Second Life: The Most Used Social Media Tool – By FAR!

Gwyn shrugging at TwitterAlmost everybody who’s reading this article has grown up with metrics on the ‘net. From the very beginning, Internet Service Providers were happy to tell everybody how many users they had (assuming they had a lot, of course); I remember the wars between “active paying users” and “number of email addresses”, perhaps the first time the issue about metrics was raised.

With the Web, we entered a new stage, where the most important metric was first “page hits” (good for techies, since they will have to tailor their hardware and software for handling the load on a server — page hits is a good metric for that), and later “unique visitors” (which reflects more realistically the number of people actually visiting a site — good for marketeers to measure the impact and interest of a site, and for advertisers, to figure out the size of their audience). With the rise of all sort of traffic bots and crawling engines and lots of similar tools that extract, index, and process data, Nielsen//NetRating has proposed a different metric, which they feel to be quite more appropriate for the current generation of Web applications: time spent viewing a specific site.

I’ve already commented quite a lot on this subject on the summer of 2007. This not only makes more sense when you consider that people take time to be online as opposed to, say, watch TV or listen to the radio. Since the day still sadly only has 24 hours, and we waste a lot of it sleeping anyway, measuring the percentage of the time spent viewing web sites instead of watching TV is quite more important for correctly establishing metrics. The Internet truly became “just another medium” when Nielsen//NetRating started to push their new metrics.

The beauty of it is that the Internet, of course, is not “just Web pages” these days. In this early 21st century, we have an awesome new thing running on top of the Internet: online virtual worlds (either games or social online platforms like Second Life®). Sadly, there is no easy way to measure its “impact” using “page views” or “unique visitors”, although it’s usual to tell things like “number of registered users”, “number of active users” (for a given value of what “active” means), and “number of simultaneously online users” (ie. concurrency). These have no parallel with the Olde Webbe, where people hardly use those metrics. Ironically, “retention rate” has been recently featured by many sites — ie. it’s quite a novelty to hear that Twitter actually loses 60% of their registered users after just a month (Facebook allegedly only loses 30%). Churn rate — the percentage of users lost per month — was popular with ISPs in the late 1990s, but not so much after the first dot-com bubble burst (yes, we’re going through the second one 🙂 which might have a lesser impact than the first, since we’re through a financial crisis at the same time, while the 1990s were a decade of world-wide economic boom).

So, except for “number of users”, there seemed to be no easy way to compare what 2 billion users were doing on web pages with what a projected half a billion virtual world users in 2009 were doing (feel free to discredit those numbers; they’re hard to estimate anyway).

We have that option now. While “simultaneous logins” or “traffic” in SL might be artificial metrics, one thing is for certain: Linden Lab can quite accurately measure (more so than on web pages) how long people spend in Second Life.

And when those numbers are aligned with other virtual worlds, the results are staggering:

Nielsen Games - GamePlay Metrics™

Hamlet Au provides some insights: sure, WoW is played quite a lot everywhere, but SL residents use SL quite more than WoW, and that’s the whole point really: SL is very sticky — if you like it, you use it a lot (if you don’t “get it” in the first hour, you’ll never use it ever again).

(Note that the %TMP column actually means: from all the minutes allocated to playing on their PCs, 46% of the audience was on WoW; only 3.2% used SL — but SL users stayed longer)

This is actually a quite important piece of information. Second Life has twice the registered users as World of Warcraft, but WoW is way more used than Second Life — although the ones that use SL, use it longer than WoW. However, all (or almost all) registered WoW users are paying customers (thus, Blizzard had over a billion US$ of revenue in 2008), while Second Life is, well, used at most about 10% of all registered users, of which 2.5% or so log in regularly. The issue here is that the 11.5 million users logging to WoW understand what WoW is about and are willing to spend time — and money, a lot of money for Blizzard — to use it every day, while 15.5 million Second Life registered users, by contrast, rarely (ie. only one in ten) understand what’s all about, and even so, out of those, only 1 in 4 will regularly log in.

On the other hand, those 1 in 40 that actively use Second Life regularly use it a lot. Really a lot! Remember, the above statistic just shows gaming activity, either single-user or multi-user. We just happen to get Nielsen to bundle SL with it, or we wouldn’t ever see any statistics at all. Gaming, of course, is an activity that takes a lot of time, and it tends to be highly addictive — in the sense that when you’re playing a game you’re not doing anything else for a few hours per day, e.g. not watching TV!

