When Second Life reached the apex of hype backlash, two major criticisms of the virtual world stood out most: It wasn't a friendly or inviting place to corporate sponsors, and its sexual content would drive the mainstream away. So it's uniquely ironic news that There, the 3D virtual world, yesterday announced it was closing, a victim of the recession. (I.E., lack of revenue.) It was consciously positioned as the corporate-friendly, PG-rated alternative to Second Life, a strategy evident even in CEO Michael Wilson's closing announcement:
[N]ames like Coca-Cola, CosmoGirl, Bebe, K-SWISS, and SPIN all brought their own products and influence to the world, which in turn made it an even more interesting place for people to be. We believe that all of this together made a world which was, well, like "real life", with just the right level of unreality thrown in. Standards for speech, interaction, avatar dress, and even the amount of "blood and gore" were pretty much what you'd expect in the real world, and we believe that it's one of the many things which made There special, accessible, and attractive to people from all over the United States and the world -- not just the privileged with high-end machines and broadband connections.
I think it's fair to say the last remark is a veiled slam at Second Life (several others pockmark the text), but perhaps some bitterness isn't surprising at this point. Second Life still has a considerable amount of adult content (albeit cordoned off), has little if any corporate advertising sites, yet still remains extremely profitable for its holding company, Linden Lab. (And in an even more ironic twist, makes much of its revenue from universities, corporations, and government organizations which maintain a presence in SL.)
What's this closing mean for the Second Life user community?
In 2004, when There hit its first economic hardship, Second Life saw a large influx of There users, and as a way of welcoming them, the Lindens added a new surname: Thereian. Wonder if we'll see history repeat itself in 2010.
In any event, the system attracted a lot of talented and cool people, most particularly my friend Betsy Book, and I'm sad to see them out of work, especially in economically dark times like these. Fortunately, it's a good time for social gaming and casual virtual worlds, and my bet is most of them will wind up in better gigs soon. (More analysis from Daniel Terdiman at CNET.)
Hat tip: Nyoko Salome and Nalates Urriah. (Apologies to Gertrude Stein. Or for that matter, Oakland.)