Monday, October 23, 2006

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THE MIXED SUCCESS OF MIXED REALITY

Popular_places_october_23

What if the real world came in, and no one really noticed? 

When I created Mixed Reality Mondays as a weekly catch-all for SL events/sites funded by real world corporations and organizations, my main goal was to keep New World Notes from being overwhelmed by yet another announcement of yet another bricks-and-mortar institution setting up a presence in the metaverse.  But there's another reason, and it speaks to NWN's mission to document Second Life as an emerging society and culture.  And it's so crucial, I think it's worth highlighting:

For the most part, real world companies and organizations are having neglible impact on Second Life society as a whole.

Take a look at the Popular Places list taken late last night; a measure of raw foot traffic, they're the locales where the most Residents are visiting, or where the most Residents are staying the longest.  And despite the presence of so many real world companies and organizations with such deep pockets, every single one of the most Popular Places are grassroots and Resident-run.  (All of them in the casual, social gamer nexus of casinos/nightclubs/malls/adult entertainment, to be sure, but even then, only four of the top twenty are explicitly sexual.)

The lowest Traffic rating in the top 20 is 45,997.  How does the traffic of real world-funded sites match up, by comparison?  With one exception, the contrast is striking.

Take the private islands of the "big three" metaverse developers.  Early this morning, the aggregate traffic to the HQ of Millions of Us (a sponsor of this blog) was 1451; Avalon, home to Rivers Run Red, was 1164; The Electric Sheep Company's Sheep Island, 486.  Traffic for some of their leading corporate clients are comparable, as well:  For the Sheep, Reuters Island was at 2578, while Sony/BMG's locale ranks at 970; Rivers' Reebok Island had 519, and Radio 1, the BBC's island, 902.  Millions' new listening booth for Warner Brothers hip hop artist Talib Kweli scored 344, while the Wired Magazine office brought in the highest among that sampling, at 6338.  (That last one's higher Traffic could be one of those Heisenberg deals, since I mentioned Wired's opening party in a sponsorsed post.) 

This disparity applies to the educational and non-profit sites, as well:  Harvard's Berkman Island took 4546, while The Port, a "3D wiki" island backed by the Swedish government, had 320.  NOAA/ESRL Virtual Island, home to some truly cool educational exhibit backed by the US government's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Adminsration, garnered a disappointing 25.

By contrast, compare these to some roughly analogous grassroots locales: The Viper Room, a live music venue for Resident performers, had a 10872 Traffic ranking (easily outperforming Sony and Warner Brothers!), while a place called enkythings SHOES ("Elegant and Sexy High Heels Shoe") earned 8374 in Traffic.  Alternate world, fully immersive areas detached from real world interests also scored well, too: the dystopian Suffigum had 3172, for example, while the Svarga ecosystem had 5652.  The Lost Gardens of Apollo ranked high with 15006 in Traffic.

I discovered only one exception to this rule, and that was totally by random browsing, because unless I missed it, this particular corporate-funded island has come into Second Life with little fanfare:  for the last three months, a company called Thomson has been providing SL-based instruction for using products from Cisco, Microsoft, and other leading tech companies, on an island of the same name.

Netg_training

"We teach [classes] over the web so I am able to stream our normal classes into Second Life, which we have for the last three months," Doug Latrell, Thomson's avatar representative, tells me. "There are approximately 37 classes with over a hundred students thus far."

Thomson island's Traffic this morning?  That would be 23328.

It's probably too soon to draw any conclusions from this, and more real world groups are sure to discover the alchemy that makes a Second Life site popular on their own.  (That, or hire Residents who've already figured out that magic.)   But it's worth pointing out, while glamorous music and fashion companies have been gaining more attention, an integrated solution provider has been quietly, well, providing more foot traffic.

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Kyle Bennett

I'm only a month old, and so I have little direct experience with the sites you mention, but I have seen enough second-hand information to form a hypothesis...

Just like when the web started, all the bricks and mortar behemoths thought that they had to have a website, but completely missed the point. They took their previous experience of commercials and billboards, which required only that you stare passively, and deduced that all they needed for the web was something pretty to look at.

Eventually, many of them caught on, kind of, and began to use their sites to leverage the new capabilities of the web to provide value to the person coming to their site that could not be had elsewhere.

And now it comes around again - companies think they will benefit from an SL presence, but their previous experience gives them no guide as to what such a presence requires of them. They come into it as a company that has a presence in SL, not SL Residents who work for/with a company.

The one exception? You mentioned that Thomson is providing instruction. IOW, it seems that (I haven't been there, but I will certainly check it out now that you mention it), Thompson came looking for what they could offer Residents - on SL's terms - not what they could get out of Residents. Only then could they get something in return.

My guess on the government sites you mentioned, which I have yet to see, is that either they are pushing an agenda first, and providing value as an afterthought, or simply that Residents don't trust governments to not do that, and don't even bother checking to see if it's true.

"Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." Eventually, companies will understand the nature of SL, and learn again that, just as robust networks route around damage, interactive platforms and social networks route around advertising. Then, after most have realized that their pretty pictures aren't enough and have given it up as just another fad, some few will remain and succeed as part of the community, not parasites on it.

Memory Harker

Or it could be, at least in part, that people who have been residents of SL for a while ~ and even those who are newbies ~ aren't so much interested in audiencing something or someone that they can already audience in meatspace. Especially if that something is some "hot, new act," as opposed to a respected, oldschool icon (think: Suzanne Vega, Duran Duran, Kurt Vonnegut) whose very presence in SL is newsworthy in and of itself, due to their storied stature in popular culture, and whose fanbase would follow them anywhere anyway.

And the only way for an organization to succeed beyond those parameters may be to offer actual, personal interaction ~ SL-style ~ instead of just throwing up a 3-D billboard and, well, what Kyle said above.

We'll see how this all shakes out, of course, in the coming decades ~ well, if we don't destroy meatspace and the metaverse along with it, 'cause maybe that is just how we roll ~ whether in SL or in something similar-but-better that comes after it ... but it's good that you're looking into it now, while it happens, Hamlet.

Time will tell, as they say, but I reckon time will have an easier task of telling if the basics precepts of its speech have been discussed in advance. Or if time's telling, in fact, has been more of a dialogue from the beginning ...

Andrew Oleksiuk

I'll address two points here. Your analysis is typical trickle-down economic theory. The stock market (top twenty) companies are doing great therefore the economy must be thriving. But alas, the top companies are most likely to survive in a capitalist system. What the RL business are doing is limiting the upward mobility of the little guy, by increasing competition in the middle.

Secondly, the day will come when Linden Lab will be forced to stop using the term "user-created" in its press releases and advertising. Because SL DisneyLand, Ozzy Osbourne Halloween House, and Wired parties are not user-created they are business-created, with armies of media professionals towing the corporate line.

Xellessanova Zenith

I can't believe I'm the first one to post this, and I doubt I'll be the last, but the numbers for the top 20 are typically vastly inflated by camping chairs/free money giveaways for avatars that aren't even conscious. Why? For the free advertising off the Search menu, and the ability to sell vendor spaces at high prices based on the amount of traffic.

Still, I do find it highly reasonable that clubs and universities (what are the stats on TeaZers, by the way?) that hold events regularly at all hours and are open for international users 24-7 easily beat corporate events that go on for two hours once and then disappear completely.

Part of the issue is that many corporate spaces are not designed to be inviting hangouts, but rather transient, purpose-driven areas; the architecture of the Reebok and Adidas sims is very beautiful but no doubt intentionally cold, stark, and modern.

Here's the last idea: unpaid people don't spend significant amounts of time at places they don't feel are theirs in some way. A RL corporate space, hell, even a SL semi-corporate space owned by someone I don't know well, doesn't hold the same attraction as a friend's club, a common space for everyone, a group hangout, or my own house.

Sarah Hightower

Thomson (sometimes known as Thomson-Gale) is a big name in the library world. Along that line of thought, did you check the traffic stats for the library presences in-world? Info Island is the big one that I know of, but I think there are a couple of smaller ones, too. Branches, if you will.

Libraries may be one real-world institution that can make the leap to SL pretty easily. They're in the habit of offering people free services that can be used in a number of ways.

Eric Rice

BTW Hamlet, as an aside, I'm one of the other host locations for Talib Kweli, and we have traffic at 2500 and across the way, where we have indie hip-hop listening stations for not-major bands, traffic of 1000.

I never actually look at traffic stats, but interesting to see how integration into a more normal environment changes the numbers dramatically. 344 for MOU, 2500 for Saijo City.

I'm happy about that! And Saijo is 95% a combat sim!

Great post.

Memory Harker

Andrew O: Wait a minute. Media professionals, even "armies of them," aren't users?

They're not ... U S E R S ?

Maybe that word doesn't mean what you want it to mean.

But then, why toe --- ahem --- the line of definition, hey?

:P

~ Smartass Mem

Buddy Sprocket

I'll echo comments that you could have picked a different set of RL institutions - Info Island has already been mentioned, and does seem to get a fair share of traffic.

But for traffic, you essentially need to offer services that keep people in one place for long periods of time. So either regular (several times per day) classes, large freebie outlets, camping chairs or a mix of all three.

Thankfully, the RL backed islands eschew the camping chairs - caring more about the experience visitors receive than the easily games traffic figures.

susi spicoli

ah, on the thomson island with all the traffic, when i was there a few weeks ago and ask the people who are there, they'll tell you that thomson is paying them to be there. not sure what to think about that...

Paradox Olbers

You said "NOAA/ESRL Virtual Island, home to some truly cool educational exhibit backed by the US government's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Adminsration, garnered a disappointing 25."

But realize that NOAA's Meteroa won't be officially opened until March, most likely. There is currently restricted access to the actual exhibits on Meteroa.

Air Yeezy

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by Air Yeezy

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