is reporting the Reuters Second Life bureau has closed, and adds about the embedded reporter there:
Reports of a marketing evac team swooping in a virtual huey to snatch Eric Reuters from the firm’s Sadville bureau – while harried by squadrons of flying penises and pursued by crazed locals bent on acts of bestial sexual brutality – could not be confirmed.
So what happened? Is Second Life dying? No, but the buzz is gone. For all the sound and fury over recent price hikes and layoffs at Linden Lab, Second Life has a community of fanatically loyal users. Since Linden Lab derives its revenue from user fees, not advertisements, Second Life is much more likely to survive the Web 2.0 shakeout than most other startups.
It’s hard to say what, if anything, Linden Lab can do to make Second Life appeal to a general audience. The very things that most appeal to Second Life’s hardcore enthusiasts are either boring or creepy for most people: Spending hundreds of hours of effort to make insignificant amounts of money selling virtual clothes, experimenting with changing your gender or species, getting into random conversations with strangers from around the world, or having pseudo-nonymous sex (and let’s not kid ourselves, sex is a huge draw into Second Life). As part of walking my “beat,” I’d get invited by sources to virtual nightclubs, where I’d right-click the dancefloor to send my avatar gyrating as I sat at home at my computer. It was about as fun as watching paint dry.
But here’s how Linden Lab can make Second Life more fun and a better business:
- Build good newbie-oriented content. Linden has always taken the position they’re in the 3D platform business, and can’t be expected to build anything with their own tools or even know what others are doing in Second Life. That argument didn’t fly when the gambling scandal broke and it doesn’t work now. Second Life has a monster learning curve, and Linden Lab needs to hold new users’ hands through every step of their first five or six hours. A big content push isn’t even that expensive: the company has proven it can pay Second Lifers $10/hr to do these things and have skilled content creators begging for the job.
- Acknowledge that Second Life’s reputation is now a liability. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it does mean Second Life can’t sit back and hope word-of-mouth brings in hordes of new users like it did back in 2006. Second Life needs to advertise, and the ads need to be hip. New CEO Mark Kingdon has an ad background and should have the right résumé to pull off a makeover.
- Radically simplify the user interface. The Second Life UI is a mess, and there’s been no major changes to it in Second Life’s 5+ years. Making the Second Life experience easy-to-use, even graceful, isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a business imperative.
- Abandon the idea that Second Life is a business app. I wasn’t in Second Life to play, I was there on assignment for Reuters. The login server would crash. I’d try to reach sources, but Second Life’s IM window would hang on “waiting” all day when trying to figure out who was online. “Teleports” — the ability to move from point to point anywhere in Second Life — would stop working and I’d get locked out of my own office. These weren’t one-offs, they were my daily, first-hand, happens-all-the-time experiences. For all its bugs, Second Life is tolerable as a playground, but enterprise users will never and should never use it for business. Re-focus on the core mission: Keeping the hobbyists happy and converting potential recruits into hardcore (read: fees-paying) users.
None of these things will make Second Life palatable to the general public, but it will draw new traffic and keep a lot more potential users with the right temperment for Second Life from quitting in frustration on their first day. That might be enough for the next year or two.
There’s an incredible depth, passion, and camaraderie to the Second Life community that more popular online experiences like MySpace or World of Warcraft can’t match. And while I didn’t find it compelling, there really is something awesome about buying be able to “buy” a grid of blank 3D space, mould it like clay into an elven forest, a futuristic space station, or a bdsm dungeon, and then invite your friends to hang out.
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