Tuesday, October 24, 2006




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


Tateru Nino

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.

Witnessing the baby boom on Orientation Island

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.

New Residents learn new tools

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.

Bidding the Feted Inner Core adieu?

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.

Embrace it.

Tateru Nino (e-mail her here) is a well-known Mentor volunteer and marvelously-talented SL blogger.  Read my profile of her here: "The Heart of Tateru".


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starcomber Vig

And the best part of your brilliant, touchy observations, are your last two words.

Never ever build a wall just to feel confortable that the barbarians are well confined out there. They never have in the past and never will be.

Good post Tateru, I hope more and more will read those two tiny words of yours and spread them around.

Cliffordb Hightower

Nice Article. I dig some aspects of the Feted Inner Core, others I won't miss. I know they generally don't like "their" world changing, but either did the techies who where hacking PERL and CGI to create the www back between 91-95. I just feel kind of fortunate to come on at the end of SL being small (150k users). I met some great people, had some awesome experiences dealing with Mafia groups and SL ingtregue, and I pulled several back to back all-nighters because I was so enthrawled with the world. Now places I used to hang at are either ghost sims or gone, people I knew have vanished, and the kindness I was shown as a noob I doubt is shown to many of the hordes of new people who now populate SL. I wonder how many of them as a percentage are pulling the all-nighter now a days. SL will become more like the internet for the early folks...a utility to do things with, not a place to explore and have fun. It will loose some of its magic as it becomes a commerce tool for the masses. This isn't bad, just the way of things. On to what is new without leaving behind completely what is old.


my dearests,
thanks for welcoming us the new noobies. I work for a big web/crm network and i agree that big rl brands shouldn't come without an intention and a relevant project according to sl needs and ways of trading.
We even have to understand what money means here before trying to sell something. SL is still a place where selling is a way to communicate more than making profits.
reminds me 97 when all the advertisers wanted to go online without knowing the web and having no idea about what they wanted to do here ?


but still, we shall buy an island to welcome and tour our big clients in the metaverse with climitized colorful flying buses, cameras, tourists shapes, textures and outfits.

Tateru Nino

Having watched the web evolve through it's infancy, yes, OOstyle. SL feels very much like the WWW did at about the same age.

Suddenly everyone's starting to get interested, but don't have much idea about what it can and can't do and how it works (or doesn't) for certain things.

Savvy Resident development companies help, certainly, just as Web Development companies did (and still do!). Or go carefully, and accept that it will take some time to feel things out. Or both, ideally.

After all, even on the inside, we're not really sure where we're going. :)


According to me, the big drawback of SL is that it is in the hands of a single company, which needs money.. nothing against Linden Lab because it is a natural thing, and they operate in real world. Well, the first time I entered SL (some weeks ago) I was impressed. The same way I was impressed with other *closed* technologies that turned out to be runned by big money. And since then I still have the bad feeling that "closed" means "not supporting community by giving their a** for money". You feel the spirit of community, that exists not necessarily with the support of the single company running the world. You just feel the "cold" side of business, which is the "driving force" of SL as a source of profit for the *owner*. Yep it turns out the citizens are no the real owner of the world. It is so, technically and by law. So.. if you need true community, look at open alternatives, there are some appearing on the horizon..create open Metaverse.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

There is no single "community" possible with a million people. The Monkeysphere invalidates that argument; we human beings are unable to deal with such a vast amount of people at the same time and still label them as a "single" community.

Instead, we have *many* communities. Which is fine!

Perhaps the only "worrying" bit is the feeling that you were living in a small hamlet by the sea, and when you suddenly turn back, you see this vast megasprawl over there which you never imagined that it existed at all. It's weird.

But your tiny hamlet by the sea will still be there for you.


Look out world!
I've read a lot of comparisons lately of sl vs. early www, mostly focusing on development and closed or open architecture. But let me remind everybody that it wasn't until affordable hardware became availlable to the millions that the www became a household phenomena. And so shall it be with sl or the enlightened people beyond sl, when all can own, control, and secure their property on their own hardware as part of the megaverse grid. Think about it.

John Branch

This is something of a pointless, self-centered gripe, but: I discovered SL when it had around 220,000 residents. I was unable to join it then because I had an inadequate computer. Now it's got more than a million residents, and I've still got the same inadequate computer. Well, that may change in the next few months.

Meanwhile, I don't expect that SL is getting any less interesting. As for the experience of the old-timers, I figure it must be similar to what happened when I moved from Dallas, Texas, where I had mostly grown up, to New York City: I went from a medium-sized pond where much was familiar to a big pond where much is strange or unknown to me. Yet NYC seems better, and it's because there are more possibilities here, which is (partly) because there are more people here. Tateru Nino, you've got your friends and your connection with your past in SL, which none of the newcomers can share. I envy you that.

