Reuting Out of Second Life

It’s a little older (November), but I was pointed to a story on Silicon Alley Insider, with the inside scoop on the closing of the Reuters Second Life bureau. The article presents some interesting points that I think may be cogent for all players in the emerging virtual world space, and does so in a concise fashion. (This means, leave here and go read it. I’ll wait.)

Anecdotally, I’ve never quite understood the hype around Second Life. From an academic standpoint, I do… it was a “worldy” place that became relatively popular. From a real-life standpoint, I always wondered about that. I’m an Internet addict, and many of my friends are, and yet the number of people I know who have done more than check out and abandon Second Life can be counted on a single hand. And hopefully you finished reading the article while I was blathering this story. Let’s see what “Eric Reuters” had to say…

So what happened? Is Second Life dying? No, but the buzz is gone. For all the sound and fury over recent price hikes and layoffs at Linden Lab, Second Life has a community of fanatically loyal users.
It’s hard to say what, if anything, Linden Lab can do to make Second Life appeal to a general audience.

Let’s get this out of the way: In Second Life, and in all ventures of the internet, the answer to the last question is “sex.” I’m not being facetious (for once — so record this day for posterity). Even MySpace sold hugely on a promise of sex. (Anyone who thinks “teens finding friends” aren’t primarily hookup hunting is delusional!) However, that’s no basis for discussion that any vaguely “gaming” feeling business can really market, so let’s ignore that particular living-room elephant.

The points that the author makes are clear, and relevant. Second Life fails in the area of UI, new user experience, and stability. The first two make it difficult for a mass market to gain traction, and the third is a deterrent to “serious” business. Interestingly, these points all sound like — the same areas every Web business fights. (For a quick reference point, just think about the Silicon Valley darling Twitter… scalability issues, and who uses the site’s UI? Everyone uses a third-party application.)

So let’s postulate a future in which there are virtual world companies that provide stable services. These services have intuitive user interfaces, and provide gentle ramp-up and tutorial options that help new users quickly feel comfortable and become productive with these platforms. How well does this work?

Since I work for a virtual world startup, I’ve cast my vote. But — what’s your opinion? Is there a road for success of user-generated virtual world enterprises? And is anyone travelling that road?

About Tachevert

A cofounder of and full-time geek, Tachevert writes about whatever strikes his fancy. Despite the inherent contradiction, he can often be found videogaming or attempting to run.
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