What's it mean to have a world that's tripled in population within a few months, and increased tenfold in under eleven? If there's one person in Second Life who knows, it's Tateru Nino. As an informal leader of the thousand-strong Mentor volunteer program, she's ever been on the front lines as new Residents have arrived by the tens of thousands daily, in a Welcome Area that's quickly become a teeming, overtaxed Ellis Island. For veteran Residents from before Second Life's 100,000+ era, her thoughts are sobering and humbling, but ultimately optimistic.
Her second installment on the demographic shifts of Second Life (first post here) after the break.
The Meaning of a Million
If I ask you to think about the culture of Second Life... about what it means to you, and what it is, and how it expresses itself, and where you fit (or don't fit) into it-– what comes to mind? The generosity and kindness of strangers? Greed and shadowy cabals? Creativity and artistry? Commerce and business? Or perhaps just a group of friends from all over the world, brought close in your own social circle?
Well, whatever we had, honey, we don't have that anymore. We got a taste of it in January, then sampled some more when open registration began. Well, the last month has really made that taste the flavor of the month.
Wherever you go on the grid now, you'll find new people. Started this week. This day. This hour. You... you might be a spring chicken of a month or two, but to them you're the first oldbie they've met.
You and me, we had a culture. Maybe it was a good one, and maybe it wasn't. But it's gone now, for better or worse. By sheer numbers, these new women and men are Second Life. They outnumber us, and they will be the ones to make or break the world. They don't know who Aimee Weber is, or Anshe Chung, or Starax Statosky or Prokofy Neva or Torley Linden. They'll likely never even hear the word "FIC" during the rest of their second lives. The tax protests will probably not even register as a curiosity.
They sure as hell know Reuters, and American Apparel and the BBC and so forth. Whole communities will–- are-– forming from new residents who have never spoken to anyone older than themselves..and they, my dears, are Second Life.
They are living the dream. They will take Second Life and make it their own. Some will fall by the wayside and some will depart. Maybe most of them. But if half of them leave, they still outnumber all of us who were here before.
Nine hundred thousand new accounts were created in 2006 (in 293 days). If something happened last year, or the couple years before that then... functionally... it didn't happen. That's the dreary stretch of "begats"that you skip over in the book of Matthew, or the scrolling text at the beginning of Star Wars, Episode IV-– seen, then almost instantly forgotten as things begin to move.
If you think most (or even half) these sign-ups are alts, then you probably don't get out across the broader grid much. Sure, some of them are, but there's such an overwhelming weight of genuinely new people, you'd have to really work hard to revise or reinterpret them as something else.
In a sense it's a fresh start. New people, new ideas. You should make them welcome. We have done all that we could do and dream so far. They will do and dream more, and allow us to do and dream more. But the small town we had is ended. We don't and can't all know each-other, and each-other's business anymore. Numbers have made us into a metropolis. There is no universal experience of Second Life. There are more different experiences than you can count and not all of them even overlap.
The kind of people who've been signing up has changed, week by week, and month by month. There are cycles and tides going on there. Today's new resident is not so much of a geek as they are likely to be a gamer, a graduate of a maxed-out MMO or two-– or just someone for whom Second Life is the first piece of non-business software they install after Freecell or Minesweeper. There's more of a trend for them to be more like "customers" than "Residents". They're not builders, programmers, artists or animators. They don't want to do that. They're here to experience Second Life as a service. Whether they stay will depend a lot on whether Second Life lives up to their expectations as a service, or whether their expectations as consumers change.
In the last 12 months, we've gone through that cycle a few times, with bursts of people coming in from this or that other MMO, and come back out of it. Now, though, it's the long haul. We're not just pulling in the geeks and the cool kids anymore (define those however you like). We're attracting your Aunt Tilly, the guy on the customer service desk at your cable company, the girl at the bakery, and the one who fills your prescriptions at the drugstore.
It's really hard to see where we might be going. Let's try a couple notions on the old crystal ball.
So far, comparatively few of our Residents have been what you would call gamers. The Second Life grid hasn't been much of a gamer culture so far-– the gamers we've had have been few and unconnected. We can expect to see more. Probably we'll start seeing groups springing up like MUSHes used to (and still do). A region or (more likely) regions isolated from the main grid supporting a community of gamers who may or may not ever be interested in venturing outside those areas.
Likewise business. Let's go with the generic SIG-– special interest group. SIGs using Second Life as a tool or a platform independently of it's utility or availability to the rest of us. That's basically how the worldwide web evolved (and the Internet before it), and Second Life seems to be following the same basic path. Big business can come into Second Life, and simply have no use for you.
Some folks might find that an offensive notion, perhaps. A business may come up with a customer interaction model that works well in Second Life, build it into Second Life and bring its customers to that model, and neither the business or its customers have any interest or need for the rest of us-– they don't need to talk to us, interact with us, advertise to us, or announce themselves. Some of them are probably already here, doing just that. [Indeed - WJA] Fully customised experiences that have nothing to do with the Second Life you know. And you know what? That doesn't diminish one whit or jot from the Second Life you and I have.
So, what does a million signups mean? It means that Second Life isn't a game, or a platform, or a virtual world. It means that Second Life is one million flavours. Some of them are bitter; some of them are sweet, some are here to stay, and some are never coming back. Your vanilla or chocolate world is in there somewhere, in miniature. Like a snowstorm in a globe, if you guard it well, it will remain, but everything else around you is changing.