Alastair Chamerberlin

I joined SL back in February of 06. Not sure of the exact numbers but I think it must have been in that 150,000 area. From all of my travels inworld, the people I have met and the things I have seen, I can't see the future of SL being anything but WONDERFUL. All of you creative, imaginative types who made SL what it is in the beginning and have brought it this far, fret not. True, most of the newcomers are "not like you" in many of the classic gamer sense of the word.....but I think SL will be and is being discovered by artists like myself who can only add to the wonder that is SL.


Hi Tateru (and Hamlet!),

That was quite poetic. I loved it. I'm struggling to decipher the message though (I suck at interpreting poetry). At times, it seems like you are saying that the "good ol' days" are gone. I'm probably being too simplistic with that interpretation though because we could just as easily say that on any given day regardless of the circumstances.

One thing I hope you are not saying is that Second Life has become a commodity. I think it is still way too early to suggest that. The magic that you may have felt as an early adopter has probably evolved, but I am an optimist. The magic has only begun to take shape. I'm more excited about the prospects now than ever before.

I'm relatively late to the game and have only been observing things from a distance, but I was touched to the core when Hamlet first posted the video with Suzanne Vega back in August. Like Mitch Kapor said more eloquently than I ever could, it was almost a religious experience looking into the future like that.

Anyway, I could be wrong, but I sensed some despair in your words and for what its worth, wanted to say that I think you shouldn't lose heart just yet. What you loved about Second Life will not go away so easily.

Best wishes,

Tateru Nino

Oh, I'm quite optimistic, Eric. One kind of magic leaves, a new kind enters. The "good ol' days" are gone, sure. But that doesn't actually mean the present or the future are in any way diminished.

I think SL is more interesting, more exciting than ever. It's just not what it was - and that's not a bad thing. It is what it is.


I have to admit that I've been one that has been turned off by the growth of Secondlife. I really liked that "community" feel and how tiny it was -- how exlusive and on the edge it used to be.

After 2 years it was kind of going no where and the Secondlife I cherished (maybe too much) was fading fast. I wasn't just meeting new people; they were stomping in through the door.

The sudden onset of all this evaporated a lot of the things I thought were unique. With no direction, I sort of stopped logging in so much and pulling all-nighters. Dropped down to logging in once a month or so.

Now though, things are getting interesting again! Big numbers mean patters and patterns are something to see. Trends will be coming and going... and perhaps localization won't be far off. Who knows?

Great article. Really inspiring read for this ol' avatar.


i just love this post. very authentic voice. very humbling. embracing change is what it's all about. on Second Life, and especially in real life.

thanks for this post. i'll explore Second Life some more and i hope i get to meet the wise avatars along the way.

~C (for Change is permanent)

AnnMarie Silvera

As one who started out in late 2006 with a very newbie-looking avatar, I met people that were friendly, amazingly open and very creative. I still meet a few people along the way in SL that have those same attibutes, however, this second life has become so many people's reality/real life including my own many times, that I have become concerned.
Today, with this 2nd avatar still active, but with a downgraded acct. I am using a fairly new one for my paid acct. I didn't expect this after losing my very first acct. and my 1st avi to a "replicating bug" in her inventory, which btw, someone from LL tried for quite awhile to "fix" and couldn't or didn't. I commend that person for trying so hard because they knew I would lose most of the things I had spent real money to buy.
This time the new acct. happened not because of a "bug" or anything that SL did or didn't do. This time it was by choice due to my own stupidity in getting involved in an sl/rl relationship that went bad. Noobs and old-timers beware....enough said.
Anyway, to get back to what this has to do with the changes that have come with the growth of SL in numbers of ppl using it and the vastness of the whole virtual world compared to what I experienced just a 13 months ago.
As a newbie then there were not the amazing FREEBIES that could be gotten when you first rezzed into your second life. Then there was not all the people everywhere and you could wander around and not see anyone for hours at a time....at least I spent a lot of time wandering & wondering where everyone else was...lol!
Compared to today when there is so much lag where there are so many ppl at an event, back then I could hardly find an event; and as far as Help Island goes, I received a minimum of assistance compared to today. As my new avi passed over to start her new life, I was amazed at the amount of help that was available. And there is no roaming around trying to find someone to talk to or do something with. I do miss the fact that back then I had places to go that seemed specially made for me to explore without bothersome griefers or people around every bend of the path.
Yes, things have changed dramatically, mostly for good (like voice) and people's imaginations have made incredible places, clothes, art, scripts, etc.....too much to name. It really is a different world today. I am still addicted to SL and probably always will be to some degree. However, I am going to take a break for at least month and do some really necessary & important things in my RL. I fully expect to come back to another world of changes, and will "embrace it" however it has developed while I was away. ;-)


My girlfriend tried out this game some time ago and has played ever since she has built her own home for her and her sl partner where they have gone on to have children,I didnt realise just how big sl has become and its still growing and with the ability to offer something for everyone i am sure it will continue to do so.

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