning to launch a new, redesigned Web site next month, with greater integration of existing Web-based social media applications, Kingdon said. The community of Second Life users currently sprawls well beyond Second Life itself, onto blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and a Twitter competitor called Plurk that's proven extremely popular in the SL community. Linden Lab plans to make it easier for Second Life users to find each other on those social media and others.
The efforts are part of Linden Lab's goal of taking the active user base of Second Life from the current 600,000 to 1 million and then 6 million, Kingdon said.
If you're a Second Life user, look me up; I'm "Mitch Wagner" in Second Life, just like in real life.
InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the business uses of social networks. Download the report here (registration required).
Follow InformationWeek on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and FriendFeed: