Just the other day, when I was at a RL event featuring Second Life marginally, a bright young journalist came over to me and my business partner Eggy Lippmann. He had been around in SL for a few weeks and had chatted with people, and was looking for the “latest scoop” to write “something extraordinarily interesting” about Second Life to sell to his editor, and wanted to know if he could interview either of us.
We were naturally glad to hear the local media writing something “interesting” about SL and I briefly went through the next things to come out in SL: Havok 4, WindLight, the new Search, Mono. Or perhaps the latest batch of companies joining SL, like CNN? Since the CSI:NY episode didn’t come out in Portugal yet, that might be of some interest too. And if all else failed, we always have our many projects to talk about, like the Theatron 3 project or how a Danish company, Grundfos, is using SL to promote ecological education in Second Life, the many educational approaches using SL even around our place, or, well, how tiny companies in insignificant countries can actually expand their operations world-wide using Second Life. We were sure we could cook up something interesting on the spur of the moment.
As a matter of fact, though, he had already set his mind: he wanted to report how Second Life’s buzz and hype is dying, and how it’ll be all over in a few weeks or months, as the number of residents decline, technical difficulties increase, and companies abandon SL to look for something else to spend their marketing dollars. He already had someone to talk about the imminent downfall of SL and just wanted to have the optimist’s view to contrast. It was clear, however, what he was really going to write about.
I wasn’t in my best of moods — I had hardly recovered from a nasty cold, I was very tired due to the ongoing event, and still had to keep a bright smile in my lips. So instead of the usual arguments (“oh no, SL is blooming, it’s still growing, new companies are joining every day, new technology is being deployed, the economy is growing like crazy, and SL is even becoming more stable…”), I turned to sarcasm instead.
“Congratulations!” I said, with glee. “That’s a fantastic idea for an article! And the best thing is, you can resell it again every six months!”
He smiled, but was pretty confused. I explained more slowly: writing about the “imminent downfall” of Second Life is the best ever (re-)sold story about SL, and it would make him recurring money, since he could sell it over and over again in the next decade or so. After all, since 2004 at least, reporters have come out with this story in the media and always found an editor to keep writing about how SL will “finally disappear”. There is good money on that kind of story!
The journalist finally caught up with my sarcasm, but still remained polite. He insisted that “this was it”, ie. the ultimate end of SL, and that it was really over, although he appreciated a contrary view and any arguments why SL would still be around for a while. But he was pretty much convinced that it was really the end. He had “read all the signs”: SL is burning, and only ashes will remain — the End of The World As We Know It.
I patiently explained that these were exactly the arguments brought over and over again in the past few years. People always write the same thing: how the residents are really furious, how SL is unstable, how companies are unwilling to invest, how LL does not roll out new features, and so on. It’s always the same argument. Granted, the specifics might be different — and thus enabling journalists at least to make the article slightly interesting — but ultimately they’d boil down to the very same arguments. SL is still here. Some of those journalists moved elsewhere when their predictions did not become truth.
The journalist was sceptic. He agreed that others had written similar things in the past, but it was mostly pessimism, or just a story waiting to be sold, but clearly they didn’t get “the whole picture”. He, on the contrary, had done his research and talked to people, and was pretty sure that his prophecy was going to be correct this time. He understood my optimism about SL and even the scepticism about his article, but surely I could tell by the signs how badly things were going for SL? Even with all the competition coming close to SL’s heels?
I kept my smile and told him to go ahead and write his story. As said, in 6 months he’d be able to resell it again. And in a year. And in a decade. That was the reason why his colleagues have written similar articles in the past: they sell well. Thanks to the long-enduring success of SL, they would always have material to write a story about the End of the World. Unlike other stories — say, that Sun and IBM are planning to open their own grids, or that LL is now actively trying to figure out how to share login information with the open source grids based on OpenSim and similar reverse-engineered server software which are run by residents — these are news only for a short while and the “novelty” will quickly wear off. Vodafone allows calls from SL to real mobile phones? Old news. Facebook/Second Life integration? Boring. SL residents suing each other for copyright issues? Been there, bought the T-shirt. SL banks getting robbed for US$11,000? Well, they should have seen it coming, shouldn’t they? RL TV networks and newspapers using amateur journalists in a crowdsourcing effort to get a lot of news delivered to an avid audience? Tomorrow, everybody will be doing the same. All these are only “news” for a very short while. They capture the attention span of the media for a few days at most, and then they’re things we all take for granted. They’re not “news” any more — just historical facts, worthy of the Second Life History Wiki and nothing more.
But Second Life Coming To Its Long-Awaited End? Well, that’s always fresh and bright news! It’s like predicting that the dollar will fall tomorrow, or oil prices rising, or another bomb exploding in Baghdad. These are stories that can be retold every day, since they will not “get old”, and there is always some editor willing to pay for it. And, of course, there will always be an audience for these stories, who will smile upon reading them and tell their friends: “I told you so. It’s in the news now!”
In the music industry there used to be this concept of “evergreens”, music that would be sold in any decade to any audience, in spite of its age. Anything by Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, or the Beatles still sells well, and they are heard by any generation, and very likely by future generations as well. I think there is a class of “evergreen articles” about Second Life that will always sell, too. The usual culprits are Second Life’s downfall, sex and perversion, minors and ageplay, or just plain weirdos alienated from reality who have no lives but their Second Lives.
If you’re an aspiring journalist wanting to make money out of writing articles about Second Life, take your pick from the above topics. They’re guaranteed to give you an income over the next few decades, and you just need to write each article once and can reuse it as often as you wish.
Or else you might be stuck in writing blogs about the fascinating new possibilities of Second Life and virtual worlds, which only a few hundred people read about 🙂