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Posted on January 17th, 2010 by Barry Collins

Whatever happened to Second Life? Your reaction

Second Life 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.”

Second Life: Richard Hawley's house“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?

Second Life: Moulin RougeDespite 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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23 Responses to “ Whatever happened to Second Life? Your reaction ”

  1. Digistar Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Interesting read.

    Ultimately what matters is that Second Life and similar other technologies seem to help people connect.

    It also matters on another level in that it allows people to interact with their computer in a new way.

    Perhaps even in a way so that over 700 million handicapped people could be re-connected to society one day.

    Even 1 percent of that would change 7 million peoples lives. Think about that, how doing things differently with a computer can change peoples lives more effectively, faster than ever.

    The fact that you write about it is the best proof of that, as you described:

    “one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life “

  2. Scarp Godenot Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Just fyi, there is a second life art world consisting of thousands of artists from all over the world, who are making 3d art that is viewed from “inside”. This is a completely new art form never seen before.

    And let’s not forget that despite your opinions, there was 500 million dollars of commerce inside of second life not including Linden Labs fees.

    As you will find in the future, this is not trivial, but the beginning of VR commerce inside of VR worlds. Companies seeing these figures have been shocked and are now as we speak trying to figure out from how they can get a piece of the pie for themselves in VR worlds….

  3. Steve Cassidy Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Ahem; Mr Scarp, kindly let us know how much time it took you to discover that community – and what you have done since then to direct new users to it. I can’t say as I see much effort – either here or in the (phenomenally insular) Second Life blogs and forums – to make sure all this good news actually gets out…

  4. M Linden Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Barry, I am glad you posted a follow up. Many people are “re-exploring” Second Life with great outcomes, like the folks at Vizworld. Why? Second Life is a powerful platform with many, many highly engaged users. In the past 60 days, more than a million avatars visited Second Life to see new places, meet friends, join groups and attend events. Our tools — today — don’t help the new user find these wonders. We’re hard at work on a next generation of tools to help users search for, find and discover all that makes Second Life the most powerful virtual world platform on the planet. In the meantime, the best way to navigate Second Life is with the friends you make. My advice to you is simple: reach out to the many people who commented on your post and have them introduce you around. You’ll find plenty of things to hold your attention…learn a foreign language…go to a climate change conference…help raise money for Haiti. M Linden aka Mark Kingdon, CEO of Linden Lab.

  5. Eltee Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Fascinating. Do any of these people actualy work for a living? Most of my colleagues and I have enough trouble maintaining a tenuous grip of “First Life” – generally without giving overly undue attention to the hereafter – or the “hereother”!

  6. Rob Schifreen Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    So, half a million people log into SL each month. There are around 720 hours in a month, and thus around 700 logins per hour. Let’s assume that they each stay for 30 minutes. The SL world is enormous. If there are just 350 people, or so, logged in at any one time, rumours of the place being deserted seem to be confirmed. By Linden’s CEO, no less.

  7. Doreen Garrigus Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Actually, Rob, concurrency in SL is usually between 40,000 and 80,000. If concurrency were 350, the world would, indeed, be deserted. We can see the number of users logged in at any given moment when we open the Second Life viewer. For instance, as I write this on a Sunday afternoon, the number of users logged in is 78,681.

    It’s funny how people like to form their opinions and then go find “facts” to fit them, isn’t it? I like to do it the other way around.

  8. Cybin Monde Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 1:58 am

    I read the original article and had a reaction somewhere in the middle. While i didn’t think you necessarily went about it with the wrong purpose, just the wrong methods.

    Honestly, if you want to go where people are… just open the Map, make sure you have the Resident box checked, then go to wherever you see a cluster of the green dots.

    There’s a good chance a lot of these will just be shoppers or Zyngo parlors, but there will be more active/social gatherings in some of the places as well.

    Thank you for this follow-up article. It was a welcome piece.

  9. tony clifton Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 8:18 am

    SL killed it’s own self when they started asking people for real life ID! They need to leave anyway, so that the losers on there are forced to go out and lead a real life and learn that it is ONLY A GAME! lol

  10. Nick Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Virtual worlds – be they bulletin boards or full immersion VR are a way to bring likeminded people together.

