The Second Life Hype Has Fizzled — Is Twitter Next?


imageSecond Life is still a vibrant virtual world — with over 12.2 million registered users and more than 54,000 online the last time I logged in — but you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage (or lack thereof) lately. It wasn’t always this way, as MediaShift’s Mark Glaser recounts, in a post covering how Second Life’s media hype has fizzled.

At its peak in 2006, Second Life had a story on the cover of Business Week, a 12-page spread in Wired, and numerous blog posts about brands like Coca-Cola, Scion and even the NBA establishing in-world presences. Reuters, CNET, CNN and Wired also set up virtual news bureaus, though all but CNN killed off their in-world coverage about a year later; their stories also shifted from paens to diatribes about how advertisers were “wasting millions” in the virtual world. “It was a typical hype-and-backlash scenario,” Glaser writes. “Some journalists simply tired of SL, as so many people tried it and then bailed because of its steep learning curve and high technological requirements.”

Now most of the news in and around Second Life is pushed into the tech or gaming sections of mainstream publications, or from devoted blogs like Wagner James Au’s New World Notes and the long-running Second Life Herald. Meanwhile, organizations are increasingly using Second Life for distance learning and virtual tradeshows as opposed to marketing; parent company Linden Labs rolled out the Second Life Grid, which organizations like IBM, Stanford and NASA have used to create their own private worlds within Second Life.

So what does this have to do with Twitter? Twitter’s hype has reached a fever pitch. Celebrities including Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neal Tweet regularly, and with stories on CNN, in the WSJ and the NYT, among others, it’s garnering about half as much news coverage as Facebook, with barely a tenth of Facebook’s traffic (via VentureBeat). Flush with $35 million in new funding (and still no business model yet), Twitter could be headed for an incredible backlash. As Rob Hoff, the Business Week editor who penned the Second Life cover story, told Glaser: “This kind of cycle is endemic to journalism, for better or worse: Build ’em up, tear ’em down.”


Rogue Leveling

I had no idea 2nd life had so many ppl playing it…that rivals World of Warcraft which I believe is at around 13 million subscribers!

Lemonade Cleansing Diet

I'm yet to appreciate the "noise" from the Twitter community. I've been a listener since without losing my sanity. Will it die? I doubt so, though.

free virtual worlds for kids

Well, I don't think the use of Twitter would actually die down (for those who have already begun using it), but probably the hype would die down, i.e. no more new people joining in. For that matter, what about other social media like Facebook and Friendster?

Doubledown Tandino

How could Twitter die? Someone is ALWAYS going to have the urge to tell people what they are doing.
Twitter as a fad has peaked… and people are beginning to realize there is not much of a point (if you tweet for casual purposes and not business or marketing). People are starting to realize web 2.0 is very egotistical. Everyone spouts off at the mouth hoping for more friends, fans, connections…. and they pump out the tweets and replies… simply to continue gathering a larger pool of people to post random nothings to. People will soon realize twitter is a easy-to-use fad right now…. in the future, it will be an easy-to-use utility. Twitter won't go away, just some of the annoying tweeters.

Steve Parker

Hi Tameka,
Thanks for the article. I think it's timely. Most people outside the PR world don't really understand trends about hype itself–but everyone has an opinion on whether or not a company or product deserves the hype it gets. The other commenters reflect the latter, many preferring to discuss the merits and not the hype, which of course misses the point of your article.

I find our schizophrenic attitudes toward hype fascinating. In reading the comments you can see that one person's well-deserved, hip, cool, viral marketing, word-of-mouth GOOD hype reputation is another person's undeserved, misleading, dishonest, evil incarnate LIARS THAT BROUGHT WALL ST. AND THE ECONOMY DOWN kind of thing. Truly, hype is in the eyes of the beholder.

I think I agree most with Chris Kenton, that eventually Twitter hype will end, but without a backlash. Where I might differ is on 2 points: 1) I think Twitter's hype is 100x Second Life's–not the reverse (that may be an East Coaster's bias), and 2) while I agree a user backlash on Twitter is very unlikely, I think a media backlash is quite possible. If only because anything that gets massive attention every day starts to chafe a lot (like wars, messed up celebrities and bad economies).


