Blog Post

Second Life: Hype vs. Anti-Hype vs. Anti-Anti-Hype

Clay Shirky is a brilliant analyst of the digital era, and if there’s anybody who could implode the media vortex currently surrounding Second Life, it would have to be someone of his caliber. He attempted that last week with “Second Life: A Story Too Good to Check”, a Valleywag post that was subsequently Boing Boinged. As someone who contracted with Linden Lab as their “embedded reporter” for near three years, and still has a substantial interest in the world they created— consider that both full disclosure, and plug — I actually found his post something of a relief. Attention around SL has been growing at such a heart-throttling pace (total registered accounts were under 100,000 only a year ago, and just blew past 2 million), you begin to hope for something, anything, which will slow growth to a more manageable clip.

But is Clay’s analysis correct? Yes and no. The very topic came up at a GigaOM staff meeting recently, and when a couple staffers suggested Second Life is over-hyped, I blurted out what is, I think, a far more accurate assessment: “It’s too hyped– and it’s not hyped enough.” There is, to be sure, far too much attention on raw numbers and corporate-funded promotions in-world, and to be equally sure, not enough coverage of the internal economy and the grassroots prototype content creation which make the place truly revolutionary. After the break, my attempt to separate hope and hype, as reflected through Shirky’s polemic.

What Clay Gets Right

Where Shirky scores undisputedly is against the breathless media reports that proclaim “two million users in Second Life!” This number repeats the total registered accounts listed somewhat confusingly as “Total Residents” on the SL homepage, which are not truly reflective of users who actually spend time in-world on a regular basis. “Resident” has always been Linden’s official name for any person with a valid SL account, but it’s easy for the uninitiated to also infer the word’s literal meaning, of “living in a place for some length of time.” Which two million account holders are, plainly, not.

As he notes, that number is not even the nearly 800,000 or so who’ve “Logged In Last 60 Days” (another SL homepage metric that confounds more than enlightens), since most of that includes those who’ve tried Second Life within that time—but never returned. He estimates the churn rate of One Try Then Bye Bye at 85%, and by Linden’s own measure, that turns out to be, to his enormous credit, pretty much on target. When last month my blog’s demographitrix Tateru Nino wrote a story discussing Second Life’s churn rate, Linden CEO Philip Rosedale suggested retention was 10%— a percentage so low, it shocked me. (“[A]bout 10% of newly created residents are still logging into Second Life weekly, 3 months later.”) When I checked with Linden Lab last week, Philip and Marketing Director Catherine Smith reported back a slightly higher percentage, this one gauged by returning users from over the last 30 days (but not those who created an account within that period)— “12-15% and has remained steady over the last year… we know churn will be high, but the difference is a network effect and constantly changing content that people do come back to see. ”

So this, as it turns out, is where to set the Second Life bar: of the 2,000,000+ registered accounts now, roughly 240,000-300,000 are regular users, residents in both the colloquial and literal sense. Clay is right to call for the media to stop reporting that very top number without caveat. Shirky is further correct to wonder if all the big companies recently promoting their brands in Second Life (NBC! American Apparel! Adidas and Toyota!, etc.) count as news, since it’s not clear if this is just a gimmick, or if they’re actually getting any measurable return from their promotion dollars.

The truth is, no one quite knows if that’s the case, and similar to the Web’s dot com boom, the metrics for judging a real organization’s success in Second Life are still controversial and contentious. While the mainstream media largely hasn’t asked this question yet, it’s been roiling through the metaverse blogosphere (as here and here from me, and here and here from SL-based marketers and virtual world development studios.) A reckoning is surely due soon (if not overdue already), and good on Shirky to call for it.

What Clay Misses

But Shirky’s wholly valid points go right off the rails, in my view, when he suggests that the hype around Second Life is merely due to the spectacular (but largely spectral) growth of created accounts. Worse still are his speculative explanations (i.e., virtual worlds are easy for reporters to understand, young reporters don’t know about LambdaMOO, etc.) for why the press has gone so wacky over SL.

As someone who began with feet in both worlds (I first caught a demo of Second Life in 2003 as a freelancer for and Wired Magazine), I can offer some perspective.

User-Created News Content

Even throughout 2004-2005, when the world had less than 100,000 users, media attention for SL was already fairly voracious. I can’t speak for Linden Lab’s direct PR efforts, but I can name the numerous times when big media outlets e-mailed me on their own, without Linden Lab’s prompting at all, not because they were particularly interested in Second Life, or considered it the Net’s next big thing, but because they kept stumbling across fascinating stories about it on SL-centric blogs, including mine.

I’m not vain enough to think they came to me because they liked my writing; these stories were compelling on their own. (Rarely did they even know my own blog was funded by Linden Lab, when they came across it; and often, their interest was in the controversial stories I wrote which didn’t depict the world in a utopian light.) Big media reporters read about SL’s private detectives, who stung unfaithful virtual lovers, for example, and reported on them; they read about a formerly homeless musician who made a living singing live as a frog in Second Life, and did so too; Residents banding together to help Katrina’s victims, and several stories followed.

