Lies, d**n lies, and statistics

Clay Shirky‘s blog on ValleyWag, “A story too good to check“, has raised a lot of discussion about the nature of the “hype” surrounding Second Life. Shirky’s sceptic approach to it, however, has some severe flaws — not the type that one would expect from a top Internet Celebrity.

Obviously, scepticism is naturally a good and encouraging attitude to have, and should naturally be welcomed. When I was first pointed to this article, I thought I should figure out for myself, after reading it, what Mr Shirky’s issues are and how exactly they’re addressed, since one could probably get valuable information from the way they are addressed.

So it’s the old paranoia about hype which lead to the Internet Bubble, and warning the media about the excess of hype. That seems like a good sign; having been through that, and having been “burned” by the process (surprisingly because of the way my banks invested my money in “careful, low-risk investments”), I’d naturally welcome any “warnings” on the potential abuse on “hype”. For instance, in 2005, it was a bit tiring to read about the sex and casinos on Second Life; even if they’re impossible to ignore, after reading the same old story half a million times, I was rather frustrated. This year of 2006, just finished, was more interesting, since what was mostly covered was business and growth.

Mr Shirky is now claiming that the numbers are dubious and that there is no revolution going on; that SL’s churn rate is so high that the number of regular customers is practically non-existent; that the number of “return users” is unpublished; that Second Life is not more than a glorified MUD… whew. Then somehow the issue is about what attracts the media’s attention — and how about companies are investing millions of US$ in SL and they shouldn’t and… wait. I’m now utterly confused! What’s this all about?

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