The Most Re-Sold Media Story About Second Life®

The world is burning! Again!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 🙂

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

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

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  • Excellent commentary….

  • Hear hear! Very self-fulling prophecy of him to say that.

    I roll my eyes everytime I come across another story of how SL is dying, how empty it is, it’s just a hype yada yada.

    I always thought that journalists fresh out in the field are easier to convince to pursue a different and better angle. It’s the editorial team who handed out those assignments that I’m always afraid of; when they refuse to accept new ideas (not all but enough).

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  • The end of SL?
    Maybe someday. Fortunately I prefer do read “fascinating new possibilities of Second Life and virtual worlds, which only a few hundred people read about” on blogs, instead of constinous reading that SL will end tomorrow. Or next week. Next month, one year? I worried myself on the end of gambling, and VAT issues.
    But now? Rather live on SL than worry about it.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Recently I have been questioning why I bother logging on to SL at all…

    For one thing, the absolute number one reason to be in SL is to communicate via shared experience. But these days nearly all communication is conducted by IM. In that case, I would be far better off absorbed in the rich information of the Web and chatting on Yahoo messanger than stuck on some deserted island with only the looping drone of prerecorded insects for company.

    Another reason is that, on the rare occasion something even vaguely interesting does happen you can bet a YouTube video will be available so you can see it without going to the bother of loading up SL.

    A third reason is that there seems to be an unwritten rule that every event I might be interested to take part in must be held at a time when I cannot possibly attend.

    Every day I log on, I ask Hamlet’s (from Shakspeare’s play, not the ’embedded journalist’) existential question ‘to be or not to be’. After an hour or so, maybe something happens that makes it worth my while sticking around but I have to say that the times when hitting ctrl-Q and not bothering to exist happen FAR more frequently.

    AND YET…despite the fact that SL is just dull pretty much all the time I continue to find its ‘pull’ far greater than the attraction of my Xbox360, which is odd because I have some absolutely terrific games for it.

    Is SL strange, or is it me? (don’t answer that).

  • If the fate of SL is so safe, then why are so many of us so defensive about it? Personally, I would be more interested in hearing this journalist or his sources on why they think that SL is doomed. I too would probably end up arguing with them but some of their arguments may be be extremely useful. One thing I am sure of, that other conversation would be more constructive than us SL-ers feeding each other happy thoughts.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH SECOND LIFE.

    The fact that there are voices crying out that SL will ‘fail’ is not all that surprising, given the following…

    ONE: IT IS A MASS-MARKET PRODUCT THAT REQUIRES SPECIALIST KNOWLEDGE.

    Once upon a time, being a car driver required a pretty decent knowledge of mechanics. Even when they were operating propperly they required continual tweaks and adjustments; more often than not mechanical failures resulted in their not working at all.If you were not comfortable with getting your head under the bonnet and tinkering around with its workings, owning a car would have been a miserable experience.

    Fortunately, for the car industry, decades of early adopters who were proficient mechanics toiled away at perfecting the inner workings of automobiles until they were reliable enough for the none-specialist to use them. Modern cars simply do their job and, for the most part, you need have no mechanical expertise in order to enjoy them.

    Clearly, the best time to sell a product to the generalist is when it does what its supposed to do, and is not prone to breakdowns and failures that baffle anyone who is not a qualified expert in its inner workings. SL, though, was hyped as mass market entertainment to rank alongside videogames, TV and websurfing when it was (and is) really suitable only for software specialists.

    TWO: ITS OBJECTIVELESS.

    Every videogame has an in-built objective. This holds true even of MMORPGs that have no ‘ending’. Yes, you can argue that the open-ended nature of SL is all in its favour, but entertainment without objective is sometimes hard to distinguish from entertainment that is pointless.

    Although SL was designed to be ‘objectiveless’ that has not prevented an objective from forming anyway. The objective of SL is to be successful in the rat race; to aquire the smartest possible clothes, earn loadsa money, be a successful entrepeneur. It is a high-tech version of the classic boardgame Monopoly.

    SL continues to have massive amounts of potential, but we must concede that what it COULD be is very different to what it currently IS: A modern reworking of Monopoly plagued with technical failures, fun only to the tech-elite.