That pattern continues today, and while it is true Linden Lab’s publicists shepherd some media toward some SL stories, at least as much attention emerges from the grassroots of the blogosphere. (And even when the big media turns its spotlight on the world, as Time Magazine just did when they made Second Life part of their “Person of the Year” profile, unfettered hype is not always the result: I doubt Linden planned for Time to complain about how it “takes forever to download… [and] sucks up hours just to design your character”, and mostly focus on “Meaningless, multipartnered, degrading sex” and detachable penises.)

What’s more, we’ve reached the point where the world’s content creators now bypass Linden Lab entirely, to hold their own press conferences. Clay mentions recent news of Anshe Chung, the Second Life avatar putatively worth a million dollars, and he’s smart to be skeptical about that figure, as was I. (When asked about it, Philip Rosedale pointed out to me that Anshe’s assets are not as “illiquid” as Clay seems to think, since she can put up her virtual land holdings on the auction market immediately.)

In his skepticism, however, Shirky misses an even more crucial point: the press release that the media picked up was put out not by Linden Lab, but by the avatar herself, since she now owns a company which employs a staff of skilled 3D developers (not gold farmers) in China, all paid for by her virtual world commerce.

This should not be surprising: user-created content inevitably leads to user-generated news. And when there’s a monetary reward for creating that content, it’s also going to involve user-generated hype. 58 Second Life Residents make over $5,000 a month from their in-world activity, while nearly 3000 of them earn $50-2000 a month. The world’s top content creators, in other words, have even more incentive to promote Second Life than the employees of the actual company which owns it. (And that’s not even mentioning the five or six “metaverse developers” which create Second Life experiences for real world clients, nor the advertising, marketing, and PR firms which have set up shop in-world, another engine of SL enthusiasm.)

Why Experience Matters

Throughout Shirky’s essay, I kept thinking, “This is someone who’s never really explored Second Life to any significant extent, if at all,” and it wasn’t just because of the factual errors which emerge through that gap.

As it turns out, Clay Shirky has very limited personal experience with Second Life. (See his e-mail to me below*, and his argument for why that lack shouldn’t matter.) The larger problem isn’t the errors, however, but an experiential absence that leads him to reason, with a fairly sly leap in logic, from “Second Life is much smaller than usually reported”, to, “Therefore, it’s not the Net’s next big thing.” (Or as he charmingly puts it, not the “Immanent Shift in the Way We Live®”.)

But in between both statements, several stepping stones are missing.

First, to the basic factual goofs:

“If we think of a user as someone who has returned to a site after trying it once, I doubt that the number of simultaneous Second Life users breaks 10,000 regularly. If we raise the bar to people who come back for a second month, I wonder if the site breaks 10,000 simultaneous return visitors outside highly promoted events.”

This simply isn’t true. This month, as last, in-world concurrency has regularly been 15,000-18,000 during peak hours (barring downtimes, a quick glance at SL’s homepage between Noon-8pm PST will show that), and given the new account creation rate (about 12-14K total throughout the entire 24 hour period), far less than a thousand of them are new users at any given hour, on average. Concurrent users at peak have regularly been exceeding 10,000 since September; three months later, it’s fast approaching 20,000 at prime time. (See the screen capture above, taken at about 2:00pm last Sunday.)

What’s more, that number has very little to do with “highly promoted events”, as Clay suggests, because most events are architecturally limited to 120-140 people maximum. (Anyone who’s been to such events will tell you about the monumental lag it takes to reach even that figure.) For another, most SL activity isn’t based around one-time events, it’s based around communities and established popular sites.

That’s two instances where Clay’s lack of ground level experience with Second Life undermines his analysis. Another comes up with his mention of CopyBot, the Resident-created external program which seemed to enable instant theft of user-created content. Because its existence provoked such FUD among the Second Life community last month, Shirky offers it as evidence that user-created content in SL is a sandcastle easily demolished by the right hack. What he does not mention (likely because his in-world visitations are so brief) is that overall, the CopyBot panic receded almost the moment it began. After a bit of refereeing from Linden Lab, content creators largely shrugged and went back to business, and many of those I interviewed were actually more irked by the protest, than the CopyBot itself. (And longtime Residents know that collective fits of agida are regular, melodramatic– and quickly forgotten.)

Inexperience crops up again in Clay’s dismissal of 3D interactivity as a powerful medium superior in many instances to a 2D web. He runs with Rosedale’s admittedly inapt Amazon-in-Second Life example (“you could… browse the shelves, buy books”) to declare useful 3D applications as a lost cause in general. Once again, were Shirky to explore the world more, he’d regularly come across nascent or prototype experiences which already hint at how 3D interaction could indeed become an invaluable resource to numerous real world fields. He’d see applications in, for example, retail shopping (as here), online gaming and entertainment (as here and here), data visualization (as here), national security (as here), international relations (as here), non-profit fundraising (as here), architecture (as here), scientific simulation (as here), education (as here and here), and therapy (as here); just ten industries worth billions of dollars, which could potentially impact hundreds of millions of Internet users, quickly culled from my bookmark cache– and that’s not even mentioning the as-yet-unproven applications which have already gained traction, like in-world celebrity appearances (as here), political activism (as here and here), and marketing/brand promotion (as here.)

