More SL magazines — and their struggle for an audience

With (part) of the Second Life forums closing down, some of the few hundred regular readers of the forums were very worried that Linden Lab was somehow limiting their “freedom of expression”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of SL’s residents live in free countries with freedom of expression being one of their constitutional rights — and this naturally mean that most of us are able to set up our own means to express our opinions. We don’t need Linden Lab to act as a guiding parent!

A side-effect of shutting down the forums is that obviosly this encouraged literally hundreds of people to start their own blogs, websites, and e-Zines. The SLogosphere is booming, and many have blogged on how this change might, after all, be for the better.

In the Grid is one of the most recent offerings. After having seen the evolution of things like the New World Notes, the Herald, or the Metaverse Messenger, which are run by professionals in their areas, and thus of a different quality than most, it’ll be interesting to follow this new magazine, which is described by its author, Miller Copeland, as “’60s-Playboy meets Radar meets McSweeney’s”, it should become a “hip”, trendy, art-related magazine.

Again, the formula for success has been professionalism. This is something that many, many residents are actually scared of — that the necessary requirements of professionalism and RL work experience required to do amazing things in Second Life will be much higher than before. After all, some claim, SL was designed for amateurs, and nobody is supposed to be flaunting their credentials, so why do you need to be a pro in SL to enjoy it?

I’m always reminded of the first questions every newbie has when coming to Second Life: “what do I need to get a job?” What I tell them is that you’ll have to use your real life skills. Some are confused and baffled. The community which comes from the 3D graphical design area, web designers, or programmers, find SL “familiar territory” — this is just a tool, and tools is what they use. But what about the rest of us who are technically challenged? Will there be a place for us as well?

You bet there will 🙂

The Rise of the SLogoshpere is the best example of it. Here you have people with communication skills. Writing a blog — like writing your own RL diary — is easy, anyone can do it. Writing it consistently, in the sense that you update it periodically, for a long amount of time, is harder — but easily accessible to everyone who is strong-willed (but here you already notice a requirement: a strong will is important). Writing well is the next step: some can do it, some have learned it, some simply haven’t that skill.

Even so, this is not all it takes. You can write well, be stubborn enough to continue writing, update your blog regularly — but… nobody reads your blog. Why?

The issue here is that another thing is now needed. When SL just had a handful of blogs, you’d turn to those, because there was no other option really — you’d read what was available. Now you start to have hundreds of them, plus magazines, multi-authored blogs, and a plethora of forums to choose from. The selection process is now much harder. Prokofy Neva’s Not Tasty tends to analyse the technical part of what makes a blog more read than others: the complexity of making sure it pops up high on things like Google, Technorati, Digg, del.icio.us, or the recent blog aggregator Planet of SL by Tao Takashi (famous for being a talented organiser of large events, like this year’s 3rd Anniversary). Prokofy’s complains mostly address how artificial all those tools are to effectively rate the quality/popularity of a specific blog, which is done entirely by “gaming the system” (several systems, as a matter of fact) instead of relying on the quality of content.

He’s obviously right, but these are also the “rules of the game”. To succeed, your blog/magazine needs promotion. In the RL, this means advertising. On the Internet, besides advertising, you can “game the system”.

But there is a last, necessary, step to make a blog/magazine a success. Being at the top of the lists is naturally important — it’ll mean more visitors, of course — but the more important ratio, in my opinion, is the number of recurrent readers (and the absolute amount of recurrent readers). For things like Google’s Adsense or any other form of online advertising, this statistic is hardly relevant: one reader is just one reader, and a person that clicks on the ad never to return is the same as a recurrent reader that also clicks on the ad just once. From a purely marketing point of view, thus, the technical manipulation of the various systems to get your blog/magazine “highly rated” is not very important. It’s just numbers.

On the other hand, if you want to become a long-term success, the important statistic is the recurrent reader — the one that will always ome back to read more. Not unlike SL’s own two statistics — new users and users logged in in the last 60 days — recurrent readers is, I believe, a more reasonable metric to deal with the quality of content. For instance, only 40% of my few readers (just a hundred or so visits per day) are recurrent, about the same level of SL’s “active users”. This means that this blog you’re reading right now just has 40 or so people who have an interest in it, but they’ll be faithful and come back ever so often. The rest are people who perhaps clicked on a link that pointed to it, read the first article, and yawned with bore, never to return.

What will make the readers faithful? It’s the quality of content that matters. A blog/e-Zine written by professional authors, who are clever and insightful, who provide their audience with the required level of interesting material, will be the ones that continue to attract new readers — but readers that stay. This is something that untalented amateurs will have a hard time figuring out. Tweaking the system to get Google to put you in the top of the search list will not get you more faithful readers. It will only give you more new occasional readers, which is a different metric.

Consider the nice guys that drop you every day a supermarket nesletter in your RL mailbox. They reach millions and millions of people, but the quality of the content is virtually nil — it won’t attract your attention for the merest fraction of a second. So, a supermarket which publishes a free newsletter, mostly to promote themselves, will probably boast “distributed to ten times as more people as the New York Times has readers”. Well yes, and so what? People will turn to the NYT for quality content, not to your supermarket newsletter. The sheer number is quite unimportant; who cares about a newsletter that advertises groceries and may also include a horoscope and the weather prediction? It won’t “change the world”. It won’t “be a reference”. It won’t “stand out in a crowd”. It will only sell more groceries!

Understanding this concept of “quantity brings in more people — but quality will make them stay” is quite important for the prospective new blogger/e-Zine creator. Plainly spoken: unless you know how to capture and enthrall an audience — and this is what professional writers do! — you’re out of luck, no technology will aid you there.

Thus, to the non-techie newbie, I always insist that there is a place for them in Second Life as well. Communication skills, organisational skills, promotion and marketing skills, writing skills, which are usually frowned at by techies (but not by business owners, who also understand the need for those), are actually quite important to establish yourself in Second Life — perhaps, in the long run, even more so. It is no surprise that the top residents that have established themselves in some business niche are also excellent communicators (I’d certainly put both Prokofy Neva and Aimee Weber on that list 🙂 ). Some, like Hamlet Au, née Linden, or Torley Linden, née Torgeson, are just purely exceptional communicators — and they still thrive in SL, side by side with the top content creators or business owners. And some turn their professional skills to business only, and thrive as such — Anshe Chung being the usually quoted example (she has no need for a blog 🙂 ). Thus there is a place for all — but you’ll see the RL professionals rising to the very top.

Sure, I admit that there are — and will always be — exceptions. Here and there you’ll see an example that will overthrow that theory — like the mother of 5 who has stayed at home, taking care of children, who never used a computer in her life, and suddenly discovers her hidden talents in Second Life, and rises to become a reference in the SL furniture business. All this nice stories pop up here and there — people discovering talents they never had. In a sense, SL is the ultimate tool to grant equal opportunities. You don’t need a degree in Civil Engineering or Architecture to become a talented builder, admired by all — examples of that are legion. However, when it comes to pinpoint the ones that are the best of the best, you’ll be surprised to see how many of those are actually professionals in their areas.

This trend will continue, not only in-world, but on the SLogosphere as well. As it grows, people simply won’t have time to keep track of all the content being produced there, and you’ll fall back to the blogs/e-Zines that have been written by professional writers, and that provide you with quality content all the time. This will very likely mean going back to the Herald, the NWN, the Metaverse Messenger, and Second Thoughts. Hopefully we’ll be able to add “In the Grid” to that list as well. For now, all I can do is to wish Miller Copeland the great success with this new magazine that he deserves.

And to my 40 or so regular readers every day, I give you all a warm and friendly hug from this amateur that hopefully will still keep you entertained in the future 🙂

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

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    17 September 2006 at 8:09pm
    Thanks for all the mentions!... The public reaction to ITG's opening ...
  • In the Grid
  • One way to get readership and not ‘game’ the system is to be part of aggregators. For example, I’m on the MystBlogs one (which does not require writing about that subject specifically, its just a way for others in our community to keep up with one another in one place).

    Of course, being on an aggregator only tells you that site is a constant reader, not who is actually reading it. I’ve gotten some clicked-through comments at times, but from that aggregate its the forum activity (from both ‘worlds’) which tend to be the windfall. That and the comments page. 🙂

    I have been (mostly 😉 ) consistent however – over a year posting now – and watch my search list now and then to see what folks are curious about.

    –TSK

  • Ashcroft Burnham

    “I’m always reminded of the first questions every newbie has when coming to Second Life: “what do I need to get a job?” What I tell them is that you’ll have to use your real life skills.”

    Writers to-day, lawyers to-morrow? 😉

  • Pingback: In the Grid()

  • Congratulations on “In The Grid”‘s opening!