The internationalization of Second Life®

Second Life® has always been an international venture since version 1.0, but only to the point that it “allowed” non-US residents into the world. At some point in time, around mid-2004, the statistics were interesting – about 1/3 of SL’s population is non-US.

Of those, the largest community is perhaps British, with the Australians and Canadians coming next. Not surprisingly, if we take a look at the number of SL residents who are native English speakers, the numbers will highly likely account for over 90%. The biggest group of non-native English speakers are probably the French. And all of these “statistics” are highly informal and most likely incorrect – they’re based upon in-world groups for nationalities and languages.

English is the tongue of the Internet, of the computer society, and, naturally, of SL as well. Non-native English speakers are usually very fluent in English – their background comes mostly from having to deal with English speakers, be that simply from the Internet, their business, or their research (for the academics among us). So, there is no really a “language barrier”, and SL looks very much like the early beginnings of the Internet: there is simply no interest in other languages besides English, which works so well for all of us.

Naturally, Linden Lab? has not given much thought to the “internationalization” problem in the recent past. Only in the last quarter of 2004 they started thinking about providing support for non-US keyboards, or hiring “international Liaisons” for technical support outside Californian business hours (PST). But more recently we have seen “international Lindens” around – developers and community managers. This is a first step towards recognizing that the number of residents outside the US is growing, and that sometime in the near future something has to be done about it. Of course, LL is not a mega-corporation, but a tiny company, with – I think – more “teleworkers” than resident staff. Thinking about 1/3 of their customers is therefore an extreme effort, which must really be worth of it.

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