All that in mind, it’s hard to comprehend Clay’s analogy of Second Life to LambdaMOO. I have to ask: in what sense except the ancestral one does a text-only online world have any meaningful relation to an immersive 3D world with an internal building and scripting system, in which users can stream audio and video, import and export data from the Web, retain IP rights over the content they create, and easily exchange the internal currency for real cash in an economy with total transactions already in the several millions per month?

For Four Hype Busters, Four Facts

In his essay, Clay Shirky offers four hypotheses for why there’s so much attention to Second Life, so let me offer four actual news items, to suggest a counter-narrative:

Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Bezos separately invested in it, while Mitch Kapor was a founding investor.

– When he was Microsoft’s technology evangelist, Robert Scoble declared “Second Life is an operating system” and that “Microsoft needs to pay deep attention to it”.

IBM is investing $10 million to develop a technology lab within it. (Note that they are not investors in Linden Lab the company, but just like Anshe Chung or any other successful Resident, are buying land virtual land and finance in-world development they plan to do there.)

– For the last two years, total user hours and number of land owners, along with economic activity, have been growing at geometric rates.

Second Life is not a YouTube-level phenomenon, and I personally suspect it’ll be quite awhile before it reaches that stratosphere (say three years), let alone become the Net’s next generation (say ten years). From my vantage, however, I’d say Linden Lab’s hardest hurdles toward those milestones are not waning hype, as Clay evidently thinks, but the inherent limitations of their own architecture.

Can they really build a fully streamed world comprised of tens of thousands of servers? That’s way above my paygrade, but I’ll guess that challenge fits under the rubric of Fricking Hard. Can they fix a profoundly unfriendly user interface and thoroughly disorienting first hour user experience, which are aggressively, almost intentionally unwelcoming to the vast majority of interested users? Both shortcomings are at the heart of Second Life’s poor rentention rates, but neither have significantly changed in the three years since its commercial release. You have to wonder, whatever their stated intentions, if Linden’s tech-centric corporate culture simply puts their improvement at a low priority. (I have a dream, and in that dream, Linden Lab developers are locked inside 1100 Sansome with their own mothers, and not let out until they’ve improved the interface sufficiently enough so that their dear moms can easily use it.)

Still, the world keeps growing, and shows no sign of plateau. I mentioned SL demographic expert Tateru Nino, so I should close this out with a graph she crafted for me last night. Tateru’s chart is the growth rate of regular users, based on current account growth and 15% retention rates, and it shows how large Second Life will meaningfully be, same time next year:

Will Clay Shirky count 1,175,000 active Second Life Residents as hype, or something closer to his “Immanent Shift in the Way We Live®”?

That will, I suppose, have to wait until next December. Whatever the case, I do hope Clay gets his way, and reporters only cite that figure of active users– and not the seven million accounts it’ll take to reach that number.

*Clay Shirky’s first-hand experience with Second Life (e-mail to the author, re-posted with his kind permission):

I’ve tried Second Life three times, in different incarnations. I got a pre-launch walkthrough of Second Life from Mitch and Philip several years ago at PC Forum (in 2002, I think) which was more of a conceptual demo than anything. I used the service in 2004 for a bit, to see the state of play in comparison with There Inc.– there were not many users then, but the tech was obviously getting good.

Most recently, I logged in once over the summer and once a couple of months ago with a new avatar each time, but after a short orientation period, I realized that my use of SL wasn’t actually what I was interested in. In the same way that I am too married and too employed to have much use for Friendster et fils, my own reaction to SL is irrelevant.

And this, I think, is the key point of that piece — I am not criticizing the in-world experience, or wondering why anyone would spend their time in Second Life doing X. I’m too old a Usenet hand for that; after pouring two years of my life down the sink of alt.folklore.urban, I’m not one to pass judgment on the experiences other people find engaging. But the target of the piece isn’t the users, it’s the press, mainly, and Linden Lab as enablers. Authenticity of individual user experience is beyond external criticism, but social cues about engagement or utility are not. In a network with no gatekeeper, social judgment is our first-order filter, and perversion of that judgment is therefore a serious risk. My question is not “What is exciting the passionate users of Second Life?” or even “Where are those users taking the platform?” Those are both interesting questions, but irrelevant to my current concern. My question is a lot simpler: “How many passionate users are there, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the whole?” A related question is “Why is that number so hard to get to, and why is the press (wilfully? cluelessly?) reporting logins as a metric for those users?”


