Is it the End of Second Life?

So we’ve heard about the death of email, the demise of the book and finish of face-to-face contact, is the end of Second Life (reported in the BBC online magazine) worth getting worked up about? Or is it just in having some down-time in Gartner’s Hype Cycle?

For those who have missed the whole phenomenon Second Life is a virtual world, “a free 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create using free voice and text chat“, launched back in 2003. In the past virtual worlds have existed (primarily in the gaming arena) but had not really been engaged with by the masses. Second Life is accessible via the Internet and for a short period of time there seemed to be no boundaries to its potential. It offered opportunities to the commercial sector and the public sector alike. The three-dimensional modelling tool available meant that those with basic programming skills could build simple geometric shapes and virtual objects, almost anything could be created, virtually. Second Life was somewhere to interact with others, hold events, have virtual meetings, create learning environments, build properties and have a presence. For a while we were all encouraged to get on to Second Life.

As Lauren Hansen, BBC News Magazine, explains

Newspapers fell over themselves to cover it, devoting many column inches in their business, technology and lifestyle sections to profiles and trend pieces. By the end of 2007 Second Life had secured more than 600 mentions in UK newspapers and magazines, according to the media database Lexis Nexis.

In 2007 over four million users had registered. However interest fell just as quickly as it soared, “references plummeted by 40% in 2008 and dropped further this year” and many businesses “diverted their resources back to real life.

Me and Second Life

My own experience of Second Life has been fairly limited. I first took a look back in late 2006 egged on by colleague Andy Powell. Andy, who now works for Eduserv, was about as enthusiastic a user as you can get (though he may deny this). At one stage Andy regularly ran virtual events and symposiums in Second Life and Eduserv gave out grant funding for studies and small pieces of work including the ” snapshot” of UK HE and FE developments in SL study. A search on the second_life tag on the eFoundations blog will give a quick insight into the work carried out.

Unfortunately my own experiences were similar to many other noobs: it seemed interesting and looked great, but it took an age to load and after a few attempts I still hadn’t really got the hang of it, so real life and real work got in the way. I’ve got a new PC since the last time I accessed Second Life and the idea of downloading the software fills me with dread so I can’t even show you what my avatar (Pixel Wildcat!) looks like.

Why isn’t it working?

Recent reports seem to suggest that Second Life has suffered a recession just like the rest of us. However the likelihood is that their recession would have happened with or without the antics of our real world banks.

The key problems seem to be:

  • The media attention fell on the ‘first-to-do-things’, attention dwindles if you are the 20th so there is little point in making the investment.
  • Much of the world’s broadband cannot handle the graphics so speed is a real issue.
  • The technology is always improving so users can find themselves constantly having to update their system.
  • Second Life hasn’t met expectations as a social networking site, maybe people prefer to be themselves when it comes down to it?
  • The learning curve is too steep for many, it’s not particularly intuative and only the hard-core gamers have stuck with it.
  • Second Life works in real time so users have to be logged in at the same time. UK users often find that the streets are empty because the US users are all in bed.
  • It has yet to provide a usable mobile presence and this is where the future lies.

The comments on the BBC article are interesting because Second Life continues to divide opinion. Many see it as the ‘ultimate sandbox’ with lots of great uses but others just haven’t got the time or the energy to spend on it.

For us remote workers it doesn’t look like we’ll be throwing away our web cams, creating our own avatars and heading off into Linden Land for our virtual meetings just yet.

What do people think?