Whatever happened to Second Life? Your reaction

17 Jan 2010

My recent feature "Whatever happened to Second Life?" certainly struck a nerve.  At least two people called for me to be sacked, Second Life blogs swelled with indignation and one die-hard Second Lifer delivered the finest stream of foul-mouthed insults I think I’ve ever read (click through to The Ephemeral Frontier if  - like me - you’re not easily offended).

There were also more than 50 comments on the feature itself, many of which are lengthy, measured and insightful. They clearly took a lot of time to write and I thank you for taking the time to contribute. Incredibly, some even agreed with me.

Here I’m going to round-up a selection of the comments and issue my response to them.

You still haven’t found what you’re looking for

One of the common criticisms of my feature was that I simply hadn’t discovered what Second Life had to offer; that I’d set off to find porn, perverts and prostitutes and had ignored the riches on offer elsewhere.

“I wish that this article focused more on the education side of Second Life,” argued geoffcain. “There is a lot of growth with colleges in SL such as the projects going on in Washington State. The state college board bought one island and there are medical simulations going on there and they are expanding it with three more islands.”

It amazes me how journalists go on and don't find the writing community,” added AdeleWard. “Writing on SL has really flourished over the past 3 years.”


“Music Island offers live concerts of ‘serious’ music: classical, new compositions, world music, and multimedia art,” said Katemir. “On average there are one or two concerts a week with occasional theme-based mini-festivals offering a flurry of activity for a few days.”

In fact, I found no shortage of interesting, cerebral activities during my time in Second Life: from the Apollo 11 landing site, to Richard Hawley’s musical house, to the beautiful Princeton campus, there was certainly no drought of ‘innocent’ entertainments. The problem was finding people to share them with – they were, by and large, deserted.

The search goes on

The root cause of my isolation, many argued, was the appalling in-world search facilities.

“Second Life knows its event calendar does not work - that is one of the main reasons there are no people anywhere - there is no way to let them know what is going on,” said Bladyblue. “I had to use the calendar on Facebook to get an audience for events in Second Life. Five years and SL can't even make a calendar work right.”

I've been using Second Life for three years and I'm always appalled when I help a new person out and re-live how complex it is to figure out what in the heck is going on, from the user interface to finding content and people,” said BettinaTizzy. “I do have some advice for anyone who is considering exploring in Second Life or any virtual world: Do some Googling.”

GwynethLlewelyn even offered a decent explanation of why I found it so much harder to find people this time than I did when I first visited Second Life in 2006. “SL has not changed much in terms of facilitating knowledge transfer between residents (it's the same old tools to index content and search for it), but it has grown in size... three or more times... so there is far less likelihood of hitting "just the right thing" by mere chance. Walking in SL without a guide (human or a book/blog) continues to be terrible. Your article shows that very well.

I’ll confess – I didn’t venture far beyond Second Life’s in-house calendar/search facility to find interesting content, and yes I should at least have undertaken a little judicious Googling (if only there were a Google Maps for Second Life, eh?). On the other hand, should you really have to minimise the Second Life app and head out on to the internet to find the best of what SL has to offer?   Linden really needs to up its game if it wants to give newcomers a reason to hang around.

What’s the point?

Despite the navigation and search issues, there were still a few people who, like me, struggled to understand Second Life’s reason for being.

Despite the growls from those hardcore users, you've pretty well nailed the problems that SL has always suffered from; difficulty of use and a poor new user experience,” said the mysteriously-named Maybe.

People are figuring out what the corporations figured out, before they left in throngs; Second Life is largely pointless,” added Vulcanized. “Beyond the ability to make things, there isn't much to do in-world. You can run around buying stuff to pretty up your avatar, new hair, new clothes, new skins, but you can't really use it. The world is closed within itself.”

And that remains my chief complaint with Second Life: there’s simply nothing to hold my attention. Many people asked whether I’d bothered to explore the creative tools and started building items of my own, but I couldn’t find a good reason to justify the time. Yes, I could have spent hours mastering animations and textures, but I’d have simply been adding to the vast amounts of stunning (and often ignored) architecture that’s already dotted across the Second Life landscape. If the owners of a massive in-world ski complex – with beautifully rendered slopes, ski-lifts and chalets – can barely attract an audience, what hope would I have?

Life changing

That’s not to say that Second Life is a complete waste of disk space. I might struggle to find its appeal, but that is, of course, not true for everyone. So I’ll leave the final word to two commenters who have found real virtue in the virtual world.

“I have met people who in real life are deaf, who love that in Second Life they can communicate through text without any bias/ pity and simply be accepted for who they are,” said TrinityBeltran.

Then there’s PhoenixaSol, who is physically unable to partake in the activities she enjoyed at school after being hit by a drunk driver as a child.  “I spent 30 years locked in an emotional prison separated from my beloved dancing, diving and gymnastics. Lo and behold, in 2006 I read an article in Wired (a fair perspective and open minded article, I might add here) about this new virtual place Second Life, and I came to check it out. Not only was I thrilled to join, but within a few days discovered that I could dance here. I didn't realise just how much not being able to dance had tormented me for those decades until one day I was filled with pure joy at how well certain animations fit with a certain song. At last, the smile was back in my heart and it was so real for me, I could almost feel the same sensations in my muscles as I used to when I danced.”

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