59 Responses to “Second Life: Hype vs. Anti-Hype vs. Anti-Anti-Hype”

  1. I am glad for an independent blog to post my comments on 2nd life, most are run by Linden Labs themselves, which is like the fox guardingthe hen house.
    They bill themselves as more then a MMORPG and as a viryual economic community, but I would strongly caution any new user there to be extremly CAREFULL before investing any real assests or time expecting it to pay off. Linden labs can and will at any time (at tehir whim) confiscate your holdings, and claim they have a legal right to do so(without arbitration)…something which may or may not hold up legally (due to the conversion of Linden $ back to real dollers). TYhey claim the same right to do so as MMORPG’s, but I really DOUBT this will hold up legally as they have ALREADY lost key court decisions, at the very least this is VERY unethical and bad business…be carefull here and use at your own risk!

  2. IIRC, Mitch Kapor also asserted what you blurted out — “It’s too hyped– and it’s not hyped enough.” at the Second Life Community Convention in August 2006, though he said it this way: It’s too hyped *in the short term* and underhyped *in the long term*”. He then offered examples from his long history in the industry to give basis to his assertion.

  3. Stephanie Lemaire

    I am one of the regular users of Secondlife, I am 37 years old and I live in Australia, I have been waiting for something like this for at least 20 years. I joined in July 06 and then there were just over 300,000 advertised members. The moment I found Secondlife I knew that this was the way of the future; I now own over 13000k worth of land and my place The Ettomogah Australian Pub gets between 1500 & 200 hits per day. It has actually prompted people to visit the real life pubs we have here in Australia, but it is still not taken seriously by the actual Pubs in Australia. But give then time. Do I make money? Yes, not a great deal in the scheme of things, though I have put this back into the development of my land. But with all developments and business,’ it all takes time. I have just taken my time building at a pace that I wish, I do at times struggle to pay the taxes on my land, really not a great deal, but for me I have not been well for over 2 years so have not been able to work in the real world very well.

    However since I have joined Secondlife my confidence in myself has grown, I am able to use my skills as an artist in Secondlife and also help other people. I have contacts now all over the world and have made some good reliable friends. I also see this world as being able to give a somewhat normal life to truly ill and disabled people, the graphics are amazing and you truly do forget at times that the world really is made from nothing. A lot of people now have the ability to wear clothing they can never afford in the real world also to be able to travel and see different communities that have been made to reflect real life place and countries. These people can also have a social life that they can’t in real life. Just a few, of the reasons, that this concept is, truly amazing.

    I do however have great frustrations with Linden labs as they seem not to listen to well to their customers, what they have should not be available for free for an unlimited time, as $10 US a month is very affordable for most. It is too valuable a product to give for free, a try before you buy concept is the way to go but with a limit. A lot of us are serious about our lives on Secondlife. I for one spend about 15 hours a day there, but for me I see it as a way I am able to feel a constructive member of society. I want it to work for me and as my main jobs have involved hours in front of the computer, why not this?

    The resident’s that really are concerned are the ones that write in the blogs though it does seem that we are often ignored. Whether intentional or not. We are paying for a product and expect that product to do as advertised. I will hang in there and wait but Phil does need to be aware how unhappy his customers are getting with a service that can not handle the load. It is almost impossible to enjoy at 20K plus online and I am sure that this can be fixed though most of the time as the linden employees are given free reign they seem to fix the most unnecessary things. The main thing to be addressed and fast is the load issue. As noted by many members plenty of other high graphic games out there handle over 200K plus at one time.

    I do intend to stick it out though at present they will be losing people never to return because their first experience can be totally frustrating due to the inability of the platform to handle the peak load. The other main issue is the fact that they advertise support but we don’t get it. Sometimes it takes weeks to get the replies to emails and the phone support is down a lot of the time. A lot of us regular users do not understand that due to the amount of money that has been invested, why these issues are not being addressed.
    Other than that as said it is the way of the future for many reasons. Though it has the monopoly now it won’t forever and Linden labs will miss the boat if they continue to ignore their customers.

    I have no idea about what it takes to run a system like this, though I do know from speaking to others that do have the computer savvy and knowledge that it can be fixed.

  4. Cnet, Cisco, IBM … have, I suspect, a practical application for the vLife. Perhaps vLife is a way to make global operation more community commons oriented then what would be practical in reality. An increase in diverse collaboration with ways to document functional/performance tacit knowledge to edit/modify explicit sources. Explicit sources when tied to the reality of personal experience becomes a resource for rapid (and realistic) change management and corporate evolution/change.

    Also, the ability to document performance sources/individuals and innovators for recognition, promotion, retention … has exceptional value to longterm conscientious and consistent success.

    An Open vLife/vOffice/vCommunity has many other significant possible savings for travel, security, property, insurance … cost with Avatar Populated Experience Simulations (APES) as a common/remote work environment.

  5. Pagan Bishop

    Probably a bit late to comment, but two bits of hype the author of this article seemed to have bought into:

    1) IBM is not investing $10 million in the use of secondlife, it’s investing $10 million in exploring the use of new technologies and doing some sims in secondlife is how they kicked it off for publicity –a far cry from anything remotely like $10 million dollars going to the SL economy or LL.

    2) As with most growth prediction graphs, I hate to say it but the one given is a bit silly. Most growth functions are sigmoidal, but everyone likes to interpolate them look like a potentially endless hockey stick. I do hope the best for SL, but unless LL changes some of their core practices, there are some pretty clear factors that will limit SLs growth.

