Second Life now wants to host your company’s trade shows and employee meetings. In what appears to be yet another desperation move by another early Web 2.0 startup, the Second Life virtual reality world is reaching once again. This time the target is again business, but this time the Linden Labs creation is trying to create a niche for itself in the teleconferencing venue. With something over 1 million visitors a month, the “hot spot” of next generation technologies appears to be breathing its last gasps to this beta tester. Regardless how much we admire the creative genius behind technology, the practical application of it will always be the core constituent of success.
Back in 2006 I was beta testing just about everything that came onto the Web 2.0 scene. One of the most interesting startups back then was a virtual reality world known as Second Life. The excitement of new innovation on the Web at that time promised to transport us all to new frontiers of communication both in business and on a personal level. Second Life, like so many others since, simply has not “cut it” with regard to re-creating the ways in which we utilize the Web. Sure it was and is innovative, but the reality of people interacting is sadly not much further along now than it was 3 or 4 years ago. The long and short of “reality” for Linden and its brain child Second Life can be summed up rather easily in my opinion. When it comes to money, the spending of in either direction (investing or consuming) that is, business is just not child’s play these days. For all it’s cuteness and spectacular interaction, Second Life is still pretty much what it was in 2006, a waste of time except as a testing ground for business ideas perhaps.
Bandwidth, UI, Navigation Graphics, Bugs and the Lot
Without doing still another test of Second Life, I thought it would be at least a little more fair to revisit the platform before hammering the virtual world to pieces. To my amazement, on the positive side that is, in 3 years the Linden people seem to improved just about every aspect of user experience at the front of the development. The initial experience at Second Life now is at least 10 times more appealing as when I wrote about the experience back when. Second Life users can expect a virtually unlimited flexibility in not only creating their characters, visiting highly interesting places within the world, and communicating, but a rather vast array of interactions that make SL far more appealing now. That was the good news, now for the bad.
Being able to interact with other users is at the heart of what SL excels at. However, going places within the world is pretty much a “core” aspect of anyone’s reason for being there in the first place. Without getting too technical, perhaps my most recent experience will shed some light on why even these two elements cast a huge shadow on Second Life ever becoming a viable platform for anyone but Sims enthusiasts.
First, most of the people inhabiting this world, were and are people with what you might call a “gamers” mentality. What does that mean? Well, for one thing Second Life (or any place like it) will tend to be a rather hostile environment. Simply put, you get flamed in places like SL about 50 times faster than in real life. I won’t go into the specifics, but it took about 1 minute for some idiot to approach my avatar and get really nasty (I was not disguised as a bimbo either). If the reader has had their fill of shopping malls and the cretins who inhabit those pricey halls, then Second Life will probably appear as a shopping mall version of hell.
Secondly, in highly technical environments like Second Life there will always be technical issues. The easiest way to put this is to remind the reader of the KISS principla, which applies particularly to engineering. “Keep it simple stupid” is simply not something a virtual world navigated and interacted upon via a person’s PC (and controls) is ready to adhere to. The learning curve for non technical users at Second Life will certainly still be drastic, and the types and numbers of operations daunting. The really bad part for Second Life on my visit was the fact that teleporting within the platform would not work. So, trapped on a small Island, with my nemesis “World of WarCraft Will” (the idiot with the impractical jokes), pretty much cut my visit short. I can only imagine 20 dark suits heading for a conference center at Second Life being assailed by such creatures.
Last Chance for a Second Life
I honestly gone from being technological innovation’s biggest supporter to being one of the industry segments gravest skeptics. The reasons for this are long and details, but basically people using the Internet have been sold a bill of goods as far as I am concerned. Businesses like Linden and so many others have put all their eggs in one basket hoping against hope that their ship would come in simply because of their ability to attract users. This same Internet business dogma is prevalent in every startup from Facebook, to Twitter, around to Digg and far and beyond. Not one company I know of has managed to grasp the simple concept that traditional advertising (no matter how it is packaged) will simply not support costly IT solutions. “The cloud” as it is so fondly called, is in point of fact not nearly as cheap to operate as it was billed to be. The costs are not the problem though, the revenue is the issue. Aside retail activities which have their own built in practicality, not many companies are making money at all online.
Second Life is reaching pretty far to entice large businesses to utilize their product. Billing Second Life as an alternative to “real world” meetings and conferences may sound plausible, but for anyone who has spent an hour just trying to get a WebX or Skype conference set up correctly, well, Second Life is a nightmare for new users. A news flash for Linden and other startup geniuses would read something like this; “Attention innovators, people want to use the Internet to make their lives simpler, not more complicated!” Please don’t get me wrong, Second Life could be a superb platform for meetings like this at some point. The idea behind Second Life was and is astoundingly visionary with regard to one simple conceptual fact – sooner of later people will use such worlds engagingly. For Second Life, I guess the big question is; “How much money and how long are their investors willing to wait for the future to appear?” Is conferencing and big business salvation for Second Life? I do not think so unless they have something I am not privy to.
Edelman PR has done award winning work for Second Life.