Second Life, however, competes far less with “games” than with social tools. The point for SL evangelists like me is that SL is a new generation of social tool, where picture sharing, video sharing, blogging (3D blogging — your home is your blog), IMing, group chat/discussion, etc. are all built-in the same platform, but done in 3D, and in real-time (not assynchronously like on Twitter/Facebook, but real-time like on IRC and MUDs). While SL can be used for gaming and artistic, non-social use (that’s the beauty of the platform, it can do everything 😉 — even though a jack-of-all-trades tool tends to be poor on specific uses), it’s the social and business environment inside SL that is more prevalent (ie. while a lot of people role-play in SL and join RPG games, the majority meets friends, goes out shopping and attends live concerts 😉 ). This makes it more suitable to compare SL, as an alternate social networking tool, with other 2D Web-based social tools.

How do these fare, compared with Second Life?

Tateru Nino, reporting on Massively, shows that they fare very badly. To just give a few examples:

Platform Minutes per week Source
Second Life 653 Nielsen Games – GamePlay Metrics
Facebook 84 ITProPortal
Twitter 65 Alexa
YouTube 47 C|Net
MySpace 10.5 C|Net

(if you prefer, you can compare the last four easily on Alexa; numbers vary a bit, of course)

Wow! If those numbers are right, what does this mean?? Mostly, that pretty much nobody is using any of those 🙂 At least compared to Second Life, the difference is huge. They simply don’t gather any interest at all. They’re time fillers, i.e. things you do between one thing and another (send an email, tweet about sending an email, see a reply which has a link to YouTube, watch the video, get back to work).

While Second Life totally grabs your full attention for hours a day. (Of course you can also tweet while on SL, but the main focus will be SL, just quickly following your timeline on any Twitter app — even one inside SL — to make sure you’re not missing anything, but your focus will turn back to SL after that).

But how can we explain then the insane growth of Facebook, the claims that people nowadays spend a huge amount of time watching videos on the Web, or Twitter’s 1382% growth in a year? (the last one, at least, is easy to explain: when you are small and grow exponencially, growth rates are huge. SL’s internal economy grew almost 1000% between 2006 and 2007. At its mature stage, SL now grows a respectable 37% a year or so. Facebook, being seen as “losing the battle” with Twitter, still grows 228% a year)

Clearly it’s a question of expectations. The point here is what is more valuable in terms of a marketing strategy: the sheer number of consumers, or the time they spend using a service? The answer is probably “both”, although, in my experience, time spent using a service, in the long run, is more lucrative. Blizzard knows that quite well! That might explain, for instance, why World of Warcraft generates revenues of over a billion dollars, that Second Life’s internal economy will generate half of that in internal transactions, but…. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and very likely MySpace, are all companies with serious losses of millions a year, just happily burning venture capital until they get bought.

So, to recap: if you have a lot of users, you’re unprofitable, they will use the service little, and you won’t make a profit out of that. Having less users — “merely” a few milions, instead of hundreds of millions — but grabbing their attention fully — leads to a successful business model that turns your idea into a very lucrative company.

Hmm.

One wonders, then, why journalists are happily tweeting but still dissing Second Life as a “failed experiment”. Mitch Wagner on InformationWeek asks the same question and shakes his head at his fellow journalists with their sloppy news. On the other hand, Second Life is mostly seen as “the media hype of 2006/7”, while Facebook and Twitter are the media hype of 2008/9 — the big question is what happens if the media tires of Twitter too (or perhaps I should ask “when”, not “if”?). What will happen then to the company behind it? Second Life grew even more after the “hype peak”, to over three times the number of users and overall landmass. These days, the “lack of media hype” doesn’t affect SL’s steadily growth of 10-15,000 new users per day — a number that remains constant since 2006 at least.

However, the comments both on InformationWeek and Massively clearly show a trend: after a decade of Linden Lab’s existence, most people still haven’t understood what Second Life can be used for. They still get bored. It’s incredible for us regular SL residents, but true. And what this means is that most people will still have a major difficulty in understanding how it works at all. And what they don’t understand, they don’t use. Thus the incredibly high churn rate of SL compared to everything else in the world.

