The Second Life hype cycle

Second LifeIt seems that you can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper these days without seeing lengthy articles that focus on the negative side of Second Life.

The latest comes from Time magazine in a feature last week.

Reality is catching up with Second Life, says the magazine in its article entitled Second Life’s Real-World Problems.

Like others before it, this article talks about companies who have departed the virtual world for one reason or another, usually referencing disappointment with objectives not realized, ROI not met, etc.

What caught my attention in particular in Time’s article is a perceptive quote from IT industry analysts Gartner Group:

[…] Says Gartner research chief Steve Prentice: “Second Life is moving into a phase of disillusionment.”

I think he’s absolutely right. I’m actually feeling that a bit myself – like some magic is disappearing from my own experiences in Second Life.

But none of this is the doom and gloom scenario you might think, and which quite a few mainstream media folk (and some others) do think.

Look at it in the context of Gartner’s own hype cycle, their annual analysis/projection of the realities of where certain technologies are in relation to their adoption.

If we consider Second Life in that context, I think we’d see it on the slippery downward slope towards that phase (the trough) that Prentice speaks of.

About where the orange arrow is pointing, in fact:

Second Life hype cycle

What’s important for Second Life and everyone using it is how quickly it emerges from that trough of disillusionment and out into the slope of enlightenment.

What will help the acceleration are the kinds of activities being conducted by many of the companies Time mentions, before they threw in their towels.

If everyone did that, then Second Life will skid to a halt in that trough.

Linden Lab is the other important element in this picture. As the developer of the Second Life environment, their role is absolutely crucial for the future well-being of that environment and all in it.

But overall, I think it’s down to the companies and individuals who are active in Second Life. They hold the key to what happens to it.

Leaders like IBM, Dell and General Motors (to name but a few) are the ones who persist, listen, learn and look for a long-term return.

Still, it’s understandable that the media in particular are talking about perceived negatives. And when you read a story like this one in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, on the toll one man’s virtual marriage is taking on his real one, you do begin to wonder a bit.

But let’s hang in there. I think it’s worth it in the long term.

Now go and read Newsweek’s take on Second Life.

(Thanks to Tom Murphy for the clean hype cycle graph from which I made the simple one you see here.)

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. Chip Griffin

    I have become one of the naysayers myself (see my recent post, “Throwing in the Towel on Second Life”). I am just having a hard time seeing how SL becomes anything more than a game and actually contributes to the user experience. I was slow to adopt Twitter, but I now find value in that. Time has done the opposite for me with regard to SL. Perhaps I am just stuck in that trough of disillusionment and I will see the light one day, but I remain skeptical.

  2. Jonathan Trenn

    I’ve been trying to find this out…

    If Second Life is a virtual world in which people do things they may do in the real world (like that odd story of those avatars marrying),then why aren’t companies establishing presences to provide basic services, especially since there is that concept of SL money? May seem silly but the avatars need clothes for the wedding or things for their new home they got. Cool furniture and all that.

    Are companies trying to find out what avatars need in order to enjoy their lives on SL?

  3. neville

    I read your post, Chip. And I think you made the right decision for you for the reasons you stated.

    I’ve been doing a bit of thinking myself about Second Life during the past few weeks. I’m not spending as much time there as I used to. And the time I do spend, I find it’s not as fulfilling as it used to be.

    It is the phase of disillusionment, I think. Which is why I also think this may well be the most interesting time in SL’s present evolution path. I don’t mean what Linden Lab are doing in development but what people are doing (or not) with their time in SL.

    However, I do believe that now is also the time to stay the course, be part of the ideas, discussions and events that will shape where SL goes next.

    I hope you don’t remain skeptical. But if you do, great, as skepticism keeps people like me reminded to stay sharp :)

    Those are good questions, Jonathan. Re basic services, there are scores of companies (and individuals) doing exactly that in SL. It has a vibrant economy. Maybe not as strong as some people would like, but it reflects the real world – just look at what’s been happening in the real financial markets globally during the past week, for instance.