    Lastly, a suggestion if any SL UI developers are paying attention. If you want to make the interface easier for lay people, I would suggest a simplified interface for the most common use cases with a seperate mode for power users –content creators, land managers, etc. Right now the whole thing is overwhelming especially to new users.

  6. FWIW, SL will run (slowly) on Intel integrated chipsets. I run it on a laptop with an 852/855 chipset

    As for the numbers of users, when I first joined in July it seemed to be averaging about 8000 to 10000, I haven’t seen it below 15000 these days and have seen it over 20000

  7. First of all I’d like to mention that I am a regular user/resident of Second Life.

    I can’t say that I speak for all residents, but I know that many residents are very interested in an actual figure of what the true Return/Regular users are. I can see how this could be a very daunting task, and may not result in a very accurate number. However I think with all the recent media attention on this subject; something needs to be done about it.

    Quote from Eric,

    “Here is a modest proposal. Why don’t we collectively come up with an acceptable definition of what we consider to be a “regular SL resident”. Once that definition is agreed upon, we present it to LL and ask them what that number, according to our definition, is. They’re under no obligation to provide that information, but I think it would mean a lot to a few people if they did.”

    I have to agree with Eric on this point. LL proudly promotes the total Residents figure (Currently 2,244,705 as of 6am PST today), which only reflects the total number of accounts created; including new accounts that may only log in once, alternate accounts, etc. They also promote the figure of “Residents Logged in the last 60 days” at 841,769 users. I think the figure of Residents currently logged in is possibly the most accurate figure. However none of these figures give us anything close to a number of Regular Residents who return on a regular basis as a whole.

    I think even just for curiosity’s sake LL should come up with a figure for Regular return users. Of course they are in no way obligated to do so, and this number may be inaccurate as well.

    As far as the “impact” issue, I think these issues need to be seperated. As history has shown, one person can have more of an impact on the world as a whole than millions of people.

    I think LL and SL can quite possible have as much of an impact on the world economy, as the Internet did in the 90’s. The technology as a whole has great potential. Whether or not it can reach that potential will depend on the developers and the users of that technology. I think we still have quite a ways to go in a lot of ways. Currently stability and scaling problems within SL have grown to the point of massive downtimes, and major crashes. This can be quite frustrating and almost unbearable at times to those of us who log in for hours each day. LL has a huge task of stabilizing the technology and keeping up with the astronomical growth that it has seen in the last 3 years.

    All in all I think this technology is here to stay, and will only continue to improve as more and more interest is drawn to it. Even if Linden Labs and Second Life fail, this technology is not going away anytime soon.

  8. Joshua Perenti

    I myself am fully engaged in Second Life and sell my artwork, perform music and buy / sell land. Its a refreshing activity for someone whos RL is far to busy. The friendships I have made in here i value as much as my real ones.

    Currently the grid is down due to asset server problems and this relates back to the scaling that i think was discussed way back at the top of this article. For Second Life to truely beceom the next big thing, the architecture needs to be greatly improved. Although LL say they are using a sort of improvised cluster solution, essentially they still have a central Asset server (All hail the central database.)

    And that really is the crux of the problem, second life could well become the NEXT BIG THING, imagine; instead of going to a web site browsing it, maybe getting some annoying adverts or popups / sounds / movies. Going to a shop in a virtual world maybe inviting a friend! You arrive there you browse and try on the objects, ask you friend what you think. Possibly ask a real life customer representitve(whos job is to work in SL) if it comes in your size and/or any technical questions. You then order it and have it deliveed to your house in RL. Maybe you meet some new people there and end up having a discussion abotu the product or about the music thats playing in the shop.

    Consider this as well, you have friends in SL you invite them round for a house party, you have a live musician in New York playing with friends dotted all around the world, you then put on a moview you rented in SL (all the latest titles are avilable) and you sit around and watch it in near DVD quality (H264) and discuss it, chat about it, laugh at it. Almost like the real world but with everyone being dotted around the globe. That my friends is progress.

    And that leads me to my final point, SL is building bridges between sex, creed, colour, religion all the barriers that so many people still seam to have in the real world. In Second Life, there is no hate as such (some people arent keen on the furries – but hey each to their own!)

    Overall I feel it is a great place, with numbers that are increasing (WWhich is only good for the community as a whole) It WILL change the way the web operates providing Linden Labs get their behinds in gear. Its great for education, commerce, technological development, Social Networking & excuse me if i may sound a bit new age hippyish (IM NOT) But for world peace.

    Merry Christmas All

    Joshua P

  9. Randal Oulton

    I can’t help but always look at the basics. 55% of home computers are shipped and are still being shipped right now with Intel graphics cards, which Second Life does not support. Home computers have a lifespan of around 4 to 5 years. With 55% of the potential audience already triaged out, before even ascertaining who of those left might have the technical skills to master Second Life, let alone any money to make it worth courting them — the numbers behind statements such as “Second Life becoming the next Internet in the next 2 to 3 years”… just don’t add up.