Twitter is the typical example of an idea done well. You register and are tweeting in seconds. There is absolutely nothing to learn. Facebook is quite another beast, and I’m actually surprised that it has a higher retention rate than Twitter — it’s not that easy to configure at all or to understand what you can use it for. MySpace has increased the number of tricks to make it simpler to get your page working, but to get relatively good-looking results, you’ll have to spend some time with it.

Contrast all that with Second Life: at the very least, you’ll spend an hour just to figure out the basics (moving, inventory, teleporting). But to truly understand the purpose of Second Life (note: the purpose, of course, will be different for everyone), it’ll take you a long time, measured in months if not in years. Now that’s a way too high learning curve! And, since it’s so high, it means that most people will never bother with it.

I don’t know how you can make it simpler. It’s like expecting that someone who never saw a computer before becomes proficient with installing Windows, launching Internet Explorer, joining Gmail and getting an email address, adding Wikipedia and Google Search to the browser’s toolbar, and becoming immediately proficient with “the Internet”. It’s impossible. In an hour, you can barely cover the whole gamut of options and choices that you can put “the Internet” to use. Even if you skip the installation part, explaining someone how to use email or searching in Google will take the better part of an hour. Yes, of course, there are moments of instant gratification when you finally find out something you’re interested in. But jump from these very easy skills to teach people how to create profiles on forums that interest them, start a blog, or sign up to a trillion social media tools, or to subscribe to YouTube channels or RSS feeds… that takes weeks, or months, or years, if you’re an Internet newbie.

In the Western world, there are less and less “Internet newbies”, so of course that for them joining Twitter is easy. Try to explain the concept of lifeblogging to someone who never saw a computer before and you’ll see what I mean.

Second Life is exactly like that. It’s a highly complex network of personal relations interwined with activities, a society, an economy… a world. And grasping all that “in a few minutes” is impossible. Even a “SL Lite Viewer” will just barely help — it will remove the obstacles of joining, but it will not make it easier to stay.

I sometimes compare the experience of joining SL to moving to, say, an university campus on another city or even on another country. You can read about it (online) to get an idea of what courses will there be for you, and where you’ll be able to rent a room. But then you’ll drop into the campus, and suddenly there are tons of things that no site told you: like how and where you pay the rent for your room, or where you will need to show up for classes, or how you submit your work for review by the professors — or even where you get your username and password for the intranet to do that. The few hours on the campus are totally baffling and you just seem to be walking into walls — figuratively speaking. After a few days, some things will start making sense. On the second year, you’ll be laughing at how clueless the freshmen behave and can’t possibly imagine that you went through the same steps.

Second Life is just like that.

By contrast, joining Twitter is just like going to the movies: you only need to figure out where the theatre is, buy a ticket, ask some friends to go with you, and enjoy the movie. That’s it. Simple.

The point is, while on the campus, all your life will be, in a way, connected to it — even when you’re physically away from the campus, you’ll still be talking to friends and colleagues and keeping in touch and thinking about assignments. Living on the campus is an immersive experience which dominates your life’s focus. Watching movies, well, is immersive for an hour or two, and you’ll certainly talk about the movie with your friends afterwards, and eventually even buy the DVD or watch re-runs on TV later on — so it’s not as if the movie ends when you leave the room — but it’s “just something you do” to have some fun, once in a while.

The difference, of course, shows in the numbers: SL residents spend hours immersed in the virtual world environment — and when they leave it, they go away to blog about it, or tweet about it, or just keep in touch with their SL friends on other social media tools, and so on (I found it intriguing that Plurk’s success seems to be at least partially attributable to the sheer amount of SL residents who adopted it as their lifeblogging medium of choice, although obviously almost all are on Twitter and Facebook too). But that comes at a price. “Understanding” the culture of, say, Twitter, takes 15 minutes (yes, you can take classes about Twitter in SL too). Understanding the culture of Second Life takes months, even on a “speed course”.

Granted, I’ve followed some high-tech journalists on Twitter or Facebook that behave as if those platforms have the same immersive qualities as Second Life, since they spend all the time on it. It might sound ridiculous for most of the people — who just spend, say, 10-20 minutes per day on those tools. However, when fighting against time, I can only suggest Alexandra Samuel’s tips. 🙂 For me, though, it would mean giving up quality time on Second Life to blog about how it’s useless to spend time elsewhere but Second Life…

Thanks for Tateru Nino for pointing me to Hamlet Au’s article on New World Notes.