    Take a look here to see what lots of companies are doing in SL –

  4. Nobody Fugazi

    I don’t know which is worse – the hype cycle (really the halo effect and devil effects) or the fact that someone drew a squiggly line to represent it. :-)

    That said – some things will probably have to change in the near future to allow SL perception to be more consistent with the invisible y=mx+c line on the graph.

  5. Philippe Borremans

    Hi Neville,

    We spoke about this before but Second Life is just a little baby step in what I think will become the 3D internet environment we’ll use in a couple of years.

    At IBM we’re looking at the “productivity side” of virtual worlds and we do believe that they hold a future.

    The thing is, all these articles do not look at the bigger picture. Here’s a project that does.

    Let me know what you think. Cheers.

  6. Fredegre

    What’s going on with SL, is like when this guy invented the wheel. At first, everybody got really excited about it, but that died down quickly as people found out there is only so much you can do with nothing more than a wheel. Until someone thought of the other bits that are required for building a car. :-)

  7. neville

    Philippe, absolutely, steps forward re the 3D web.

    Thanks for that link re EOLUS One. I had seen that earlier last month but I’ve not yet paid much attention to it. Will do now. And then I look forward to some conversations.

    Btw, I noticed in Facebook that you’ll be at the Virtual Worlds Forum Europe 2007 conference in London in October. It looks very compelling. But attendance cost is outrageous so I won’t be there. Maybe see you there via SL instead!

  8. Jonathan Trenn

    It seems to me that most of the criticism surrounding Second Life is focused one two things: the initial hype that we often see in many innovations and its, in current form, ineffectiveness as a branding and marketing medium.

    Hypsters tell us about the almost 9 millions residents, but the reality is that only 600,000 are active. Then the question is of that 600,000, how many are on at one time?

    That’s why your column is important, Dennis. Linden Labs would be well advised to make a major push to have SL a go-to point for virtual meetings and training seminars. Stories of bizarre marriage/love triangle or empty corporate sponsored islands are bound to diminish SL’s brand as a place for weirdos and failed marketing efforts.

    I’m sure that there are other virtual worlds being specifically designed right now…and they will be what Facebook has become to what MySpace is.

  9. neville

    I read your ZDNet article, Dennis, re in-world meetings. Excellent. Lots of that quietly going on. Lots of learning happening.

    Jonathan, all this negative focus on numbers of people in SL (or not) is a big part of the hype.

    What’s far more important is those individuals and organizations who are active in SL. It doesn’t matter whether the number is 40 or 40,000. It’s not about the numbers.

    And I think it’s not Linden Lab who will do any major pushing. As I said in my post, it’s the participants of the space who need to do that. What Linden needs to concentrate on is the environment framework, as it were, making it as robust as possible as they develop it more.

  10. Jonathan Trenn

    But Neville, from a place that marketers may want to be, numbers will matter. Astute decision makers will need to look at what the residents are doing and how they can help improve their ‘second lives’, but they will want to see some sort of substantial amount of residents for them to make the investment.

    600,000 may actually be fine…the problem was the hype that said 4 million, now 5 million, now 7 million! The hype set expectations and any number that’s significantly below that damages the appeal…even if that actual number was attractive in its own right. That’s how hype has hurt SL – not the raw numbers.

  11. neville

    I understand what you’re saying, Jonathan; no argument.

    But this is not the time to employ that kind of measurement thinking. This is experiment time. Even with some of the marketing-driven activities we’ve seen (Coke’s Virtual Thirst comes to mind, which I was involved with when active at crayon), goals are much less to do with monetary (or any other) ROI and much more to do with experimenting and learning, with an ROI of some type in the thinking for much later when they have figured some things out from their experimenting.

    I think any company who enters Second Life right now with the thought that they can approach it just with traditional marketing thinking will be sorely disappointed. And then they’ll join the others who say “Second Life doesn’t work.”

    Not every company is able or willing to invest time and energy (and some money) in experimenting like this. In which case, SL is not for them for the time being.

  12. neville

    When I wrote my post, I never did a quick check to see if anyone else had also written about this theme. Not even a Google search, which would have shown Kevin’s.

    So thanks for those links, Tony.

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