  10. With the TCP/HTTP connectivity stuff, they seem to be tantalyzingly close to replacing the internet with internet 2.0, or second life as it is called now. sold for 3 million dollars the other day.

    Picture this:, Google, Ebay, and Myspace…all gone. All replaced by equivalents in second life. Ive caught myself trying to alt-zoom websites, just like before when I caught myself trying to do a “search” in a book, or “undo” when Ive said something stupid. I predict Second life will replace all the biggest internet properties on earth within the next 4 years.

  11. As a business owner, I have been very interested in knowing the “real” numbers regarding Second Life. As a researcher, I formed a group two weeks ago called the Help People® Group, with the purpose to help newbies understand the basics of the game. The offer was extended to “newbies” to be a part of the group if they would share the infomation they were being given to other “newbies”.

    The results have been interesing. In two weeks, 50 people joined the group…35 newbies and 15 “oldtimers”. Of those 50 individuals, 47 have been online, in-world every single day. Two have come back to the game approximately every other day. One has not come back since his second day.

    Of course, these results are “initial results”, but the frequency of return visits has been startling, to say the least. My conclusion at this point is that if “newbies” are given basic instructions once they reach a welcome area, they do return.

    It is far too early to reach any real, long-lasting conclusions, but my suspicion is “watch out, doubters”. With all the “growing problems” Linden Lab is having, with all the lag in the game, downtime, inventory loss, etc., I find it extremely interesting that 47 out of 50 people in the group log on daily for a minimum of an hour.

    We will all wait and see, but before anyone makes judgements on SL, you might want to spend a few hours getting involved to see for yourself what is happening “in-world”. You might be as surprised as I’ve been.

    Brett Dumont

  12. As a business owner, I have been very interested in knowing the “real” numbers regarding Second Life. As a researcher, I formed a group two weeks ago called the Help People® Group, with the purpose to help newbies understand the basics of the game. The offer was extended to “newbies” to be a part of the group if they would share the infomation they were being given to other “newbies”.

    The results have been interesing. In two weeks, 50 people joined the group…35 newbies and 15 “oldtimers”. Of those 50 individuals, 47 have been online, in-world every single day. Two have come back to the game approximately every other day. One has not come back since his second day.

    Of course, these results are “initial results”, but the frequency of return visits has been startling, to say the least. My conclusion at this point is that if “newbies” are given basic instructions once they reach a welcome area, they do return.

    It is far too early to reach any real, long-lasting conclusions, but my suspicion is “watch out, doubters”. With all the “growing problems Linden Lab is having, with all the lag in the game, downtime, inventory loss, etc., I find it extremely interesting that 47 out of 50 people in the group log on daily for a minimum of an hour.

    We will all wait and see, but before anyone makes judgements on SL, you might want to spend a few hours getting involved to see for yourself what is happening “in-world”. You might be as surprised as I’ve been.

    Brett Dumont

  13. Thank you for this interesting discussion. The emergence of SL and its coverage in the popular media reminds me of Web 1.0 in the mid-1990’s. There was an amplified media focus about how the Web was going to IMMEDIATELY change the world even though the technology was under developed and plagued by barriers, such as bandwith, poor security, and less than optimal computing power. Back then, Web site traffic was measured by the nonsense metric, “hits”, instead of unique visitors and the reporter pool had widely varying degrees of knowledge or expertise in tech and the Web. Similarly, this was pumped up even further by gold ruch fever within the business community. Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to the current attention and state of SL?

    However, looking back, we see that many of those predictions about the potential of the Web to change many facets of our civilization did become a reality…it just took 10 years for the technology to evolve to an acceptable level and cost. This coincided with the emergence of Web sites truely delivered value and practicality which attracted a huge user base. I expect the same will happen with Second Life (or a competitor like Google) because of the broad potential benefits and diminishing learning curve of a 3-D environment as previously discussed.

    To focus on how many people are logged in now as a predictor of its future success is rather irrelevant because SL is in its infancy. And, some of the media either dont understand or dont care to appreciate the importance of true metrics. I think the bigger question and challenge that will determine the future success of SL will be Linden Lab’s ability to: 1) develop a stable technology environment and infrastructure to support a broad userbase and their assets; 2) mainstream the user experience; and 3) validate the applications of the SL model (e.g., education, commerce, healthcare research)as feasible and cost-effective adjuncts, replacements, or alternatives to the Web.

    The Second Life’s challenges and benefits today are a mirror image of the Web in the 1990’s…we should anticipate some similar successes with SL or a competitor.

  14. I see Clay’s answer(s) to your post, and I’m still wondering … why does it matter?
    I mean, why does it matter so much to him that the press and LL are hyping and exaggerating the numbers? Is it hurting somebody? Sure it’s annoying. I’m consistently annoyed with Philip R’s carnival-barker utopiaspeak, but I just have to wonder what personal buttons are being pushed that would make him and others go out of their way to argue such a thing? It’s not like it’s affecting shareholder value or something.
    So thanks for pointing out that the truly valuable conversation should be about the actual experiences and innovations happening in-world. There’s a lot of dross before you can find those choice bits, but they are most definitely there.

