It's the job of bloggers, planners, designers, and cultural creatives of every kind to have a look and take a guess. What is wheat and what is chaff? What will endure and what will pass?
I'm on record as saying that Second Life was not worthy of the hype. I did my due diligence. I wandered the pricey real estate, and came to the conclusion that Second Life was "vapor ville."
MIT colleagues like Beth Coleman and Ilya Vedrashko begged to differ. They could see something here that would endure. Well, we have data in hand. They were right and I was wrong.
Here's what Chris O'Brien of the San Jose Mercury News said recently:
So how are things going? Since Second Life launched in 2003, users have spent a total of 1 billion hours "in-world." User hours grew 33 percent year over year to an all-time high of 126 million in the second quarter of 2009. The average Second Life resident spends 100 minutes in-world per visit. The in-world economy grew 94 percent year over year from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. So, pretty darn good. Back in the real world, Linden Lab has seen revenues continue to climb and is now profitable, Kingdon says. The company doesn't disclose revenues, but one analyst has estimated they will be about $100 million in 2009.
Yes, these numbers come from Linden Lab and, yes, they may be unreliable. But I think it was Clay Shirky a couple of years ago who objected to Linden Lab numbers, and I am certain they don't want to go through that again. These numbers are likely sound.
Two facts jump out. 1) that visitors are spending 100 minutes in-world. This is an absolute stunner. This metric suggests residency, not tourism. 2) Linden is profitable. Profitable? Profitability is so rare in this world, as O'Brien points out, it counts almost as an eccentricity.
Clearly it's time to examine my assumptions and look again. What is it that is keeping people in place for 100 minutes? When I wandered around Second Life a couple of years ago, I stumbled into many worlds: Alice in Wonderland gardens, clothing stores, S&M parlors, people struggling to sustain intelligent conversation, unconvincing dance clubs. Which of these has flourished? Perhaps all of them have and Second Life has added up many little worlds into a going proposition.
One of the key indicator must be the economy that grows so relentlessly. What are people buying and selling? What value is being created and exchanged? This might be a place to start. Anyone who has been to Second Life lately is encouraged to give us the benefit of their experience. Sing out.
O'Brien, Chris. 2009. Twitter, meet Second Life. Mercury News. October 10. here.