- by guest blogger Michele Bowman
For someone who doesn’t have an ax to grind, Clay Shirky sounds an awful lot like someone whose avatar got his ass kicked on the virtual Second Life playground. I've read his analysis of the hype surrounding the synthetic world, and I agree with him that the media has been using the number of Second Life’s "residents" to spin (to make up) the “metaverse has gone mainstream” story and that Linden Labs' attitude hasn’t helped (or rather, has helped). But the last time I checked, it’s not a company’s job to debunk the success of its product.
The fact is, Second Life is not mainstream, nor, at this point, it is supposed to be. Despite MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach and other’s attempts SL isn’t exactly a cool-kid hangout. It’s a playground for early adopters, as comments such as the following attest to: “Second Life is hugely overhyped and I hate many things in Second Life but the most the fact that there is no control over individual pixels so you can't program for example a drawing board or tablet inside of the Second Life!”. (For a more graphic example of the sheer geekiness that is Second Life, check out Robbie Dingo’s amazing animation of Suzanne Vega’s guitar). Sure, there are disappointed users and Gartner says that SL is "nearing the peak of hype" - after which comes the "trough of disillusionment". From my futurist’s point of view, however, it’s exactly the geek factor that makes SL so interesting - the future is found in the fringe, not the mainstream.
Reporters need to wake up and smell the real stories. Of the myriad of tales to be told about SL (the emerging role of cyberlaw, the use of virtual spaces to revolutionize costly business processes, how identity is being socially and psychologically renegotiated) the number of residents/users/consumers/logins has to be the least interesting. What happens there is what's interesting. Does Second Life represent the future of the metaverse? Probably not; it’s more likely the prequel. Instead of counting heads, though, Shirky (and his avatar) should have a virtual beer, kick back, and enjoy the show.