  15. One could argue that if Second Life is worth the time spent by Clay Shirky to analyse it and provide a thorough explanation on why it “might not be a success”, well, then just by capturing Mr Shirky’s attention, Second Life must be worth something :)

    Why are “numbers” so important? They try to measure things inside a society where most of our comparisons are mostly subjective. Cynics tend to believe that the best way to measure one’s personal success and achievement is simply to know how much money they have at the bank — money is purely objective in the sense that it is directly related to “worth”. As we all know, Linden Lab does not perform well in that aspect — but the Second Life economy does, by having a million US$ of transactions per day.

    But the measure of “monetary worth” would, for instance, leave out of the picture people like Mother Theresa of Calcutta who earned a Nobel prize…

    So is it so critical to say that Second Life has “only” 100 or 200 thousand active users? How many users are active in, say, YouTube? What is an active user in YouTube? Are these statistics published?

    Googling around the Web, I’ve found out that allegedly 35,000 videos are posted to YouTube daily, to a number roughly around 30 million movies. Is that a lot or not? Compared to Second Life, creating a video takes either a) no time at all; b) requires editing to become semi-professional. Most videos are somewhere in-between. But precisely the same happens on Second Life: creating a single prim takes a second; building a whole island, several hundreds of hours. One would thus assume that at least 35,000 users upload a video to YouTube every day (apparently, the “average” YouTube user has only uploaded 3 videos ever; see link to statistics below); on Second Life, we have a rough idea that 72,000 or so users log in every day, and according to a less-known statistic (published on Clickable Culture), 70% of them have at least created an object. So, roughly, 50,000 users of Second Life create an object per day; and we know that the database has “a few hundred million objects”, according to Philip Rosedale’s recent Town Hall meeting.

    It’s hard to say what an average YouTube user is, but some have tried to define them; YouTube also allegedly doesn’t say how many users it has, but they claim 1.7 million page views per month. Is that a lot?

    Well, I’m not sure — I’ve coordinated local websites for the national media here in Portugal and they had often 3-6 million page views per month. A minor site that lists available hotels around here is on one of our shared servers and has slightly above a million page views per month — and it’s not even on its own server, it shares the hardware with a hundred other sites. So is that site “almost as famous as YouTube”? I can hardly claim that. It doesn’t even have any international recognition. Even the local media doesn’t talk about it; it’s just “a search engine for hotels”. How many similar ones are out there in the world? Probably, millions. And probably all of them have a million page views per month as well.

    YouTube, however, with “only” 1.7 million page views becomes “international news”. Why? Because it’s at the forefront of innovation. Because it caught the media’s attention on a new phenomenon — “there are lots people who post their own movies online, if they’re given the chance”. Because Google has bought them for 1.65 billion US$. That’s what matters.

    I would thus argue that it’s unimportant if Second Life has 2 million users or just 20,000. It’s irrelevant — what matters at this point is: “how much impact does Second Life make?” I would say, quite a lot. To the point of having people like Mr Shirky talk about it. I could almost imagine that somewhere in the Web both Al Gore and Nicholas Negroponte have written something about SL somewhere — I’ve just been unable to find it yet, but it’ll come. I’ve seen Nobel prize winners giving interviews about Second Life. So the impact of those 20 thousand or 2 million users is huge.

    Now the point is if “all this is hype”. It might be. We might all be overestimating the impact of those “unknown” number of regular users of Second Life. But the truth is, we also don’t know the numbers of “regular users” of, say, YouTube. Or even Google. We all imagine that the number is in the “many dozens of millions” range. But how do we know that?

    ICQ allegedly has a quarter of a billion accounts or so. How many are still active? It’s anybody’s guess. But is ICQ the leading instant messaging provider? Hardly — all bets would go to Microsoft, since MSN Messenger comes pre-installed. How many users are there of MSN Messenger? Half a billion? Probably not, if this article is correct. And does the Internet really have “one billion users” as some statistics claim?

    Well, numbers are important to measure success. That is definitely clear. But what I think that is more important to answer is “how much impact will this have”? Right now, it’s quite clear that Second Life’s impact is far greater than its actual number of “active users” (however it gets to be defined), relatively speaking. Being a sceptic about “numbers” is fine — everybody has a different way to measure them, and everybody can argue that their method is the correct one and all others are misleading — but the important attitude is to be sceptic about the impact. Will the Metaverse be the next Web? Or are we just wishfully thinking and projecting our hopes and desires to something that we would like to become true?

    I certainly don’t know the answer. However, I’d say that many are searching for it — and being honest about the way they’re searching for the answer. IBM’s thousand researchers in Second Life come to mind…

  16. I’m skeptic about second life first
    why aren’t there any negitive comments
    looks like large censorship.

    if i’m correct, you think that there are not enough negative comments about SL, and you think that this is a sign of censorhip. well, i fear that you don’t know what you’re talking about. just have a look to the comments in the official blog – – and remember that many negative comments get deleted (ok, you are right talking about censorship here, and also official Linden Forums do not offer a high level of freedom of speech. but there is plenty of unofficial SL-related web forums out here).

    then have a look to – let’s say – 50 web SL-related blogs. i’m quite sure you will find the negative feedback you need.