CC BY 4.0 Second Life: The Most Used Social Media Tool – By FAR! by Gwyneth Llewelyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

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

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  • What is that average minutes per week figure supposed to mean? That many minutes of use from all the monitored users combined? Or the average minutes per week for those who use a particular “game”?

    I find that when I’m logged into SL lately, I hardly pay it any attention at all, and am actually reading Twitter posts, checking Facebook, or now Friendfeed. Second Life is the same old same old, a bunch of prims, same as it was years ago, with no asynchronous chat – no way to tell what was being said when you werent’ there, unlike twitter or facebook or good old fashioned forums.

    I think a more worthwhile thing to compare SL use with would be time spent using 2D browsers, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, etc. I suspect that there’s an overwhelmingly greater use of 2D viewers to look at and interact with others than there is use of 3D browsers. There’s more material, more choice, and you don’t have to keep moving in a partially simulated 3D world while also trying to keep up with the streaming, blink and you miss it, text stream in SL, so navigating from Facebook to Google News to squirrel catapulting videos is much easier. Plus you have more choice of visual styles on the 2D web, you can go to mostly text sites, watch video clips, listen to Pandora, watch complete shows or movies on Hulu, look at real world photography, all largely when you feel like it.

    I also wonder about the impact of bots on these numbers. Would libsecondlife clients logged in to SL count? It wouldn’t take many people running 10 or 20 bots 24/7 to skew the figures a good bit.

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  • The values are average per user. That means, yes, that the average SL user is logged to SL one and a half hours per day, every day. While the average Twitter user just uses it 5 or 6 minutes per day. Note that both statistics only take into account active users!

    Also notice that the above statistic also includes combined usage, ie. it means that some people might just have SL turned on for hours on end but be always following people on Twitter AND Facebook AND Friendfeed, or even watching TV and sending text messages on the phone, and so on, during the same period. That’s fine, as statistics go! After all, it’s not as if we physically “shut down” ourselves while we’re logged in to SL; e.g. we’re still breathing 😉 Multitasking just will show that overall, our minutes spent on all those things will be added and might come up to more than 24 hours a day.

    BTW, you can use always Ctrl-H for chat history in SL, you know 😉

    There’s no question that for pure information retrieval and information sharing, right now, nothing beats the World-Wide Web. Which is hardly surprising: it was designed to make information retrieval and sharing easy. And as a nice side-effect, thanks to Google and other search engines, searching for information is also incredibly easy, even, well, if you get thousands of related links and need to browse through them to find the information you need; but it beats going to the nearest real-world library and search for the same information, of course. Also, as you mention, there is way more information on the Web than on any library on the world! So I find it very hard that virtual worlds might ever beat the 2D WWW at that (I could be wrong though!).

    Granted, use a hammer as your only tool, and every problem will look like a nail. This just means that we’re so used to the Web to provide us with all sorts of solutions that we “prefer” it (due to our familiarity with it), even when it’s not the best tool for a particular service. But that’s just mental training. A typical example: you can play role-playing games with a book, jumping from one page to another, rolling dice, scribbling on pieces of paper. But playing it on a computer is far easier. The book is just not a good medium for that. Nevertheless, during a certain moment in time, since people were so familiar with books, they thought that it might work. However, the sequential nature of books does not lead well to a model that relies on pretty much random browsing. We quickly abandoned those kinds of books and used a technology that leads better to “random browsing” (in this particular case, computer-generated 3D games 🙂 ).

    This is not to say that virtual worlds will, at some point, replace or surpass what we’re doing on the Web right now. Just that some uses of the Web are “clunky” and “unnatural” and will definitely migrate to 3D (a typical example being distance learning, prototyping, teleconferencing, market analysis of consumer products, etc.); new ones will appear (we might not even know what they are now!); but, as said, a lot of things will be served much better by the 2D Web and will not disappear. 2D-based information sharing will very likely continue to be better served by old 2D interfaces.

    The issue about bots is always on people’s minds — and LL claims that there are, at any moment, 5-15% bots logged in to SL — while they forget that 99% of the Internet traffic is not created by humans. So when you say that “200 unique visitors come to my side every day”, it actually means 2 humans and 198 crawlers, spiders, bots, references, links, and so one. It’s staggering, but nevertheless true!

