Second 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.”