Friday, November 20, 2009

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New World Newsfeed: The BBC Joins Second Life Media Backlash Two Years Too Late

BBC Second Life article

The BBC's news magazine has a grotesquely lopsided article curiously entitled "What happened to Second Life?", which largely recapitulates points from Wired's notorious anti-SL piece of 2007, which was fairly skewed in the first place. (It's astounding any credible media outlet would cite the experiences of American Apparel and Reuters' ill-fated SL bureau of two-three years ago as if they were relevant to Second Life as it is now.) As it happens, I was contacted by the BBC about this article yesterday, but wasn't able to respond in time. Not that that would have mattered, as the article's dubious thesis was already set in place by then. "We're running a story tomorrow about what happened to Second Life," the BBC's Jonathan Duffy told me brightly, "it seems to have slipped off the mainstream radar." Which is a strange thing to assert about an online world that's more than tripled its active user base since 2006, is used by numerous Fortune 500 companies and several branches of the US government, and is run by a company that was just ranked among the top 25 Internet start-ups. However, the BBC makes the classic mistake of confusing media attention with general attention. Then again, were the article called, "What happened to Second Life (when the BBC wasn't paying attention)?", it would be framed more accurately -- but would also point the failure where it actually belongs.

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Gianna Borgnine

I agree that the article by the BBC was complete lopsided and in my opinion simply inaccurate.

I was thrilled to see Linden Lab officially respond to the article themselves, set the record straight, and encourage residents to comment as well. YAY for transparency! I'm wondering if this response was encouraged by the new PR company that some have speculated the Lab recently hired, although it has not yet to my knowledge been officially announced. Regardless it's very encouraging!

Gianna Borgnine

I forgot to add the Linden Lab official response can be seen here - bit.ly/7xoPxj

Caliburn Susanto

I know several people who have submitted comments to that article which are not yet (all day today) posted. I'm wondering if they are having an "uh oh" moment based on the reactions? ;-)

jjccc Coronet

You need and IQ of 3 to play Second Life if You find it to hard, you should not be there. Ive been in sl for a few years now, I like it. When i joined, there were no rules and it was like the wild west, but now it dont feel that way, Newbies arrive all the time and say what do we do now, there is no real point to sl, So why stay. Unless they bring back gambling or a point is invented for newbies to stay like an insentive. Most newbies want a job, sex, or free money to buy outfits. So Solution is make Sl lagg free no big brother sticking its nose in, open up gambling

AnnOtooleInSL

What's the matter? BBC's "too cheap to pay up" free accounts couldn't find any lewd behavior to make a big deal out of?

What exactly did this "American Apparel" store sell anyway? Noob template tee shirts? In an ironic twist they would most likely fare a lot better today now that SL is shifting to mainstream real life simulated clothing instead of folly wear and fantasy avatars.

Isadora Fiddlesticks

jjcc, you don't necessarily need to bring back gambling in SL--there's a lot of SLingos, Black Jack, Deal or No Deal variations all over the grid, skill games are here to stay, and simulated sports are growing. There's arts, live music, plenty of visually stimulating sims, jobs,business opportunities and MOST OF ALL FREEBIES. One group with a blog caters to freebie hunting and lucky chairs and nowadays its very easy to find an outfit that is of high quality and not ripped that is free. Even men have their own freebie hunts. A casual player will never run out of options if he/she isn't ready to invest money in SL.

Just look a little bit further before you conclude that SL doesn't have a real point except for gambling. Too many facets in the diamond that is SL--it's how you make out of it...:)

The whole article is totally one-sided and clearly only noticed the noisy people who just don't get it.

As my letter to BBC goes:

"SL is NOT a STALE and STAGNANT world after all. It is vibrant, creative, eclectic, stimulating, fun, and a great social environment."

But only if you open your mind up for it and invest time. It's sad some people want instant gratification nowadays and everything handed over to them, but human nature goes to that direction sometimes I guess and Linden Lab need to bend over to accommodate those sort of people.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

Amid the problems with the BBC story, three points seem valid. I noted them in my own blog, but here they are.

--We all know that ROI for businesses in the hype era was zero. While it's their fault, for not thinking creatively or adapting to SL's user base, the sting of that experience remained and they told their pals.

--SL does not play well on mobile devices, and that, the BBC claims rightly, is how users increasingly access content.

--The newcomer experience reeked then and reeks now. LL has been too slow in rolling out a first-hour experience that leads to retention.