    This is another reason why Nielsen is insisting on measuring actual people connected to actual computers actually logging in to systems and see what they are doing, instead of relying on “page views” or “unique visitors”, which will show all that insane “bot traffic” on the net. The 653 minutes/week is an average based on real people connecting to SL, not bots (with bots, as you said, the number might be slightly higher). It’s also not a number from Linden Lab. By contrast, we don’t know how the remaining numbers were actually measured. Alexa, of course, will not have the ability to separate the plethora of Twitter bots (even if they’re created by humans, they might just have automatic feeds from blogs and other tools pushing messages to it) from real humans. In fact, as Twitter and Facebook become more and more used by companies and institutions promoting their services and products, the usage of Twitter/Facebook bots will increase and increase. Are they already 5-15% as in SL? I have no idea, but I’m guessing that this will soon be the case…

  • I’m well aware of the chat history. Chat history doesn’t show you what was said while you weren’t logged in, unlike for example any normal forum does. Chat history has no search function. Chat history doesn’t allow for threaded conversation like forums or instant messaging does. So the mention of chat history is not really pertinent. I can’t post a message with a question in Second Life saying, for example, that I’d like to get together a group to try out the free trial of Qwaq, and have it be found later by someone, unlike posting such a message on a blog, a forum, or on a web page.

    I find it interesting how people so often point out the chat history as an example of something it isn’t when SL lack of asynchronous text features is pointed out. I’ve received that same slightly condescending misguided response a number of times.

    Where do you get that bot usage wasn’t counted? A bot is a client that can be used by a human to connect to SL, such as Metabolt which is used for chatting. If that sort of connection didn’t get counted then the numbers are inaccurate because they didn’t accurately measure human time spent logged in to SL. If that sort of connection did get measured, then bots connected at a Nielsen measure home that weren’t operated by a human would also be counted, unless they are measuring the time spent running by particular exe files, and if that’s the case, then they aren’t counting the time spent connected with Cool Viewer or at least some of the other third party clients.

    I’m running Tweetdeck, it’s been running for at least a day now. Tweetdeck checks Twitter automatically at intervals. Would the measuring system count that as days of use or would it count only the time spent while Tweetdeck is asking for and receiving data from twitter? Would it be counting time spent on Twitter using Seesmic Desktop or any of the several other Twitter clients?

    You might find it interesting to look at bb usage in China.

    Another way to look at usage hours spent would be to ask “how long does it take to get satisfied?”. Looked at that way, the longer it takes in the activity, the less efficient it is in satisfying people. 🙂

  • Sorry if I sounded condescending about chat history; that was definitely not my intention. In fact, I forgot to mention that to get at past conversations, you need to turn it on explicitly from Preferences. Granted, that won’t give you a searchable facility inside the SL client, but only outside SL; and it’s also true that if you’re not logged in, you won’t get access at past conversations that happened on the place you were last logged in (although here is where the replication of a 3D environment works against that kind of thing: if you’re not in a place, why should you keep getting messages from that place? ) That’s in fact a difference between real-time communication and asynchronous one — like on IRC, if you log back to a channel after a few days, you won’t get the past conversations that happened on that channel since you last left it. Of course Facebook and Twitter work differently!

    So, yes, SL does not have asynchronous, ongoing communication tools built-in by default. If that was your point, it’s well made!

    As for bot usage, there is no real way to tell for sure that it wasn’t counted, of course, since Nielsen was not behind every 180,000 PC user, 24h/7, and watching them with a camera to see if they were, in fact, using bots or Second Life. The only thing we know is that they measured applications being launched and connecting to online servers. As someone pointed out on Massively, this meant that if several applications shared the same name, they would be registered as just one. Similarly, if someone was quite eager to frustrate the data Nielsen was collecting, they could have created a bot application, name it “SecondLife.exe”, and leave it running on their PCs, sniggering with glee as they perverted the data…

