"Twitter is what Second Life wasn't," marketer Chris Abraham argued recently in Advertising Age, seeking to quell anxiety that the current media hype about Twitter means that it's inevitably destined to suffer the backlash Second Life did in 2007. Unlike Twitter, Abraham notes, Second Life is not "light, cheap, and open". That is, it requires a large client install, has relatively demanding hardware/broadband specs, and isn't readily interoperable between the web and most other applications.
Those are all valid points, but Anderson's assessment greatly misunderstands Second Life overall -- and in doing so, understates the potential pitfalls Twitter faces now in at least three ways:
Twitter isn't as unique as Second Life: While the core value proposition of Twitter is indeed revolutionary -- instant microblogging and communication across multiple platforms -- it's also an extremely easy one to imitate. Which is why Twitter has several competitors, including Facebook, Plurk, and Friend Feed, while Second Life, six years after launch, has no direct and successful rival. (Except, of course, OpenSimulator -- which is to essentially say that Second Life is only competing with an open source version of itself.) As it turns out, making a dynamic, economically leveraged, fully user-created immersive virtual world isn't all that easy an enterprise.
Twitter isn't as sticky as Second Life: When it comes to social networking, it's not enough to be occasionally useful; to succeed, the system must also be sticky, a pervasive part of a user's Internet experience. How do the two systems compare in that regard? For January 2009, Nielsen Internet estimated the average Twitter user hit the site 98 minutes total a month. That same month, Nielsen Games estimated the average Second Life user logged in 2080 minutes total a month.
Twitter isn't as profitable as Second Life:
- Estimated revenue of Second Life holding company, in 2008: $96 million
- Estimated revenue of Twitter holding company, in 2008: $0 million
All that to one side, it's definitely true that Second Life will need to be more like Twitter, to grow beyond its existing hardcore user base: enable open development across lighter and cheaper platforms, especially the web and mobile phones. Then again, to succeed and flourish over the long term, Twitter will need to become more like Second Life.