I think we forget these because we SLers are in a sort of bubble. We don't think how the rest of the I.T. world has just moved on.

Meanwhile, LL makes it even harder for small-dollar users with the new Xstreetsl.com policies and stupid moves like the SLapping of jokay Wollengong with a cease-and-desist order even as another of their divisions promoted her work with SL.

John Branch

To repeat my comment on the BBC news magazine story:

"Asking what happened to SL is like asking what happened to VR, or AI, or online gaming. All those are still areas of serious and fruitful activity; what's died down is the hype.

"To speak personally, one problem with SL is RL--real life has gotten in the way of my Second Life excursions. Despite that, I've used possibilities of the SL experience in a playscript, for a character whose interactions are almost entirely digital or mediated in some way and who stages a suicide display in SL before doing it for real. (Not intended as a comment on SLers--the character's problems are all in real life.) I've attended two excellent physics lectures there. I made a good acquaintance there, just as I did on Flickr. I've seen some wondrous things there, and missed many others for lack of time (at least they might've been wondrous, though I have my doubts about SL Shakespeare). I look forward to returning."

Mitch Wagner

James, I think you nailed it. The odd thing about that story isn't that it's skeptical about Second Life. Heck, *I* could write a lovely, skeptical story about SL--and I'm an enthusiast.

The odd thing about the story is that it relies on 2-year-old information Even the pitch you received from Duffy is ancient. SL "slipped off the mainstream radar" in early 2008--and he's just noticing it now?

I expect a story from the BBC soon about Margaret Thatcher stepping aside as Prime Minister, and reporting breathlessly on developments in the Falklands War.

James, one of my favorite pieces that you wrote was from very, very early 2007, when the Second Life backlash was just beginning. It noted that the problem with stories critical of SL isn't that they're critical--it's that they're critical for the wrong reasons. And I bet the right reasons, which you gave them, probably hold up today.

Hamlet Au

Thanks! I'm not even sure Second Life's slipped off the mainstream radar, I can think of half a dozen stories in the New York Times in the last year alone, including a couple in the Sunday Magazine. Can't say that about any other virtual world, not even close. It's just that the coverage has gone from insanely pervasive, to steady and specific -- less stories like "OMG what is this SL thing?", to "Here's SL being used for X, Y, Z applications."

"SL does not play well on mobile devices, and that, the BBC claims rightly, is how users increasingly access content"

The BBC is still wrong here, I think. It's true the iPhone in particular is a game changer, but it hasn't changed the market usage patterns for virtual worlds and MMOs -- those are still overwhelmingly played on the PC, by about 150 million people, and there's no significant movement to transition them to the cellphone.

Mitch Wagner

"Thanks! I'm not even sure Second Life's slipped off the mainstream radar, I can think of half a dozen stories in the New York Times in the last year alone, including a couple in the Sunday Magazine. Can't say that about any other virtual world, not even close. It's just that the coverage has gone from insanely pervasive, to steady and specific -- less stories like "OMG what is this SL thing?", to "Here's SL being used for X, Y, Z applications.""

Good points! Also, I've written a few articles about SL for InformationWeek this year.. However, I'm not doing the several-times-a-week first-person isn't-SL-cool blogging I did in 2007. Instead, we're doing specific articles focusing on the business benefits and shortcomings of Second Life, which is how InformationWeek covers technology overall.

Good points in the rest of your post too. Second Life is half-social-network, half-MMO. I tend to focus on the social networking bits since I'm a social networking addict and I don't even *use* any other MMOs. (I have never played WoW, for example.) So the criticism "SL doesn't run on mobile devices" is a shortcoming if you consider it to be a social networking but (as you point out) not if you consider it as an MMO.

MirrorWorld

Could someone please define "mobile devices"? My own experience is that most virtual worlds play fairly well, even on a netbook, on a cabled internet connection.

In april 2009, i made a status, after 6 months of blogging about virtual worlds, focusing on SL.
(Translated to english: http://mirrorworlds.dk/second-life/34-virtuelle-verdener/49-6-months-with-second-life-news-some-heavy-death-throes.html)

I'll save you the click:

"Best gues-timate:
Over 6 months, a minimum of 53,300 links and articles about virtual worlds, where Second Life is responsible for 28,600, hitted my news-radar. (October 14, 2008 - April 7, 2009).