    Now, Nielsen is not exactly a start-up company that was born yesterday. Any reasonably good statistician knows that extreme cases in the data set ought to be discarded if they are completely out of the range — and are isolated cases pointing to a malfunction, an error in measurement, or, well, plain old cheating. So if out of those 180,000, say, a thousand were launching bots called “SecondLife.exe” and letting it run 24h/7, that would show up on the data set and would be discarded. I have no reason to believe Nielsen would do anything less. Even if the average is one hour and a half per day, extreme cases of 10 or 14 hours being logged in might have been discarded as “fraud”. On the other side of the coin, if someone launched a bot just, say, 4-5 hours per day — while in reality they were watching TV — that kind of measurement would probably fail to register on Nielsen’s dataset. But that would mean mostly malicious intent in ‘doctoring’ the data. Now, malicious intent is not a prerogative of Second Life residents; it’s uniformly spread among all human beings (at least, statistically speaking). Since Nielsen measured 100 PC games/applications, it’s more than reasonable to believe that a similar percentage of cheating would be found among all other games being tested, as people tried to artificially push up the numbers for their favourite games. But that would balance out in the end: sure, all numbers would be slightly above the real data, but would still be able to compare the numbers.

    On the other hand, the percentage of cheating has been studied and documented; the authors of Freakonomics, who tie the reasons for cheating to incentives, claim that the number of cheaters is usually around 3-5%. Put into other words: if someone would be paying the 180,000 control group to push the numbers up for their favourite game, there would certainly be more than 3-5% cheaters; lacking strong incentives for cheating, the probability is very high that the number of cheaters is below those 3-5%. So, if you wish, the number quoted for Second Life might be off by 3-5%.

    The other numbers are different. The sources (except for Alexa) don’t say how those numbers are actually calculated. Often they quote officials from the companies who did some measurements. Alexa is fully automatic. In the latter case, we know that they will obviously count everything that logs in to the respective website — but will probably never see the results of the API calls. The non-Alexa numbers might be officially presented from the companies running those services and I can only imagine that they will include API calls too — after all, a logged in user is a logged in user, no matter what tool they’ve used.

    So you might be right about the Twitter numbers being too low, since they come from Alexa, which has no concept of API calls whatsoever. All it can measure is page hits and do some maths about it. API calls would not be “indexable”, unless, of course, the Twitter techs make it that way (if I’d worked for Twitter, I would certainly do it that way!). The simple answer is “we don’t know”. Twitter also doesn’t publish statistics. Nielsen has just published some numbers saying that the “time spent per visit” goes from 5 or so minutes up to 20, depending on age; they don’t say how much, on average, a user “visits” Twitter every day.

    As for your comment on the time it takes for satisfaction, it’s a philosophical one 🙂 Mixing up “efficiency” with “pleasure” is a complex thing, and depending on a personal mindset, the answer shall be different. Short-term pleasure tends to get quickly boring, but while it lasts, I can imagine it might lead to overall higher levels of satisfaction: thus this would mean that a service would be quickly adopted by a lot of people, but they would go away relatively quickly. By contrast, things that get a long time to give “satisfaction”, requiring a lot of investment in time, focus, patience, and overall commitment, will give satisfaction for “achievement” (“I finally managed to understand how this works!”) which will last a long time. But the reverse side of coin is that they will have an extremely high learning curve, which will mean that a lot of people will give up “too soon” (ie. before reaching satisfaction) and never come back again.

    As said, this is a philosophical/psychological issue. In this ADD-ridden world, we see way more examples of the first case (quick satisfaction levels, lots of excitement during the time the satisfaction lasts, an exponential growth in adopters, but the “fad” dies quickly) than on the second one (very slow learning curve, no satisfaction until quite late in the process, a very slow adoption rate curve, a churn rate showing a high number of people who never reached satisfaction — but very long-term adoption with constant satisfaction of those that managed to reach a certain plateaux of know-how required to find the service interesting). But you can apply the same reasoning (which is really about how humans react to stimulation and incentives) to completely different things, like, say, relationships. As more and more people in our society go for the “quicky” model of intense satisfaction for short periods of times, they soon tire of their partners and are unable to form long-term relationships (or consider them utterly impossible, from a purely conceptual point of view — “there is no one that can please me for so many decades!”).

    But, alas, I’ll leave the philosophical/psychological debate for another day 🙂 I will just agree with you that Second Life’s model of “high learning curve, slow adoption, but faithful long-term users” is a bit at odds with the current trend in our society, and thus I’m actually surprised that 15.5 million people managed to sign in at all, and that a tenth of that still use it regularly…

  • katemir

    It is not my experience that if you don’t “get” Second Life in the first hour, you will never use it. I have been a heavy user of Second Life in the past two years but I only very sporadically used it during my first year inworld. It grew on me over months, not minutes or hours.

