Credible reporting on Second Life from Newsweek

Newsweek30jul07The July 30 edition of Newsweek magazine has a pretty good series of features about Second Life.

Unlike an impression I get from reading some other mainstream media reporting on Second Life recently, it’s clear that reporter Jessica Bennett has spent a bit of time in the virtual world and so is able to report on it with some credibility.

The main feature presents a balanced overview of what Second Life is to many people, what you can do there and why you might want to.

I liked the 10 things you must know about Second Life as they begin with one I use a lot with some people: Second Life is not a game.

Finally – a mainstream media reporter who thinks Second Life is not a game! Progress is being made!

The series includes a Q&A with Second Life creator Phillip Rosedale plus an interesting companion feature on virtual world development in China.

Best of all, though, is a great video presented by Bennett which concentrates on a particular aspect of life in Second Life. Second Life Insider has a concise but good review of this video.

Well thought through and well presented. All of it.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. csven

    I wouldn’t say “All of it”. I’d have preferred that #4, the open source comment item, been better explained. For one thing, it conflicts with #3’s “Second Life is owned by Linden Lab”. For another it’s inaccurate – the Second Life client is open sourced; not the whole thing. And I’ll overlook the Duran Duran bit.

    Better than most, I’ll grant you. However, it’s unfortunate that there is even a “better” when it comes to reporting easily researched facts.

  2. Amanda Chapel

    “A mainstream media reporter”

    I count 36 mainstream media that think global warming is a scam, 10 who believe 911 was a hoax, and 7 who think Elvis isn’t dead.

    SL not a game? You need to review the definition of “game” (see ). At best, it rises to “joke.”

    – Amanda

  3. Shel Holtz

    Amanda, wasn’t that you I was sitting next to at CaseCamp Second Life, with four marketing presentations? I seem to recall some pretty classy shoes you were wearing.

  4. Jeremy Jacobs

    I have enough trouble with my first life let alone “Second Life”. AFAIAC, it’s just a fad that’ll pass in a few months. Takes up too much computer power and time.


  5. Alex Manchester

    Enjoyed the article Neville, but it loses some credibility for using the number of overall “SL members” as a standout figure. We know the vast majority join up, have a go and never go back. There was recently another Dutch study on businesses in Second Life that was also amazingly positive. I blogged about it, questioning the results, and a reader debunked them as completely meaningless. A lot of the stats on SL and others are simply misleading or require a lot more investigation.

    No doubt there’s tremendous potential in 3-D web applications, but at the moment the set-up and usability factors are major barriers for most, not to mention peoples’ gut reaction being “I haven’t got time for a first life”. It seems similar to how difficult developing a website of any value used to be for non-techy people – whereas now you can set up a blog site in minutes. When something similar to SL comes along that’s that easy for most to set up and use – and doesn’t have a name that completely distracts from the underlining concept – then that Gartner figure quoted will seem more feasible.

    @ Amanda, not sure the overall number of MSM that you’re drawing those figures from, but let’s say for perspective that it’s 100 [people], I think you’d have fairly indicative percentage stats for the general population… ;-)

  6. neville

    That’s the trouble with such reporting, Alex – everyone focuses on the numbers. Read most media (and blogosphere) commentary about Second Life and you’ll see different numbers everywhere with different opinions on what they mean.

    Unless numbers look wildy out of kilter compared to Linden Lab’s figures, that’s not the aspect of any report I pay attention to.

    No, Amanda, Second Life is not a game.

    Jeremy, it’s clearly not for you!

  7. Mark Forman

    Well I’m not going to jump in the SL metrics and the search for the Holy Grail debate, but I will say I though Newsweek article one of the more well-balanced(read objective) ones I’ve read. SL is no more of a game than Skype, the only difference being that Skype games are pre-programmed and SL game playing is created by one or more members, hence vastly more interesting. Both platforms are effective for communication, but SL offers greater virtuality due to the 3D graphic interface.

    I will say that SL is a great platform for social interaction between friends and colleagues, particularly now that voice chat i available(in beta). We just had a great vent there of a mixed reality nature. It was truly a wonderful thing with attendees from US, Japan, and Taiwan all enjoying some art and inspired conversation.