What the real figure is? I don't know, but certainly much higher.
I can only estimate in what I have received, and only follow a small portion of the Internet. Mostly limited by language. What happens on other languages like Rusian, Indian, Chinise, South America, eg. Brazil, etc., I can't tell."

Sylea Sygall

Wow. What an outstandingly mis-informed article. Not surprisingly, also incredibly negative, which seems to be the general attitude when mainstream media prints anything about SL. i was also surprised by the level of negativity in the reader comments.
I am into my 2nd year on SL, met my now Real Life soulmate and partner on there entirely unexpectedly, and have made many friends, some of whom I have gone on to meet in Real life. I also use Facebook and Twitter, and Facebook is good for groups and support networks, but SL is wonderful for discovering new artists, hearing new music, and making new friends.
I have had, and continue to have an amazingly positive experience on SL.

Sylea Sygall

Can I also just say that in recent weeks, the Canadian media has yet again re-hashed an unpleasant story about a fellow who had an 'affair' on SL and his marriage broke up. Aside from the fact the people actually involved were messed up long before SL got in the mix, I spent the better part of a week at work defending my choice to be on SL and maintain a relationship which started there. Colleagues had seen the program in question and of course made the assumption that SL was just filled with philanderers and liars and dysfunctional people. I can think of 3 nightclubs/bars in my RL hometown that can offer the same menu......

Ciaran Laval

I'm a huge fan of The Beeb but that article is absurdly lopsided.

I agree with Ignatius regarding mobile devices, even LL themselves admitted the rise of the laptop had thrown them and the rise of smaller mobile devices is another issue.

However the Beeb couldn't find a single independent fan of SL? That's extremely shoddy, heck Mitch Wagner would have been a great person for the beeb to seek a comment from if Hamlet wasn't available, it's not hard to try and find people to balance such an article.

Nalates Urriah

For me the story is another example of lazy journalism and the lame-stream media falling apart.

Chakalak

"the iPhone (...) hasn't changed the market usage patterns for virtual worlds and MMOs"

Exactly what I thought!

btw.. german media coverage is much less boulevardesque, as this article shows:

http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/0,1518,655952,00.html

might not be understandable for everyone, the headline could be translated to "Second Life lively moves onward"

I think one can forget that article and just move on. And it's not bad at all, since negative press still is press. ;)

Mitch Wagner

Thanks, Ciaran.

I don't know if I would be a great interview for this article, because I would not have said either "Second Life is failing!" or "Second Life is thriving!"

I would have said that Second Life faces many obstacles to mainstream acceptance and quite possibly will *never* be mainstream. However, it does seem to be growing and healthy, albeit not on par with the inflated predictions of 2006-2007, or of the exponential growth we've come to expect from platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and (further back) Google. And that many of the experiences people now have in Second Life will likely become mainstream, the same way the experiences on platforms like Usenet and IRC evolved into blogs and Twitter, even though Usenet and IRC themselves never became mainstream.

Paisley Beebe

Yes its sloppy but the point is for the Beeb, people ARE reading it...thats what they wanted of course, they don't care that the article is all old NEWS.

The bad news for us residents is we do not want people reading it and being turned off SL...that does none of us any good. Yes there are articles being written about good stuff in SL, NYT ect...that featured our Angie Mornington, but not nearly enough.

M Lindens PR dept should not approved his part in this interview, he should not have had his quotes and name associated with it. How did that happen! I think its time for L.L to counter attack with great stories about the residents in here and what is happening! the enterprise solution is a small story with limited appeal. Residents creating amazing things and achieving amazing success is far more exiting and likely to draw people in. Not saying that L.L isn't building...but the concurrency has dropped down..from last year, and I don't know if it was just bot bann. The BBC also control their comments, they edit them and select which to put up there...if the comments are mostly supportive of the article, it is by design and really awful on their part. The writers editor obviously wanted a story on the failure of SL and no amount of good stories would have swayed them. thanks to Mr Rooter for the quotes, he obviously still has a chip on his narrow shoulders.
Paisley

Sioban McMahon

Ignatius said: "We all know that ROI for businesses in the hype era was zero. While it's their fault, for not thinking creatively or adapting to SL's user base, the sting of that experience remained and they told their pals."


Sadly, it's still happening with businesses and non-profits entering SL. They build, or have built, a presence and hang a few posters and signs. Maybe they put out a few freebies and pointers to their webpage. Then they wonder why they don't get crowds. "Build it and they will come" only worked in that movie.