  • I tend to completely agree, katemir. I know of very, very few exceptions to the case, and in almost all of those exceptions, these people only came back to SL by chance, because they went to a workshop or conference about SL and learned all the uses that people are giving to it and went “aha, so that’s what it’s for!!”

    But these are really exceptions. The first barrier are the very first 15 minutes, if it loads too slow, or you happen to rezz alone without anybody around, and can’t see what’s going on, you will give up almost immediately. If you’re lucky, meet a few people, and your computer and connection is good enough to navigate through SL easily, you might start chatting a bit, asking people things, and will start to explore one or two areas that might be interesting for you. If they exceed your expectations — ie. they’re far more interesting than you thought they would be, you’ll stay.

    However, well over 90% of all people who log in never reach that point.

  • Oh, by contrast, you figure out what Twitter’s about in one minute or less 🙂

  • this doesn’t sound quite right. Twitter I use a lot more than SL, but I guarantee I am on the site a lot less. How do you measure my time using Twitterfox? You can’t…

  • Hypatia, that mostly depends if Twitter has indeed a method to communicate their API data to Alexa or not. If they have it (and, as said, I most definitely would create a way, if I were Twitter’s owners!), it’s actually very simple to do. If they don’t have it, they would seem even more naive than I though: a company without a business model, that rejects all offers for buying basically a bunch of users (the technology is nothing special, after all, a lot of clones exist), and that doesn’t even worry about correctly capturing their user’s data?

    … weirdly enough, I use Twitter probably far, far less than the average Twitterer, and I’m #10 on the Second Life Elite of TwitterGrader?!?! Clearly something is very wrong!

  • well, look at it this way,

    I view my interaction on Twitter as an entirely different nature than in SL. In SL, I value it for group social interaction, and when I tend to use it, I use it more frequently for event-based things. So I will be “sticky” in the same way I am “sticky” when visiting a coffee shop with a group of friends.

    When I use Twitter, I am using it like a telegram service – plurk I also use, and it has different sorts of people using it than Twitter – because Plurk is also a conversation. I can say something, and then the group of people listening to me posts comments on it – which are not seen as updates, which on Twitter they are. There’s more of a coffee shop on Plurk, though SL is better at this.

    Anyway, I am far more connected to what an extended network of people think on Twitter and Plurk than I am on Second Life, but valuable social interaction is lacking on Twitter – this is available in Second Life – the sense of space, which you only really get in a 3d world. The coffee shop exists in Second Life, and it’s where we should be putting our focus – the value of the town and social groups interacting in an event-based way. This is more “real life”.

    I value both the Second Life type of action and the Twitter types of action for different reasons – in Second Life, I can strengthen the bonds with my close friends and community in a shared space of values and aesthetic sense, in Twitter I have access to a wide network of people’s thoughts who I would never get to talk to in any life.

    So I believe that the two services are completely uncomparable – its like comparing a group of friends in a coffee shop talking (SL) to a large switchboard of conversation conducted in public – like a great big telegram party line. (twitter).

    That being said, many of my Second Life friends are on Twitter as well, and I use Twitter much as one would use a telegram service, to send people I know short messages about what I am thinking or up to, when we can’t all be at the coffee shop together 😉

    So, I think this thinking about SL and Twitter is really all wrong… 😀

  • “… weirdly enough, I use Twitter probably far, far less than the average Twitterer, and I’m #10 on the Second Life Elite of TwitterGrader?!?! Clearly something is very wrong!”

    heh, well, a good reason you should never believe the statisticians at face value. If you start with a flawed assumption, your math will be wrong 🙂

  • So I believe that the two services are completely uncomparable – its like comparing a group of friends in a coffee shop talking (SL) to a large switchboard of conversation conducted in public – like a great big telegram party line. (twitter).

  • I would say something else real quick then I gotta get.

    This metric of the “top ten” twitterers is not really right, unless they are still stuck in the “broadcasting” age. We have left the broadcasting age.

    I would submit that the most valuable twitterers are people who are connectors – they connect groups of people to each other, sending important information across them. I have no doubt that the free services harvest all kinds of useful data from these interactions.

    We are in a different era, the “connectionist” age – where a lot of companies already know the value of connectors. 😛 How they are going to monetize it, unsure… but they seem to think it’s worth something to give it for free, and it probably is. Amazon is a company I would point out who seems to understand the value of connectors to a large extent, and how to turn it into sales.