This was one of the least informed things I've read in a long time. Comparing Twitter with a 3D world with a huge download and steep learning curve that never reached general appeal and was used more for recreation that communication is just silly. It's like comparing apples and oranges–they are two WILDLY different tools used for very different purposes. Why not compare Twitter to the Edsel or railroads, while you're at it?

Certainly, the hype on Twitter will ebb and flow, but unless you're suggesting that Social Media itself is about to fail, then this analogy is full of hot air. Twitter may go the way of Friendster or SixDegrees–I'm not suggesting it's here to stay forever–but the analogy to Second Live is so forced and manufactured that I found this article uninformed and uninformative.

Feel free to criticize (or support) my assertion on Twitter:

Chris Kenton

I think the backlash at SecondLife was due to the breathless hype that The Future had Arrived, and we would all be living virtually Real Soon Now.The backlash was inevitable, but SecondLife hasn't died, and I don't think it's the end of the virtual trajectory by a long shot. Twitter will undoubtedly see a drop in hype sooner or later, but that I don't see nearly as much of a backlash in the cards, because the claims of "revolution" are not even remotely on the same scale. It's a communication medium that's not that different from IM to use– simpler for users to adopt than SecondLife. So an end to the hype? Certainly. Backlash? I doubt it.


"so many people tried it and then bailed because of its steep learning curve and high technological requirements”

…exactly the opposite of Twitter, which is just about as simple as it gets. Twitter is going to become huge in '09 the way Facebook did in '08.

Suzanne Lainson

Having been a tech writer myself, I get the purpose of the article. A lot of business articles are little more than regurgitated press releases, with minimal background research being done or hard questions being asked. So it is reasonable to become skeptical about any web technology that is heavily hyped by the press, especially one that has yet to figure out a business model. When I was writing about technology, during the dotcom boom and after, a lot of companies disappeared. I expect the recession and lack of income to kill off a lot this time as well.


> that the comparison wasn’t about Second Life / Twitter’s functionality—it was
> about the media hype surrounding them

Because that's all that matters, right? The same stuff that the economic crisis was built out of… hype. When you talk about real value your article falls to pieces, which is what the comments above are all pointing out.

Suzanne Lainson

Second Life didn't make much sense as a marketing vehicle because why do in a virtual world what would be better served in the real world? Why have a press conference using avatars when you can have a press conference with real people. Virtual worlds are good if you want to have people flying, but if you just want to have them standing in front of a podium, use video.

Twitter is fast becoming a mass medium, with all the advantages and limitations. Spammers are moving in rapidly and will send lots of people off to another social medium. It's fun, particularly for getting messages and video from celebrities, but I see it being replaced by the next cool thing.

Facebook has more staying power in that it offers a variety of tools for people to stay in touch with other people they really want to stay in touch with. The very focus in Twitter on racking up numbers of followers will ultimately make it less valuable to people who want to use it as a communication tool.

Tim McDonald

I just can't see Twitter fading away like SL. Although, not a big user of SL (and huge user of Twitter), from what I've read both in this story and other references is the SL was for corporate America that may not have been ready for, or understood how to be successful with social media. While I'm sure Twitter will continue to faces challenges both with spam and coming up with a viable business model, the fact remains it's success is born from the base of it's users, not the other way around like in SL. I for one am hoping they find a business model that continues it to expand for the reasons we love it now, but at the same time capitalize and limit spam users.

Christopher Drinkut

I generally like the stuff that comes out of MediaShift and I won't claim to start doing otherwise here. However, if you are reading so of the sages of social media marketing – those purveyors who do – you've probably already heard that '09 is the year we'll stop writing about Twitter incessently.

But stop using Twitter? I don't think so. There are a few holes in the parallel of 2nd life and Twitter. How easy is it to use Twitter,.. and 2nd Life? What are the time investments for 2nd Life, .. and Twitter?

It's true there may eventually be a plateu, there are news cycles, there may even be a backlash, but Twitter will/is/has changed the way people communicate. And that's not going away.

Ross Beckham

As a former Second Life gamer (years ago), and currently a Twitter user, I can tell you that in my personal opinion, this is a real case of comparing apples to lemons.