FlipperPA Peregrine

If I listed Second Life, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Meebo and Wordpress and asked what is unique about Second Life, most people would say a rich graphical environment, a steep learning curve, or something along those lines. But one simple truth always seems to escape the mainstream media: Second Life is the only one of the listed entities that is profitable! That says a lot right there.

Why do people consider the American Apparel store to be such an epic disaster? I think it got them exactly what they wanted: for a few thousand dollars, they got a ton of attention and press releases, and dubbed being innovators for a few months. Most companies would see that ROI as a pretty big success with very little investment.

I wrote about this back in March, if anyone wants more of my thoughts:

http://www.peregrinesalon.com/2009/03/22/whats-with-the-second-life-death-watch/

Regards,

-Flip

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

@MirrorWorld, "Could someone please define "mobile devices"?"

Handhelds like the iPhone or lightweight laptops and netbooks that connect mostly with high-speed wireless. That's what I meant.

"My own experience is that most virtual worlds play fairly well, even on a netbook, on a cabled internet connection."

Not in my experience or in that of 100 students who've used SL with me for the past two years. I use a high-powered laptop, but colleagues on the SLED list have made SL work on a netbook...with lots of lag.

My students increasingly use their iPhones for everything except writing papers. And they simply refuse to plug in the cables for their laptops (not ONE has a desktop PC or Mac) unless I make them. They don't even come to campus with ethernet cables.

That IS computing for them. If LL does not want that demographic--mainstream educators and their students, well heeled suburban youth bound for the corporate world, academe, law, and politics--that's their decision.

Again, from my experience, this part of the Beeb's story is dead-on accurate.

Lomain Totempole

>>Handhelds like the iPhone or lightweight laptops and netbooks that connect mostly with high-speed wireless. That's what I meant.

"My own experience is that most virtual worlds play fairly well, even on a netbook, on a cabled internet connection."

Not in my experience or in that of 100 students who've used SL with me for the past two years. <<

That may be your experience as an educator, but it is far from universal for us educators. I'm not certain what would have made my own experience so much more positive than yours.

Tish Seda

Just wanted to share what I wrote in the BBC comments section of their story after reading the feedback it got over in the UK(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8367957.stm)

I've found Second Life to be a highly enlightening social experience. And yes, it is a way to escape from your real life. Buy who doesn’t need that at least once in a while.
As for it being hard to navigate and learn the controls, etc, it does seem to confuse many into giving up. I guess I could see this for someone just looking to play a game. Because of all the things that are possible to do in SL, it makes it almost impossible to have simple controls for it.
As for one persons comment about needing to spend money to do anything, or another person stating there was no help or guidance to be found, here my take on that:
It’s a free game and it didn’t cost you a thing to try is out. Other MMO style games make to pay for the software and there are on-going subscription fees
No Help for a new player …. Did you bother to ask anyone about how to navigate, find things, or anything? I find this hard to believe that help could not be found either through using the plainly marked search button or by asking someone.

And as for “weird people” - Just like any major city, you will run into a few in SL. This might come as a shock to someone that is living a sheltered life, but everything you might come across in this virtual world, you can find somewhere in Real Life. But unlike real life, if someone bothers you or threatens you or you just don’t like what you are seeing, you can leave in seconds.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

@Lomain,

"That may be your experience as an educator, but it is far from universal for us educators. I'm not certain what would have made my own experience so much more positive than yours."

@Lomain,

Universal? Probably not. Yet at the SL Educational Roundtable and on the SLED list, enough other faculty have complained about laptop performance with SL to make it a common issue.

A few Qs worth considering for any educator:

Did your students have average business-class desktops or ones with better graphics cards and RAM? If they used laptops, were they hard-wired or on wireless? If wireless, where did they connect and what sort of signal strength did they get?

These have all made the SL experience for my students vary over the past 2 1/2 years teaching with it.

MirrorWorld

@Ignatius Onomatopoeia

If you have given students assignments in a 3D virtual world, without checking required System Requirements, the students user experience are bound to vary, or even be bad!

And please research how many (rather how few) people really owns anything with an "I" as first letter.

Linden Lab link to system Requirements
http://secondlife.com/support/system-requirements/

"Your computer must meet these REQUIREMENTS, or you may not be able to successfully participate in Second Life."

So, can we skip the mobile device (as in mobile phone, which are not listed) part now? Or at least until mobile phones have developed a bit, and wireless become a lot better?
"Cable or DSL" is not the same as "wireless".

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