Technology journalist Mitch Wagner is a longtime Second Life advocate who once even hosted a talk show in SL, bringing luminaries the likes of Felicia Day and Jonathan Lethem into SL, who he often interviewed in the guise of a steampunk robot. Lately, however, he doesn't go into Second Life much anymore, and explains why here. Excerpt:
I love Twitter and Facebook in part because they’re very convenient... Second Life, on the other hand, takes time. I feel like once I log in I need to be on for at least a half-hour at a time. At minimum. Because it’s happening in real time, and everybody else is there at the same time I am. If I just log in and log out abruptly it’s like going to a party and turning on my heel and leaving without saying good-bye. It’s rude.
Interestingly, his post also provoked rude reactions from many of his readers, such as one informing him: "I am tempted to conclude that the shallow acquaintances and low-bandwidth experiences of the Web’s social networking are your territory." Others chide him for not being committed enough to the SL experience. Which are strange things to say about someone who hosted a long-running talk show in Second Life, and has been positively covering SL as a journalist for some 5 or so years. But there you go; the excommunication vibe is odd but unsurprising.
In any case, I think he's essentially right:
Most of the major negatives associated with Second Life are time-related. Downloading and installing takes time, learning to use the software takes time, finding good content and community takes time, and so on. Even the optimal Second Life experience, once all those time hurdles have been crossed, also takes time: When I was a Linden, staffers used to joke that any event in Second Life will take three times longer than you originally budgeted. (Only they weren't really joking.) Besides hardcore gaming, it's difficult to think of other non-passive online leisure activities that a large group of adults will devote their undivided attention to for large swathes of time. (Say over a half hour or more.)
This observation and others leaves Mitch downbeat on the future of virtual worlds:
I think Second Life, and virtual worlds, may have gone as far as they can go, that maybe the whole avatar-in-an-imaginary landscape metaphor is the wrong metaphor to best achieve the benefits that Second Life provides...
Here I disagree: There are many virtual worlds and virtual world-like games that are quite popular, and still gaining users. Overwhelmingly, however, most of the largest ones are those which allow time-shifting: 2.5D web-based worlds that you can participate in short bursts, while multitasking in other web windows. When Second Life and other 3D worlds are agile enough to provide that kind of experience, while also offering immersive entertainment that actually lasts 30-60 minutes from start to finish, then I think we'll start to see a return to growth and larger relevance. I also think anything which gets us to that point faster (think cloud and web deployment, Facebook Connect, etc.) is worth pursuing. While most everything else is, least far as growth is concerned, a waste of time.