    Also most people that plays it is
    large corporatation trying to sell
    in a virtual made up economy.

    again, I fear you do not know what you’re talkin about. please, bring some number – proof – reference about this thesis.

    [please excuse me for my english]

  17. As a pretty reliable rule of thumb, in a large multiuser application the number of total users is about 10 times the number logged in simultaneously at peak periods (but not exceptional peaks). What this means is that, unless you are dealing with accountants at closing, when nearly everyone is on the system at once, you can generally multiply the simultaneous sessions by 10 to get your user population. In SL’s case that gives us about 150,000 to 200,000 regular users, which falls between your two estimates, and well below the journalistic/hyped figures of 800,000, 2 million, etc.

    May Supreme Avatar Smile Upon you!
    Br. Taras
    Prelate, The Avatars of Change
    Great Avatar Hall
    Rieul, SL

  18. I’m skeptic about second life first why aren’t there any negitive comments looks like large censorship. Also most people that plays it is large corporatation trying to sell in a virtual made up economy.

    For a normal gamer, person, I think first life is complicated enough. This seem like a fad, prymid scheme, lure people into thinking they are making money. I mean why whould any living person live in a virtual world and dieing in the real world?? people have to realize you aren’t going to make money off a system where the producures are the ones laughing on their way to the bank.

  19. Hi Clay,

    I know you are a very busy person so here are some highlights from THIS article that contains some answers to your questions as I see them.

    “What is the number of simultaneous return users?”

    The answer, according to this article, is roughly 15,000 conservatively. I believe that.

    If you had asked “What is the number of regular return users?”

    The answer is, according to this article, roughly 250,000. I am less sure of this number. In a comment on your article, I said that I think the number is probably closer to 100,000.

    I agree with your desire to get down to the bottom of this.

    Here is a modest proposal. Why don’t we collectively come up with an acceptable definition of what we consider to be a “regular SL resident”. Once that definition is agreed upon, we present it to LL and ask them what that number, according to our definition, is. They’re under no obligation to provide that information, but I think it would mean a lot to a few people if they did.

    What do you think?

    Best regards,

  20. Wagner James Au

    My apologies for the WordPress burp, but the post should all be restored now.

    Clay, I did address the “What is the number of simultaneous return users?” question:

    This month, as last, in-world concurrency has regularly been 15,000-18,000 during peak hours (barring downtimes, a quick glance at SL’s homepage between Noon-8pm PST will show that), and given the new account creation rate (about 12-14K total throughout the entire 24 hour period), far less than a thousand of them are new users at any given hour, on average.

  21. Clay Shirky

    I think you’ve misread my essay. You spend quite a lot of time noting that I’m not qualified to critique the Second Life experience. This is true, and an observation I made to you myself before you published this. It is not, however, an observation related to my original piece, because I did not then and would not ever critique the Second Life experience. Nothing I could say about the user experience, pro or con, would matter much; I simply don’t trust myself to get it right.

    A corollary is that I don’t trust you to get it right either. The only people I actually trust are the people with the most at stake, which is to say the people who have tried it. I want to know what they think, at least in aggregate.

    I am not a Second Life skeptic, in other words, I am a Linden Labs skeptic. I might be a Secodn Life skeptic if I could see the adoption figures, but I can’t, so instead I want to know why LL is publishing bogus numbers and hiding real ones.

    Your focus on what you like about SL, irrelevant to the question of adoption numbers, is the source of a number of misreadings of my original question. It doesn’t matter that users are making their own press releases — that’s the blog revolution, not anything particular about SL. I’m not willing to regard access to auction markets as a proxy for liquidity, because liquidity is about supply and demand, and I’m not sure about the demand for those goods. My inclusion of Copybot was unrelated to user reactions, because I don’t care whether people were panicked or delighted; the observation about Copybot was about the press, and not the users.

    So let me say, once and for all, ignore me if I ever start talking about the in-world experience — I haven’t before, I’m not now, and I won’t in the future.

    Having gotten that out of the way, let me also say how disappointed I am that you added nothing new to the key question: how many users come back? I’m perfectly capable of reading the published version of the simultaneously logged in numbers, as is everyone, but those numbers are are useless, as they mix real users with ‘try it and bail’ users. My question was and is “What is the number of simultaneous return users?” I don’t have those numbers. Do you?

    Similarly, I am capable of compounding 15% interest — real estate calculators are a dime a dozen — but you don’t say anything about how that 15% figure was derived. What, in your definition, is an active user, and how are you measuring them? Because either you don’t have any different numbers than I do, at which point you’d do well to be more of an LL skeptic than you are, or you have numbers I don’t but aren’t sharing, which makes me wonder why. Given the effort you put into this post, I wish you’d taken the original question more seriously, instead of trying to change the subject.