  • @Lem, you’re definitely right. As I pointed out, I was in a bad mood 🙂 One of my favourite passages on the New Testament is when even Jesus Christ loses His temper and turns over the stalls set up in the Temple of Jerusalem. There are limits to what one can endure from the hordes of opportunists, and sometimes “evangelisation” is not enough 🙂

    @Extropia, I like the image of “Second Life as Potential” but not yet a mainstream, massified product. Why are some new products born “almost perfect” (say, an iPhone 🙂 ) while others “gradually work towards being usable”? Your car example is a rather good one of something that took decades until become “perfect”; the Internet was much faster but still took a few decades. TV or radio were “almost perfect” from Day One.

    The strange thing is that both types of products tend to become massified. I mean, nobody in 1990 would believe that Microsoft could get away with such a crappy product for long enough, when “almost perfect” alternatives existed; but they did, and they’re still around — and most of their problems have disappeared. It’s funny that there seems to be no advantage at all of launching an “almost perfect” product in the market — all you need to do is to gather enough critical mass in the number of users, for enough time…

  • As a matter of fact there’s a lot o pressure around media to negatively criticise SL.
    Like if, “in case you like it, that is because you can’t understand it” and “if you dont’ like it, it’s because you are in a superior level”.
    There are also a lot of emerging, hardly brand controlled, Virtual Worlds.I believe, they try to start a battle against one of the top scored, VW System – Second Life.
    Second Life, still keeps being a relatively democratic and user controlled system.
    Linden Lab, is softly dealing with all the presure, despite the “age verivication” an “gambling ban” projects.

  • Sentence of the Tribunal of the Supreme Inquisition against Galileo Galilei, given the 22nd day of June of the year 1633:

    “We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare, that thou, the said Galileo, by the things deduced during this trial, and by thee confessed as above, hast rendered thyself vehemently suspected of heresy by this Holy Office, that is, of having believed and held a doctrine which is false, and contrary to the Holy Scriptures, to wit: that the Sun is the centre of the universe, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the Earth moves and is not the centre of the universe…”

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1630galileo.html

    In 1992, Pope John Paul II officialy declared that Galileo was right.

    As Galileo said more than 350 years before: “EPPURE SI MUOVE”

  • Rui, I wonder why the journalists are being “pressured” to write bad press about Second Life! What is the point? Instead of negatively criticising SL — and wasting good paper — wouldn’t it be better to ignore it completely? Even “bad press” is, well, news — and bad news are better than no news at all!

    But I still find the concept intriguing, that it’s not the journalists themselves that are interested in giving SL a bad name, but the editors that wish to do so! What a strange world!…

    I also think that most of the “other” virtual worlds will try to target Second Life as their “main competitor”. Or, rather… I thought so. Except perhaps for HiPiHi, which is really the closest we have to a “SL clone”, the truth is, most of the VWs out there are trying to distance themselves from SL. And why? I think that the major reason is that they wish to avoid being compared with SL. If they say something like “better than SL!” all users will log in and expect to see something just like SL — but better. The fact is, none of those VWs are “better” on all aspects! They might have better graphics, or they might have better performance. But they are light-years away from offering simple, user-created content, for instance. As you mentioned, they are also company-controlled in all aspects: from content to the economy; even limiting your self-expression to a limit of what is “admittable” as defined by the company owners. This, of course, allows them to promote themselves as a “safe” environment… but that’s really all that they offer in return of a limitation of what you can actually do with these VWs.

    Still, a lot of SL residents are always complaining about the lack of performance, the instability of the whole infrastructure, and the utter chaos and anarchy that allows people to get cheated or being griefed, without LL doing anything about it. These residents leave SL once they’re disappointed: they expect the virtual world owners to coordinate and regulate all aspects of their in-world presence. So SL might not be the right tool for them; they should stick to other VWs instead, and I guess that this niche — users that don’t care about content creation and just want better performance and a strict enforcement of moral and ethical rules — is what all these VWs are aiming at. Many, for instance, get teenagers together with adults, and this means PG content throughout the whole VW…

  • TasiaTonic

    All I can say is that this article is a HIT and a Money Maker!!! Very nice! 🙂

  • economic mip

    Well apparently Shrinking Cities:
    http://www.shrinkingcities.com/wettbewerb2.0.html?&L=1
    did not enjoy my proposal last month where I made the same points, and claimed that growth is at times slower, but constant in SL.