Morgan Clendaniel has a new article in Good Magazine on Second Life, arguing that, as the highly-lauded next wave of the internet, the virtual world is a disappointment, going virtually (ha!) unused; except, of course, for the naughty areas. Also, Second Life aficionados are depressed (and depressing) losers.
I believe the first point is the most valid and interesting. Clendaniel points out the site’s relatively few users.
Since it launched, Second Life has been hailed as a glimpse of how we will someday interact, shop, and even live. With email and online shopping now commonplace, virtual worlds are the new cutting edge of online business and buzz. “In many ways, Second Life is the next step of the internet,” says Jeska Dzwigalski, a community manager with Linden. “[In the future], having a virtual presence will be as ubiquitous as mobile phones or email addresses or a web page is today. It’s the evolution of the internet.” Right now there are almost 9 million accounts, but at even at peak times (4 p.m. Eastern—presumably, the most avid users don’t have jobs) there are only 40,000 users logged on. That means the future of the internet is only grabbing enough people to fill a baseball stadium. While that number has been slowly growing, think about this: If just a little under 1 million users have logged in during the last 30 days, that means there are 8 million others who tried Second Life and haven’t felt any need to come back.
While Clendaniel makes some good points about the site’s usage—40,000 visitors isn’t quite up to Facebook’s or Wikipedia’s numbers—the overall tone of the article seems reactionary. For instance, consider this paragraph on the ways that Second Life inhibits social relationships:
The paradox of a virtual world is that it adds human interaction to the online experience, while at the same time making sure you never have to actually interact with anyone. Now, instead of merely buying a book on a website, you can browse a virtual bookstore along side other virtual patrons, without ever leaving your home. This logic—that you’d want to give up both the speed of online shopping and the social experience of actually shopping, that you’d want to spend time in a bookstore but not actually go to one—is depressing, to say the least. From there, it’s a small step to buying only virtual clothes for your virtual self while you sit at home in your underwear (which some people no doubt already do). The only thing you can’t get here is real-life sustenance, but with enough restaurants that deliver, you could conceivably never log out. What a future it could be.
I’m not quite sure how browsing a virtual bookstore at home in your underwear is any more depressing that browsing Amazon.com at home in your underwear. Additionally, Clendaniel doesn’t seem to understand the appeal of the site to its users. After asking one user why she doesn’t meet people in the real world, he snarks off her response (“Have you ever been to Oklahoma?”) as in-group snobbery.
The article’s biggest weakness, however, is that it is entirely based on Clendaniel’s own experience as a (new) user of Second Life. It’s hardly a scientific sample, and it makes his criticisms come off as uninformed.