The world the hype built

Cue Clay Shirky. Spiegel‘s cover this week is about Second Life: “The Digital Masked Ball” and the “millions” who meet there. Millions? No, not even a million, worldwide. So consider how many of those are in Germany and this is a cover that covers a damned small trend. Hype is a virus.

  • Hasan Jafri

    LOL. Where’s John Edwards in all this? Per Slashdotten, he just became zee furst kandidat to enter Second LIfe, no?

    Quote from Spiegel:

    ” Und weil ich mich so freute, dass man es jetzt schon am Freitag….”

    “And while this man is frightening, we’ll find everything about him Friday?”

    Das dee truth, or what? Kureekt mine Deutsche, if it be wrong pleeze.

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  • Hype can be one of two things – expectations getting ahead of reality or outright lies. I think we can agree that of the two, Second Life hype is the former. Because the product itself (or at least the promise) holds such a powerful sense of openness and a new type of interaction.

    We all want to project more and more of ourselves online and we do it no matter how web 1.0, 2.0, etc the application – heck, emoticons are just low-res avatars. For some significant percentage of people this is going to head straight towards the types of spaces that Second Life represents. Whether for a small brief period during some phase of your life, all the way through to those who maintain meaningful credible virtual existences which are as satisfying as aspects of real life.

    It’s too easy to look at any new piece on SL and summon the Shirky meme.

    (disclosure: original but ex-Second Life employee)

  • That’s funny: SL’s website is reporting 3.7 million residents as of 2/14/07, of which almost 1.3 million logged in within the last 60 days.

    Sounds like “millions” to me.

    Yes, the total amount of people logged in at any given time tends to hover between 10,000 and 30,000, but considering that you are talking about a global user base in a couple of dozen time zones that isn’t exactly chump change.

    Also factor in the l33t buy-in from such individuals as Cory Doctorow (of BoingBoing fame) and Warren Ellis (who recently fired off a dispatch for Reuters/SecondLife) as well as real-world institutions such as libraries and universities, and you seem to be looking at a legitimate phenomenon, despite the occasional breathless exaggerations here and there.

  • Hype can be one of two things – expectations getting ahead of reality or outright lies. I think we can agree that of the two, Second Life hype is the former. Because the product itself (or at least the promise) holds such a powerful sense of openness and a new type of interaction.

    And what is SecondLife’s promise? That you’ll make money that you can spend in FirstLife.

    It’s not hard to make money in SecondLife. You can earn 10 lindens in 20 minutes by *sitting* somewhere. And at 273 lindens to the US dollar, that’s, uh, almost 10c per hour. You can make a little more by dancing, but you need to either make or buy animations in order to dance.

    GoldRush 101: most of the prospectors went broke, but you could do all right by selling shovels – and Levi Strauss did even better, selling clothes. So you program animations and sell them to people who want to make money dancing.

    Why do they want to make money sitting or dancing? So they can buy things to sell, or buy land to open a place to sell goods and services. Maybe it makes sense to swap US dollars for Lindens, so you can go into business quicker. Maybe it makes more sense to speculate on the land, since there’s always a greater fool that will come along later and give you a profit.

    Overall, though, SecondLife is a zero-sum game. You have people depositing US dollars and talents, and after Linden takes its cut, people withdrawing US dollars. If there were a lot of entertainment value to SecondLife, then there’d be people happy to exchange their US dollars for the entertainment. That’s how Vegas thrives – a few people come, leave with a lot of money, and that encourages the many who come. The many people come, get some clothes to bring home, see some shows, maybe get laid, lose a few hundred bucks, and comes home exhausted and happy.

    But with SecondLife, you can’t bring home the clothes I buy and the shows aren’t nearly as good as free TV. What’s the reward for the average user?

    It’s not just the avatars that are eunuchs. It’s the game. Ten percent of those who try it figure that they’re smarter than average, and they can make money. The other ninety percent are the smarter ones: they stay away in droves.

    SecondLife is promising in the same way that Conway’s Life was promising: it promised that someday, there’d be a Railroad Tycoon. Thank you, Mr. Conway.

  • Funny, I always felt that way about the hype about Howard Stern. So he has the largest share of people listening to radio in the largest market. It’s still only a percent or two of the population.

  • Paul,

    The problem with your analysis is that it assumes that Second Life is used either as a money-making opportunity or as entertainment, whereas an ever increasing portion of SLers are using it for social networking purposes. If as a library professional I make contacts on Second Life that are useful to me in Real Life, how does that square with the “zero sum” formulation you have postulated? Whereas it may have cost me upwards of $1-2k to attend a librarians’ conference in the real world, I can attend an event in SL for free and derive many of the same benefits.

    Granted, this is as true of Second Life as it is of Facebook, MySpace, Google Groups, or what have you, but the point is that it’s happening on many different platforms all at once. SL may get the sexier write-ups thanks to the fact that everyone there tends to look like they just popped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog (thus making for good “photo” spreads), but just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean it still isn’t a useful tool in the wonderful world of Web 2.0.

  • The number of people with an opinion about something with which they obviously have little worthwhile experience and even less imagination to interpret never ceases to amaze me. Long before Shirky came along I and others had been critical of the numbers being reported… only we knew enough to get past the Second Life site’s homepage. Shirky, too busy slapping the wrists of reporters who failed to do their research – and rightfully so – also failed to do his research. Apparently he decided to provide further examples of how *not* to get the story straight because not only did he miss the numbers that were provided, he barely had any firsthand experience using Second Life with which to temper his comments in order to provide anything approaching worthwhile insight.

    He goes on to give us reasons for why the media gets it wrong – reasons which are themselves questionable – but few people jumping on the anti-hype bandwagon seem to be willing to challenge him (apparently he’s the anti-Doctorow or something and thus gets credit for that). Has it occurred to those people that there is a place somewhere between black and white? That neither Doctorow nor Shirky are as smart as everyone claims? Or maybe it’s just easier to not think for themselves, because while most of those same people cite the apparent lack of purpose to an application like Second Life, they don’t think twice about people sitting for hours on end in front of a 2D display with which they can only passively interact. They don’t question the worth of the videogame industry. The movie industry. The {insert wasteful luxury enjoyed by people in developed countries here} industry. Nope. Let’s just focus on something we don’t understand and ridicule it.

    Back in the early 80’s people who thought personal computers were stupid said many of the same things and behaved in much the same fashion. Things don’t seem to ever change. Is it any wonder so many people practice the refrain “If I’d only known…”? Not to me.

  • Meanwhile, millions continue to spend real money on fake things, that is, in the form of video game titles at 60 bucks a pop. Oh wait, that’s different. /sarcasm.

    It’s embarrassing that people like Clay and others who are SO about blogging and such have completely missed the point.

    Start a blog post, call it “Exploding Video Gaming” and then look back on all the other posts that start with “Exploding ______”

    Are the dots connecting yet? Or are people really pissed off that old media showed up sooner rather than later? *Reuters* beat y’all to it, and so did DELL and AOL and well, line ’em up.

    (Hey don’t worry, Jeff, I’m thinkin not many people give a rip about what Dell’s doing in SL. heh, but they might not know cuz they only skim blogs. Funny.)

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