New World Newsfeed: How To Misinterpret SL User Stats
Social media publicist Brian Solis has a widely-discussed post on Second Life user stats, which he dubs "The Second Life of Second Life". It mostly seems to be a re-hash of a Linden press release from last month, so little of it will surprise regular NWN readers. The analysis misses some important context, however, leading to serious misinterpretations of the user data Solis cites: Specifically, how many people regularly use Second Life? Fortunately, the Lindens have also published that data, along with user hours. Here's some recent data I wrote about last August, taken from a June 2009 sample:
This represents usage data of 742,000 unique returning users for June, along with their total user hours for the month. As you can see, 401K Residents logged into SL three hours or less, while on the opposite side of the spectrum, 133K Residents were responsible for almost 90% of total user hours.
That context in mind, you can see some of Solis' misinterpretations in sharp relief:
Voice minutes grew 44% year-over-year from Q2 2008 to Q2 2009, and more than six billion minutes of voice have been delivered in 2009 alone, making Linden Lab a major VoIP provider [emph. mine].
It's definitely true that Second Life provides an extremely high level of VOIP usage, but again, it does so for a relatively small number of consumers. By contrast, Skype provides VOIP for over 40 million daily users. Another misread:
Second Life Residents spend an average of about 100 minutes inworld per visit. This average session time is significantly greater than those seen with popular social networking websites and reveals the uniquely high level of engagement Residents have with Second Life.
This point is superficially true, but doesn't fully reflect Second Life user stats. As you can see above, most Residents are in Second Life for less than 3 hours a month. (By contrast, Facebook's 300 million active users on average log into the social network 5.75 hours a month.) Once again, the reason that SL average user hours skew so high is because 133K of them are logged in-world 50 hours or more per month. (22K of them over 300 hours monthly!)
What we know from these user stats is that Second Life has phenomenal engagement rates that continue growing. Contextualized with total user numbers, we know something else: It's still a phenomenon driven by an extremely dedicated but relatively small user base. The real second life of Second Life will happen when these stats start reflecting engagement by millions of active users, not hundreds of thousands.