    What I find truly scary is that disabled people feel left out of the “real world”. With all the technology we have today such disenchantment is horribly depressing to hear. What a species we are.

  11. Jiggly Diggly Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Absolutely loved the Ephemeral Frontier’s piece. Wholeheartedly recommend it for a Good Old British Chuckle. After such a stream of rabid invective and almost entirely substituting personal insults for reasoned argument, he responds to a comment on his post thus: “Ultimately, I just think it’s pretty remarkable to be able to go to a place where you can give yourself goals like making interesting stuff, learning, and having fun with nice people from around the world.”
    Ephemeral, you may enjoy a British pub across from the Imperial War Museum, but generally our society just doesn’t welcome crass people like you. Please send your dollars without coming yourself in person next time, many thanks old sport :)

  12. Nber Medici Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I’ve been a “resident” of SL since Feb of 2004. It is the friendships and activities that keep me coming back. Here are some machinima links to showcase what can and IS done in SL.

    Relay for Life in SL:

    Sailing in SL:
    A 2008 era ad for Starboards Yacht Club in SL -

    AND a piece on the America’s Cup in SL.

    Lots of good things to do in SL… a lot of not so good things as well.

  13. Jenelle Levenque Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    There is so much going on. It’s amazing that when you go to a venue, no one is there. On the other hand, even though as many as 80,000 are logged in at any one time, spread them out across a layout larger than earth. How dense would the population be if there were 80,000 logged in to First Life?
    Meeting and chatting with those other people is an amazing experience. There are hiccups, lags, and crashes, sort of like rush hour in any major city. hmmmm

  14. Norman Gladstone Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 1:42 am

    New Second Life users might benefit from ThreadMap – it lets you quickly see what is inside Second Life regions by clicking on the SL Map instead of having to teleport into places one by one.

    You can also see best images and videos upload by the users, as well as comment on them.

  15. freereed Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 4:46 am

    Aha Steve Cassidy you raddish@! It took Scarp Godenot no time at all to find the art world in Second Life because he IS that world. Ye gods, man, did ye not take the time to look up Scarp Godenot inworld????

  16. Jason Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Mr. Scarp wrote: “Just fyi, there is a second life art world consisting of thousands of artists from all over the world, who are making 3d art that is viewed from “inside”. This is a completely new art form never seen before.”

    Isn’t that like interior design and architecture?

  17. Dio Kuhr Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Hey Barry,

    Much better stab at it this time.

    And thanks for linking to my blog.

    I commend you both for your appreciation for the enthusiastic application of colorful invective, and your willingness to really sort through the more rational responses to your first piece and to clarify your reaction.

    I think one of the things you will have noticed is that even among those of us who have a certain level of commitment to experimenting with the platform and trying to maximize its potential, we’re not blind to its limitations and frustrations, many of which you highlighted very well.

    For example, yes, you are bang on right that there is a real issue with the initial experience and getting new users integrated into the experience. One of the things that you can say for the leadership at LL is that they are painfully aware of this reality and are working to address it. A great many residents are working on it as well, and not just at that point of first entry to the platform, but also at various developmental stages along the way for those why seek to find their own purposes for continuing with it.

    But ultimately, I think you’ve hit on one very important truth, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all as far as a virtual world for the masses. It’s not for everybody and if you can’t find your own purpose for taking the time that is required to utilize it beyond the basic level of interaction, then it’s understandable that you will want to just accept that and move on. That is a perfectly legitimate conclusion to arrive at–”this just isn’t for me.”

    Of course that doesn’t mean that it can’t work very nicely for a great many other people. It is very much an experiment, both for Linden Lab and for its users.

    After all, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “SL is not just a product in transition, it is a transitional product.”

    So as for as asking “what is it for?”–it is what we choose to use it for, and for many people, what they will use if for is as a stepping stone to something else.

    And as everyone keeps pointing out, the platform continues evolving. It’s going to be a very different thing in six months, let alone a few years. Hopefully, if you’re still writing about these sorts of things then, you might want to check in and see where it’s going. And if you do, I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will be happy to talk with you and show you what they’re experimenting with.

    By the way, did you ever get a sense of why–despite the issues and limitations, and empty areas–it still seems to be profitable for the company and many of its users?