  8. Prokofy Neva

    Neville, I agree that the Newsweek article was better than most, and being Newsweek, that’s important! Very important! Especially when you consider that Time did a lousy coverage of it even when they made Philip Rosedale one of their 100 most influential people, by having their reporter do the utterly predictable bit about the wang-in-the-Welcome-Area. Been there, done that, boring! Then later, they said it was among the “worst” websites, though it’s not a “website” but a downloaded virtual world you have to enter. Seriously, people need to grapple with Second Life at a far more sophisticated level.

    I’m going to leave aside the other comments here, which I disagree with — i.e. it’s silly to cavil and nitpick about open source when they *have* open-sourced the client, and constantly express intentions to open source the whole thing.

    And I’m going to focus on one utterly chilling thing that Newsweek got out of Philip Rosedale, that no other news media got from him, with the possible exception of Rolling Stone, which uncovered some of the really troubling God-mode stuff and code-as-law rant that he gives out.

    And that’s what Newsweek had him say about governance:

    How do you deal with policing or censorship in Second Life?
    Linden Lab’s goal in Second Life is neither to be a “government” nor to foist one upon the residents. We believe that each individual within Second Life should have as much personal control over their experience as possible. If a Second Life resident or group of residents wishes to govern Second Life directly, they’ll have to earn their mandate from the residents themselves, not Linden Lab. The sheer volume of in-world activity prevents Linden Lab from being able to police all in-world activities, nor was it ever our intention to do so. Rather, we are actively working with the community to foster a self-governing community, where residents are empowered to act on things they feel strongly about, and adjudicate such disputes.

    Lord of the Flies, on crack.

  9. Amanda Chapel

    “SL is no more of a game than Skype, the only difference being that Skype games are pre-programmed and SL game playing is created by one or more members, hence vastly more interesting. Both platforms are effective for communication, but SL offers greater virtuality due to the 3D graphic interface.”

    HELLO! What you’re looking at in SL adds zero relevant information as to who you are talking to. It’s make believe! Ninety-eight percent of SL is entertainment… and fairly immature entertainment to boot.

    – Amanda

    PS Neville, there’s a great New Yorker cartoon where you’ve got two colleagues sitting at a conference room table. the women turns to the man and says, “let’s face it Gerry, you’re still in love with your proposal.”

    I send it to you.

  10. neville

    Mark, I don’t think that comparison with Skype is a good one. Wouldn’t a comparison with, say, World of Warcraft (ie, a multi-player network game) be a better one for the point you’re making?

    And please note: Second Life isn’t a game!

    Prokofy, I wondered, too, about that specific Q&A with Rosedale. Not yet seen any pick-up on those points.

    Received the cartoon, Amanda, thanks. I don’t get it, though :)

  11. Amanda Chapel

    Sadly, your admission only underscores my worse fear.

    The point is that you are blindly infatuated with SL. You have a lot personally invested; and your subsequent judgment is totally clouded by subjective nonsense.

    Denying it’s a game is only symptomatic. Face it Neville: you love her and cannot see her in anything but flattering terms.

    It’s cute… but not really professional. I think it would be more prudent if you humped it privately.

    – Amanda

  12. Shel Holtz

    Jeremy, I heard EXACTLY the same protests in 1996 about the World Wide Web. You had to download and install a browser and it took time away from pre-Web activities. The fact is, the Web will evolve into a mostly 3D experience (probably not SL, but something very much like it) within 5-10 years, so investing time in SL to figure it out now is a worthwhile investment.

    For me, the value of SL is in pulling several people together in one place (meetings, training, etc.) in a manner that is far, far more effective than cumbersome, expensive videoconferences. (I scoffed at the idea until I actually attended a few meetings in SL.) It’s also going to be an ideal venue for product testing (without having to actually create the product) and other customer-company interactions. Imagine looking at a kitchen that appears much the same as your own, then viewing multiple floor patterns to see how they’d look.

    It’s being used to teach triage to medical emergency technicians (less expensive to organize than getting 500 real people to pretend to the victims of a disaster), to teach medical students to identify conditions associated with distinct sounds of heartbeats, and to give people a taste of what it’s like to fly in one of those planes that flies into the eye of a hurricane. The potential is huge and the surface has barely been scratched, but technologies like this do not emerge fully-baked. I’m always amused by naysayers early in the development of something like this and wonder if they’ll ever acknowledge their blunders in five or 10 years when the technology is pervasive and the benefits are obvious to everybody (again, the Web is the great parallel).

    As for this being a game, Amanda suggested looking up a definition, so I did: “a contest with rules to determine a winner.” Say what you like about Second Life, in no way does it satisfy the definition of a game.

