The internationalization of Second Life®

Growing trends on the usage of new technology is usually exponential in the US first, and stabilizing quickly afterwards – and then the European growth kicks in, followed by other parts of the world. I wouldn’t be much surprised to expect a big growth in European users in 2005, perhaps accounting to up to 50% of the new residents. And in 2006 or 2007, the rest of the world will follow – mostly from countries like Brazil, who take some time to recognize the interest, but, with a population as big as the US, can quickly swamp any “virtual community”. We have seen that happening in things like Orkut, for instance.

Unlike most middle-class Europeans – who, besides the British and the Irish, speak English fluently as their second language – some parts of the world are not so good English speakers. This means that 2005 will not present a big problem for LL. But 2006/7, with Brazilians, most of Latin America, Korea, or the Eastern & Baltic Countries of Europe joining in, at a much higher growing rate than the English native speakers, LL will have a problem.

Back to Orkut, we saw an increase in Portuguese speakers on its 2nd or 3rd year of existence (due to the Brazilian members, who amounted to up to 50% of all users). The English language is a terrible barrier for the Brazilians – and the Orkut team replied by launching Gazzag, which could be considered a “Portuguese-speaking” Orkut with a slightly different interface. Similarly, sites for personal ads suddenly add Spanish or Portuguese as their second language, when Latin America finds their sites and start to join in like crazy – only to discover that they’re unable to participate in an English-speaking community. Sometimes they prefer to develop their own communities (Brazil, for instance, has their own MMORPGs, probably with as many customers as the US-based “major games”, but utterly unknown outside Brazil’s borders). I’d expect a similar thing to happen to countries like Korea, where games like Starcraft are a “national sport”, and everybody has a broadband connection at home.

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