Will Second Life Go the Way of The WELL?
"What Went Wrong With the WELL & Why It Matters" is my new essay for Internet Evolution, about how the pioneering virtual community suddenly finds itself struggling for survival, and the reasons it's gone from being a media darling to that desperate state. As I note there, I see some uncanny similarities between the trajectory of the WELL and what Second Life currently faces:
[A]fter years of slow but seemingly stable activity, the WELL's corporate owner, Salon Media Group, suddenly announced it was up for sale... In the end, the fact that the WELL maintained enough subscribers to support itself for years gave the userbase a false sense of security... I see eerie (if inexact) parallels to another virtual community I came to be involved with after the WELL: Second Life, which also once attracted hype and celebrity attention but now struggles to find a new revenue model. Its dedicated but largely insular user community shows little interest in substantial change.
More here. A founding member of Linden Lab, by the way, is the first person I heard make the SL/WELL comparison, back in 2005 or so, when he (or she) worried that the community would also resist changes to make Second Life more sustainable. The fate of both, in any case, is following a similar pattern:
In the WELL's case, a group of users is trying to buy the community from Salon. If this happens (and it's only a small possibility), the WELL will probably become a small non-profit system with a couple thousand users. Whereas with SL, OpenSimulator has more or less become the default non-profit spin-off of SL, also with a small userbase (probably under 15,000). Since Second Life is not just a virtual community, but a 3D interactive experience largely enjoyed as a game, it has some growth potentials that the WELL did not. I just hope Linden Lab is willing and bold enough to make the changes before it's too late.Tweet