“Is the Second Life community offended by corporations coming into their world?” Lately that’s been the question I’m most often posed, both by mainstream media outlets and corporate clients, and given SL’s growth and the subsequent swarm of commercial interest, it’s not a surprising thing to ask. Throughout this year, my answer has always been, roughly, “No, because those who don’t care for their presence will simply ignore them.” (More recently, I’ve expanded that answer to add, “And the community is way more interested in their own homegrown activities, while so far, corporate-backed sites are scarcely given any attention at all.”)
Both observations still strike me as roughly true, though there’s another
clause worth adding, and it’s important enough to emphasize:
To the extent they have any opinion, the SL community is deeply offended by companies who enter the world at this late a date and claim, in disregard of all that was made and done long before they were ever there, to be “first” at bringing anything of value to Second Life.
There have already been several warning shots, in recent months, as with grumbling provoked after an analyst associated with advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather offered a deeply misguided list of Second Life “firsts” (note the commentary, and the chastened strikethroughs) and a PR firm which claimed, with little evidence, to be the first company launched in SL. The community’s low-level annoyance boiled over into outrage last week, in the wake of two press reports, both published, as it turns out, by the UK Guardian.
In one, Guardian reporter Jemima Kiss notes the coming of Channel 4's radio
division to Second Life, and quotes its director, Nathalie Schwarz, cheerily
proclaiming, "Being the first radio station to launch in Second Life
enables us to bring our range of programmes to new audiences who are interested
in interactive content." (Link here, reg. req.) In
To complicate matters further, Jess Smee refers several times to a “Mr. Springer” and not the corporation with the same name, at one point even putting words in the man's mouth: “Mr. Springer says the newspaper will tailor its unprecedented venture according to feedback from avatars". Which is strange, since Mr. Axel Springer is, strictly speaking, dead. (Yielding the ontologically brain-melting suggestion that alter egos in a world which doesn’t physically exist will somehow communicate with an individual who hasn’t physically existed for over 20 years.)
From both flawed reports, unsurprisingly, community wrath followed— examples here, here, and with
scathing Victorian wit from Miss Ordinal Malaprop, here. Over the weekend, SL real estate developer Anshe
Chung entered the fray by issuing a press release announcing that real world corporations making such “first” claims would thenceforth be
banished from her continent. (Long evolved past her origins as an avatar-based "land baron", Anshe now co-owns a real world company of her own, it's worth noting, with projected 2006 revenues of $2.5 million.)
With all that anger swirling, I got in touch with Channel 4’s Nathalie Schwarz and Axel Springer’s Rowan Barnett, to get their clarifications directly. My e-mail correspondence with them after the break.
“We were attracted to Second Life as our ambition is to breathe fresh life into the radio industry and use digital technologies to engage with listeners in a new way,” Ms. Schwarz began, explaining what drew her network to the metaverse. “Channel 4 Radio will bring its range of innovative and exciting programming to the Second Life community.”
“There's actually a large number of SL-based radio programs, live DJs, and podcasters, including a station run by Linden Lab itself,” I e-mailed her. “Are you familiar with these broadcasters, and will they be involved in your programming?”
Schwarz didn’t answer that question directly, but instead replied with: “Channel 4 Radio will be broadcasting and creating content from within Second Life. We want to take an active part in the community, this is a real presence for us. This is not a campaign or single broadcast, we view Second Life as a new country, this enables us to create a sustainable presence and we would want to work with DJs and podcasters in Second Life, and respect the role that they play.”
“In the UK Guardian story,” I asked her, “you're quoted as saying [Channel 4 is] ‘the first radio station to launch in Second Life’… Many members of the SL community have objected to your assertion of being ‘first’, because it discounts this pre-existing culture of SL-based radio as if it wasn't even there. What would you say to them?”
Schwarz's reply: “We do not discount the pre-existing culture of SL-based radio and respect it. What marks us out as different, is that we're combining real life broadcasting with virtual world news and culture. Second Life is in a rapid period of change, one that is starting to see more traditional media channels combining with virtual worlds. This is a very exciting time, and we want to work with you and help it grow and flourish.”
I e-mailed Nathalie Schwarz several follow-ups— Which SL-based radio broadcasts has she actually heard?, What efforts would she make to engage this existing community of broadcasters?, and so on— but only got back an “Out of the office” message in reply.
My correspondence with Rowan Barnett of Axel Springer (Regis Braathens in Second Life) began by asking how the company decided to enter Second Life.
“Bild.T-Online AG, which is a subsidiary of Axel Springer AG, is one of
“What do you hope [the Axel Springer tabloid] delivers to the SL community?”
“With our editorial and advertising expertise we hope to produce an excellent product for the Second Life residents whilst also opening up possible new sources of revenue,” Barnett answered. “We feel strongly that Second Life can greatly benefit from having a professionally produced tabloid newspaper, which will provide news, entertainment, service and orientation for the residents. It will also be strongly user-generated, the residents being the eyes and ears of the paper.”
“How familiar are you with existing SL-based publications? Mention a few that you've read, in preparation for your tabloid.”
“We have of course studied the SL media market extensively, and have looked closely at around ten publications, from newspapers to magazines and blogs,” Barnett replied. “There is of course food for thought for us there, although we want to bring something completely new to Second Life. Our concept will be extremely original and different from what is currently on offer.”
“In the UK Guardian story about Axel Springer's upcoming publication, it's described as Second Life's ‘first tabloid’. Why is it described that way there?”
“There are tabloid-style publications in Second Life,” Barnett acknowledges. “But we want to produce something different. A newspaper that has all the positive aspects of a tabloid, being emotional, direct, informative and entertaining. We will focus on what makes this world-- the people. From stars to newbies we want not only to cover the glamour but the personal stories and insights. It will be strongly service oriented, giving information, tips and recommendations to our readers. We want to show people what is going in this vast and diverse world, guide them through it and of course entertain them on their way.”
Whether their replies ameliorate the controversy or simply exacerbates it isn’t
for me to say. In either case, this wouldn’t be
the first time corporations have alienated a community by well-meaning miscommunication
or less charitably, a disturbing level of arrogance. Judging by past history, it won’t
be the last. But generally speaking, it's fair to say late arrivals who claim to be first at anything are usually the last to know who they've offended-- or why.