Whatever happens at the second Second Life Community Convention this weekend, I’m fairly sure the highlight won’t be Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale appearing onstage in a sequined codpiece.
That was last year, when the inaugural convention (the brainchild of several fans of the user-created online world) attracted a hundred-plus attendees, and resembled a quirky mash-up of Slashdot party, Burning Man, and Star Trek con. (On a dare, Rosedale gave the keynote dressed up to resemble his SL avatar.)
But those innocent times are over, and the world which had a scant 60,000 registered users back then now boasts nearly 250,000 active users. Since then, too, the company won Wired Magazine’s Rave award for Business, it’s been featured on the cover of BusinessWeek, and inspired a highly influential article in Harvard Business Review called “Avatar-Based Marketing“, which in turn inspired, well, an avatar-based discussion on avatar-based marketing.
So a cascade of real world money and advertising has followed into the world of Second Life, with a big studio movie premiere, a clothing retail store, the appearance of several major label artists (like them, and her), and far more to come. Into this opening, a wonderfully strange new form of Web 2.0-era business has emerged: call them “metaverse developers”, companies which create projects, events, and branding experiences in virtual worlds like Second Life for companies, non-profits, and government contractors who want to get in the virtual world business.
In SL, a big three has already emerged in this most nichey of spaces: the UK-based branding agency Rivers Run Red, which put down exploratory roots in Second Life back in early 2004; the Electric Sheep Company, one of whose principals previously created an SL-based disaster simulator for the Department of Homeland Security; and Millions of Us, founded by Reuben Steiger, previously Linden Lab’s technology evangelist (and in full disclosure, a sponsor of my Second Life blog, New World Notes.)
And just last night, I received word that a fourth company is making a play to enter this field: Infinity Squared, a joint venture between Peabody award-winning Lichtenstein Creative Media and Infinite Vision Media, the small metaverse group responsible for creating an event which brought Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne Vega into SL in avatar form. All of these companies and more will be at SLCC ’06 in force, with Rivers and Sheep co-sponsoring the event with Linden Lab.
And thus, within a year, what was mainly a fan convention has become a trade expo, too, with numerous real life companies and organizations hovering around it, seriously looking to spend millions in investment dollars– not on Linden Lab, but on the companies who have set up shop in Linden’s world. I’m moderating SLCC’s “Media in Second Life” panel, and I’ll also be blogging from the scene, reporting on the latest metaverse business developments for GigaOM. More big announcements are sure to come.
But I do hope Philip still wears the codpiece.