  13. Amanda Chapel

    Very selective Shel. Like a PR pro.

    However, a game is also defined as: “1. An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime: party games; word games.”

    Of course, there’s the relevant definitions that brings it closer to PR:

    1. A business or occupation; a line: the PR game.
    2. An illegal activity; a racket.
    3. Evasive, trifling, or manipulative behavior: wanted a straight answer, not more of their tiresome games.

  14. neville

    No doubt this point about whether SL is a game or not can quickly develop into a cul-de-sac sideshow.

    Amanda, your first definition is actually quite good. It’s broadly borne out by the lengthy definition at Wikipedia.

    But the crappy one trying to link it to PR? Even knowing your penchant for satire, give me a break, please!

    Much reporting I see in which SL is referred to as a game is usually using such a descriptor in the sense of how most people think of a game – a contest with rules to determine a winner, as Shel noted.

    N/A for SL.

  15. Shel Holtz

    Words-as-metaphors. So a “circus” can be “defined” as a media activity, as in “media circus,” but it has no relevance when discussing that three-ringed activity with trapeze artists and elephants and lion tamers.

    When people misconstrue SL as a game, the comparison is to other video games, ranging from Doom to Worlds of Warcraft, in which case it IS a contest with rules to determine a winner. Even one-player video games are based on achieving the outcome established by the game designer. Thus, this definition is the one that is relevant. Obfuscation of that fact does not further the argument against SL.

    But that’s just my opinion, of course.

  16. Alex Manchester

    Amanda, what exactly is your issue with Second Life? Are you roundly dismissing the idea of it? Do you not see any use in it whatsoever? Do you think those companies who are investing a lot in it for corporate use or otherwise, are wrong? Or do you just not like it? It’s difficult to see what point you’re trying to make.

    I don’t agree that it’s a game. Certainly what many businesses are using it for – meetings, widespread presentations, training etc – cannot be constituted as a game.

    Of course people use it for what they want, though, so spending time in there messing around… but that’s less a game than it is a leisure activity, past time or hobby? Is that necessarily a “game”?

    “An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime”. That could be anything, from reading to going to see a film, shopping, discussing music, having a coffee/beer with friends. All can “provide entertainment or pastime”?

  17. Amanda Chapel


    Do you know that difference between trivial pastime and business? Do you know when you are working and when you are playing? Do you know what’s billable and what’s not?

    As far as businesses using it, sure… and some businesses are using porn junkets to Thailand. That does NOT make it a good or grounded business decision.

    Can one make a case… sure. I can make a case for dirt. But please, can we stop with the hype? Please?

    – Amanda

  18. Mark Forman

    @neville-afraid you misconstrued my analogy. I agree wholeheartedly SL is not a game nor is skype. I guess my poor Queens English(NYC not Elizabeth) wasn’t clear enough.:)

    @amanda-now your naivete in business shows. I live in Asia and have for almost 20 years and hooking someone up with “live entertainment” very common business practice, often providing lucrative returns for the connector, from what I’ve heard.

  19. Alex Manchester

    Yes Amanda, I’m well aware of the difference thanks, and if that’s your argument then I think it’s pretty weak.

    The hype around Second Life can be irritating and a lot of it comes from the figures and stats surrounding it, which as stated previously are usually meaningless or misleading. When you look into them further they boil down to a marginal percentage of web users involved (with Second Life specifically).

    But as said, for me there’s no doubting the concept and the potential that underlines the software. If you can’t see that then that’s your own issue. There are clearly organizations who have made valid cases for developing their capabilities and knowledge of virtual worlds – not necessarily and forever Second Life. They are in it for the long haul and once they’ve done a lot of the hard work and development over the coming years, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will see lots of elements and underpinnings of virtual worlds appearing on the web in less specific and obvious ways.

    Quite the opposite from Neville being “blindly infatuated”, I think it’s you who can’t seem to see any sort of bigger, longer-term picture with this, and thus it’s you who has the blinkers firmly placed.

  20. neville

    Must be NYC, Mark. Sorry about that :)

    Good point re being there for the long haul, Alex. That’s what companies like IBM and Dell seem to be doing. Newer entrants like Crowne Plaza hotels as well. Plus a variety of universities and other non-commercial enterprises.

    I’m sure some of the companies who have recently ceased their Second Life activities (such as some of those referenced in the recent LA Times story) would have done so after evaluating what they’ve got out of their SL experiment and measured that against the goals they set going in.

    How else can they really know?

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