This morning I filed a GigaOM story based on an internal data chart from M. Linden, showing real substantial growth to Second Life's user base since last August, now registering 731K monthly unique repeat log-ins (but not counting new accounts created during each month.) See the full chart here.
Currently, the Lindens report monthly active users (defined as Residents who log in for at least an hour a month) as 650K last March. That's roughly a 100K increase from the average of the last couple years, when monthly active users were mired somewhere around 550K. In other words, the growth plateau that has plagued Second Life since mid 2007 finally seems to be at an end.
M. Linden tells me he considers monthly unique repeat log-ins (or MURL) as an equally meaningful metric to monthly actives, if not more so. Why?
Because the monthly active user rubric includes the many new users who spend more than an hour in the orientation process, but still eventually quit out and never return. The MURL metric doesn't count them at all. "These are log-ins not people who spent one hour in-world," as M. told me by email, "very different threshold (and probably more typical of what you see from other social media sites.)" Now, he continued, "The figure is 731K, which is up from 582K a year ago."
Yes, he acknowledged, the 731K figure does include bots; however, he tells me that aggregate bot activity has remained consistent through the last couple years. (He affirmed Zee Linden's estimate that 10% of user activity are actually bots.) In other words, notwithstanding bots, he believes most of the growth still comprises real users. Moreover, the user base is spending Linden Dollars. "In March, 45% of Residents spent L$. That figure has been stable for some time." As he put it, "I doubt bots do that."
Looking at the MURL growth rate now, the number may surpass a million by the end of 2009. Whatever the case, it seems undeniable that Second Life's plateau period of its middle years has officially ended.