  18. Diagoras Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I gav up reading after the first paragraphs of abuse, which indicate the adolescent personality of many US citizens who can’t utter a sentence without a swear word in it. As for second life I spent an hour or two on it and found it boring in the extreme. Of course I did not want to spend money on it. My advice is if you need to spend your time in Second Life you need to get a real life. It is escapism personified, but seems to be harmless at least.

  19. Dio Kuhr Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Actually, I picked up a good bi my penchant for colorful invective from spending an extended amount of time with gents from London Fire Brigade. It’s not about nationality, Diagoras, as much as it is about circumstances of occupation and class. And my blog isn’t for a general audience. That said, since you couldn’t get past the vocabulary tothe meat of the arugment, it really comes down to what Mr. Collins put in his first piece wasn’t analysis or journalism, it was simply opinion.
    For some actual in-depth journalism on SL, I highly recommend you see Randall Hand’s series at Vizworld:

  20. Steve Cassidy Says:
    January 25th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Diagoras: You need context. There was a US soap opera based on Tombstone which was signally noticeable for weirdly inappropriate rude words, delivered with absolutely no panache at all by British actor Ian McShane – so I guess the blogger felt they were operating in a recognised milieu.

    (other comments) I really would like to see an interview between Rob Schiffreen and Mark Kingdon… it’s a shame nobody has gone on from those numbers to see what the concurrency versus monthly logins numbers tell us. If half a million people log in per month, and the concurrency averages out to say, 60,000 then joining up Rob’s number of 700 per hour, ish, to 60k concurrent users means that each user has to stay on for an average of… 85 hours for the concurrent figure to make sense. I know people “camp” – that is, leave themselves logged in when not actually present at their PCs – but that’s a hell of a lot of camping going on, and would tend to prove Barry’s original point, that the place is EMPTY.

    and to Freered: I think you are making my point for me. He may well be world-famous inside his own head (a sensation I am very familiar with!) but the rest of us haven’t a clue what he’s on about. And the onus isn’t on us to labour long and hard through mountains of trash to find him.

  21. Kyle G Says:
    February 25th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    This article is far more fair to the many great educational projects going on in Second Life that search does not reveal. I agree there is no doubt there are more adult related “green dots” on the map but Scilands, NASA, ISTE, Non Profit Commons & many more are doing work that is paving the future of interactivity on the web.

    One correction to the article is that Microsoft is now on our platform with their own private world.

    We have a different structure forming akin to when individual & small group user level blogs eclipsed large web portals in the early web days as the ongoing place for topic specific information and peers.

    Under our system each entity is their own virtual world & issues like you describe, porn etc, are impossible as you arrive in a destination entirely focused on one subject matter.

    I challenge yet again Mr Kingdon to a debate with me any virtual time any virtual place on the roadmap for virtual worlds.

    MLinden let’s debate in front of an audience inworld? I’m ready when you are sir!

    See you in 3D!

  22. James Says:
    March 9th, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    What about the massive amount of money that was raised for haiti through an all day live concert, purely donated by users during the concert?

  23. bod Says:
    October 4th, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    You have made some interesting and partly true points but one important and very specific point is this:

    Second Life may not hold *your* attention but it certainly does hold the attention of plenty of people.

    I read that “unless you’re into building things or clubbing then what’s the point?”

    I think you answered yourself there.

    There are also people who like role-playing. Personally I can’t get into it without the ability to shoot stuff or hack at zombies or whatever but some people enjoy it. Who am I to say that talking isn’t better than blowing stuff up? But even then, if I try really hard there are plenty of sims where you *can* shoot things and blow stuff up.

    Other people might have asked “what’s the point of IRC chat?” ten years ago, but it was very popular then.

    Right now facebook seems to be the big thing. Personally speaking I’d rather hang out in say, Venice Beach or Barcelona or some other place I *can’t* hang out in in RL and just shoot the breeze with other people.

    If I were to criticize it at all, I think the only thing missing is that it’s not *easy* to do a you vs hordes of zombies or giant killer ants or aliens or whatever type SIM (something like halo or WoW for example) but that could be relatively easily coded in by creating an NPC module on the server that allows server side bots.

    Otherwise secondlife is far more entertaining than the telly.


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