Second Life is a game. That's where it falls short. Sure, it was very cool being able to create virtual worlds that encompass the consumer and business world…but, it's still a game. Games fizzle, no matter how interactive they are.

Twitter is not a game. It's a real time, rapid information exchange that ANYONE can use with a few clicks, even the internet newbies. I don't think I have to explain how useful Twitter is, but bottom line, it's at least 500 times more accessible (and free) than Second Life.

Anyway, my point is, I don't know why we're comparing these two totally different platforms.

Liz Dorland

People bash twitter and defenders bristle, ditto on Second Life.

Amusing. So…

"Twitter is way more powerful than what most people think and the social connections and ramifications are just starting to emerge."

I agree, but substitute "Twitter AND Second Life are…"

Bashing things because you personally don't "get" them is stupid no matter how you slice it. There are amazing uses of both. End of story. Dig enough to find them, go use them, and shut up with the mindless criticism. Sheesh!

Tameka Kee

Love the discussion, but just want to note that the comparison wasn't about Second Life / Twitter's functionality — it was about the media hype surrounding them. Both companies/services have been in the spotlight — the question again, is whether Twitter's hype will fizzle out the same way SL's did.

And though my time in SL has decreased significantly, I spent a solid two years actively involved in-world: I bought property, hosted events, played in an RPG and sold furniture, among other things. So I'm very familiar with the pros and cons of SL.

I don't get twitter

I have used both. I don't get Twitter…But I have used Second Life….I have to agree with profesortiki. Both applications are online that's about the the end of the comparison.


Did you copy this article from Forbes, or did Forbes copy it from you? Anyway, the comparison between Second Life and Twitter is so ridiculous, that any economic analysis based on this construction can only fail. Please only write about Second Life, if you have an idea what you are talking about!


There is a BIG difference between Second Life and Twitter.

The barrier of entry for Second Life is much higher. You need to design a character, learn how to fly and learn how to build.

With Twitter you need a current web browser and a working connection to the Internet.

With SL you can only have a few hundred people on the same server watching the same event. With Twitter you can have a conversation with the world.

And when you tap into the power of Twitter search you can find out what the rest of Twitter is saying about you, your product or your service.

Sure people use Twitter for SPAM and for telling the world they are going to get a coffee but Twitter is way more powerful than what most people think and the social connections and ramifications are just starting to emerge.

Best of all you don't have to design your avatar or learn how to fly.


it's not about registered users, it's about how those users interact with the site/technology. Second Life was a carnival oddity that was getting a ton of press and no one had the stones to say that the "emperor isn't wearing any clothes". They didn't want to be the ones that poo-poo'd the next myspace/facebook. Look at how people user twitter, it's very different. I'm not saying that twitter will be here in 10 years in the form it is now, but comparing it to second life is apples and oranges in my opinion…

Tameka Kee

I found SL through a niche blog about virtual world fashions — but the media hype had definitely piqued my interest for a few months before I actually created an account. Once there, though, I was more annoyed by the buzz than anything else.

With Twitter it was the same way, the press sparked the interest, but something more personal (a friend's account) actually pushed me to join.

Clearly that's why startups want press, to drive adoption. I guess the bigger issue is whether their product can withstand the hype.


Second Life was always a niche product, with inflated numbers and very good PR. It helps that 3D words provide ample artwork with which to illustrate articles in print publications, unlike Twitter or Facebook.

Fundamentally, SL is really no different from the IRCs and MOOs of yore, or the other 2D and 3D chat programs that predate it, like The Palace in '90s. If you're going to be in a 3D world, there ought to be a POINT to the virtuality, which is why World of Warcraft and other MMMORPGs consistently generate traffic and revenue that put SL to shame.

I'm not sure it's fair to lump Twitter or other media darlings in with SL, though. Twitter may not have a revenue model yet, but it is providing real utility to its users.

I hope SL continues to stick around for the niche that enjoys the virtual-interior-design and dress-up-doll forms of socialization and interactivity it offers. But I'm happy to hear that the mainstream media has finally moved on to something else.


"I think twitter will eventually die, just like every other media does"

Really?? Which "every other" media has died out?? Id love to see a list of those.

Comments are closed.