PBS' Media Shift has a very good story on the current state of Second Life, especially as perceived by the media. Much of the focus is on the closing of Reuters' SL bureau late last year. "We were primarily interested in Second Life as a business/commerce/finance phenomenon," Reuters lead report Adam Pasick tells Media Shift's Mark Glaser. "[But e]ssentially the story we were there to cover has moved on."
From this you would get the impression that there's no longer any business news going on in SL, which would be a very strange thing to suggest. Especially coming from a journalist who missed so much business news when Second Life was his beat. As I told Glaser, Pasick and his assistant, Eric Krangel, are fine reporters who did many good stories about SL, but "I don't think they were ever passionately engaged in the medium or Second Life's community on an experiential level... [which consequently] caused them to often miss the big picture."
How often? Well, consider all the significant business/commerce/financial stories that Reuters' bureau failed to first report on, when they were operating in SL:
- Reuters didn't first report that fear of the CopyBot was undermining the entire SL economy. The Second Life Herald did.
- Reuters didn't first report that SL retention rates were much smaller than widely believed. Writing for this blog, Tateru Nino did.
- Reuters didn't first report that a film director had sold the rights to his SL machinima to HBO. This blog did.
- Reuters didn't extensively report on the relative value of virtual items in the SL economy. The New York Times did.
- Reuters didn't report that IBM's corporate campus in SL was the site of a major international labor protest. This blog did.
- Reuters didn't first report that CTO Cory Ondrejka was being fired from Linden Lab. Moo Money at Massively did.
- Reuters didn't report that an art collector had purchased an experimental work set in Second Life for six figures. The New York Times did.
- Reuters didn't report how contractors for the Playboy Corporation were investigating instances of copyright and trademark infringement in SL. CNN's iReports did.
- Reuters didn't estimate the amount of revenue Linden Lab was earning from SL. This blog did.
- Reuters didn't report how a number of real world entrepreneurs and developers were using SL to prototype real content. BusinessWeek did.
Pointing this out isn't meant as a slam against Eric or Adam, who as I said, have done some good reporting. (My sense, perhaps wrong, is that their SL bureau work was a part-time responsibility.) However, Reuters' departure has often been mis-interpreted as a sign that business news in SL has dried up, so I think a clarification is in order. As it happens, there is a lot of news then and since, it just takes more of the proverbial shoe leather to find it, a lot of socializing, offhand conversations, and random exploration.
So why did Reuters miss so much?
In my opinion, probably from a personal lack of interest in the metaverse experience. Eric admitted as much when he subsequently described his time reporting in-world as a "creepy" or "boring" activity he only considered a job. To me that seems a bit like hiring a guy who hates watching Hollywood movies to cover the film industry. You can see that in Eric's description of being in an SL nightclub: "I'd right-click the dance floor to send my avatar gyrating as I sat at home at my computer. It was about as fun as watching paint dry."
I think this description deeply misunderstands the experience, and explains a large part of Reuters' failure. The purpose of dancing in Second Life is not dancing per se, but to share a visual counterpoint and reference anchor to the group chat and IM going on around it. Or to put it another way: I've conducted some of my favorite interviews in Instant Message while my avatar was gyrating around like an idiot. (Yes, even business stories.) And when other writers realize they need to make that immersive perceptual leap, they'll find a world abundant with their own stories to discover and tell, too.
Image credit: secondlife.reuters.com