"Getting naked in the virtual world — more women than men show flesh!", ABC News breathlessly reported recently, citing research by
Canadian academic Matthieu Guitton, who was totally amazed to discover
that female Second Life avatars tend to bare a lot of skin, you guys.
That's supposed to be surprising news -- but it's actually just the
latest evidence that most major media outlets and a lot of academics
don't know much about virtual worlds. It's not exactly like ABC is a stranger to women baring skin themselves. The picture above, a parody of a different but no less popular set of housewives, is by celebrated SL photographer James Schwarz, and it illustrates my biggest issue with this article beautifully.
This point is probably
painfully obvious to most NWN readers, but in case ABC News or would-be
virtual world researchers are still confused, let me explain:
"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:
As promised earlier, here's Duran Duran performing at the Olympics with Second Life avatars in the background to an audience of 4 billion (give or take, well, maybe 3.99 billion). Video gets avatar-ish around 3:15:
The live concert video was shot by the UK guy known as JJ Coronet in Second Life, who also shot the machinima, and as you can hear in the video, is pretty stoked to see it onstage. The show was part of a concert in Hyde Park connected to the Olympics opening, so while it wasn't part of the main opening events (which would have been seen by billions, alongside the Queen apparently parachuting from a helicopter with James Bond), the live audience is pretty large -- over 70,000, by one estimate. (And it likely showed up in lots of news coverage footage around the world.) The machinima footage was shot by JJ on Duran Duran's island in SL, featuring avatars of the band's fans, which the supergroup has been using in their live stage shows. According to Coronet, the SL footage was displayed for a few minutes during the show (for "Reflex", looks like). He says it's also featured in Duran Duran's latest DVD, Diamonds in the Mind, and may herald even more SL-related content from the group coming soon:
Duran Duran has had an official presence in Second Life since 2006, which a lot of SLers have known, but here's some other people who will get a glimpse of what they do in SL: basically, the whole fricking world. This is because Duran Duran will perform in the opening ceremony of the Olympics next week, on July 27th, and their onstage act is expected to incorporate SL machinima from Duran Duran island, displayed on the big screens behind them. So Olympics viewers will see the place in SL with the giant lipstick and a Duran Duran dirigible and now (as the above suggests) avatars getting into an Olympic frame of mind.
"We shot footage for the stage screens for the Duran Duran appearance in Hyde Park Olympic's opening event," Chrissy Welinder, head of Duran Duran's SL fan group, tells me. They're performing live onstage with folks like Snow Patrol and Stereophonics, and the expected audience for the opening is four billion viewers. So I was not exaggerating when I said pretty much everyone alive, least those with access to a TV.
If it happens as expected, this will be without doubt the most mass market appearance of Second Life. But be warned, lots of unexpected variables are still at play:
Second Life style makes its debut in the cable TV show What Not to Wear, today at 9pm (8pm Central), the reality show where two dubiously well-dressed hosts tell their less photogenic inferiors how to dress, with their latest target for gentle cruelty and rehabilitation being Victoria, who's obsessed with Second Life (which the hosts just keep calling "the virtual world".) The SL side of the production was done by longtime SL designer Damien Fate, along with Paul Jannicola and Kerria Seabrooke of Dimension 11, who did a lot of SL machinima for CSI and other major media productions which incorporated SL during its hype years. Damien can't say much about the show right now, but he can say this: "For the most part I am limited to saying yes I and others worked on it... and Stacy London is wearing coldLogic clothing. Which she picked out herself." So at least the hostess of What Not to Wear knows what to wear in SL.
[R]osedale argued hard — and pretty convincingly — that Second Life was a success. Second Life has 1 million active users... The problem — really the only problem, but a big one nonetheless — is they couldn’t ever find a way to make those numbers grow. Nothing they did worked, and Rosedale doubts that even early Facebook integration would have helped. And as Rosedale pointed out, VCs invested half a billion dollars in Second Life competitors, and none of them found a way to get beyond that number either.
To be fair to Philip (and it's foolish to fail to), I think he's probably referring to the many virtual worlds that were launched shortly before and after SL went commercial. (Think Sims Online, think There.) But if by "competitor" we mean a 3D virtual world with user-generated 3D content, I think several virtual worlds have attracted much more than a million users. For instance:
This Second Life screenshot above was on the front page of Reddit last night, submitted by "audiwark", who explains, "My lady wanted me to try Second Life with her, she told me I could be anything and do what ever I want." So now several hundred thousand if not millions of Redditors are defining "anything" to include hot threeway sex with an A-10 Warthog Gunship. (Baby, my GAU-8 Avenger cannon is rotating so fast right now.) And this isn't even the first instance of airship fetish sex to go viral this year: Back in March, Penny Arcade Went There with a couple dirigibles.
Somehow, all this seems a step up from the previous SL sex meme from a couple years ago:
Though SL wasn't listed in the top 10, Nielsen's Bradley Raczka very coolly shared its ranking for this time period, which I've added to the chart: "Ranked 17th based on the total minutes played total," he e-mailed me. "Share was 1.019. Average minutes per week: 240."