  • Well, often the statistics are right, but our interpretation of them isn’t 🙂

    I totally agree with you, though. There is no easy measure to value “connectionism” (I like that word!) and how “important” that actually is; and, also, as you so well said, the issue is that few manage to turn “connectionism” into a really sellable product.

    To give a (perhaps) stupid example, anyone paying Scoble or Fry to tweet about something, would reach a huge audience. So they have “connectionism value”. However, how can you measure that when compared to the number of Oprah followers, who are basically following a ‘bot, without any real human being behind those words? (Note that I’m not saying that Oprah shouldn’t be on Twitter; rather the contrary: I’m saying that she should be on Twitter, even with less followers, but she should be writing the messages, not a bot….)

  • well, the difference between a connector and a broadcastor is that the connectors are actually listening and evaluating information they receive and then resend. If you send a tweet with something interesting to Oprah, it rarely gets resent, probably never.

    But connectors on twitter use the power of the ReTweet – they send information on to others, its a two way communication that goes over them.

    This also happens in Second Life via the group chat functions – people belong to different groups and will post links and information in each group that they think is interesting. It’s a good argument why LL should sit down and work on their communications more. Because the chat still does not work that well and the low group limits do restrain the transmission of information between groups.

    You can see this transmission on Twitter much more easily than you can on Second Life, though it happens on both, even in real life. I’m reminded of a story about Paul Revere in the Tipping Point, how he told the communities in Massachusetts that the British were coming. Wish I could go on (and I could) but its really something of a topic that has to do with F. A. Hayek’s ideas regarding the spread and use of knowledge in society.

    lighting has arrived, hello spring, must log bai!

  • Interesting definition, Hypatia… and intriguing how that relates to SL as well. I guess that SL should become “more like Twitter”, and that is not so hard to do: the current “conference calls” should be far more easy to do (instead of creating a folder, looking for calling cards, dragging them into a folder, starting the chat…) and could become “lifeblogging threads” (in the sense that they could be “followed” by anyone, if you had them publicly listed, e.g. from your profile), and that and group IMs should both be “loggable” even when you’re offline.

    Hmm. This is definitely worth thinking more about. I suppose that combining it with the Group Notice tools (which allow embedding of objects, notecards, textures, landmarks… but not URLs!!!!) would make the communication aspect of Second Life look more like, well, Facebook (and not so much like Twitter), but it would be a very, very intriguing solution.

    As a matter of fact, in terms of software development, all that LL has to do is simply to grab public, open source tools like laconi.ca for microblogging or BuddyPress for a simple, Facebook-style interface. And it would be nice to be able to, say, publish your in-world “conference call” to a RSS feed — or even directly to Twitter — and get the replies back somehow…

    Hmm. Yes, I see there is quite a lot to do on that area that would be quite intriguing to do. Alas, it’s a bit out of LL’s own core business. But, who knows… people are embedding 3D apps inside Facebook, why can’t LL start from a 3D app and put Facebook/Twitter-like communication and information sharing tools inside SL? 🙂

  • Snickers

    Most things that take longer to learn earn more loyalty and the more invested you become, the more time you spend at it. I think tennis and golf are good examples of activities that are hard to learn, but once you do, players tend to spend a lot of time at it. SL might be the same way.

  • Cindy Ecksol

    Gwyn sez:
    “The first barrier are the very first 15 minutes, if it loads too slow, or you happen to rezz alone without anybody around, and can’t see what’s going on, you will give up almost immediately. If you’re lucky, meet a few people, and your computer and connection is good enough to navigate through SL easily, you might start chatting a bit, asking people things, and will start to explore one or two areas that might be interesting for you. If they exceed your expectations — ie. they’re far more interesting than you thought they would be, you’ll stay.”

    There’s the nub of the matter, Gwyn. This is true for people who come into SL on their own “just to explore.” As you point out, they’re fairly unlikely to make a good connection and “get it.” What’s MUCH more interesting to me is the just-emerging business of bringing people into SL for a specific purpose, usually a meeting. If the facilitator is even mediocre, I expect most of the people who are “dragged” into SL for a particular event will “get it” and return on their own. And most of the facilitators are actually more like you and me, SL “evangelists” who know how to get people acclimated and do it well.

  • … but we’re soooo few, Cindy! *waves back*

    I guess, though, that these days the major focus of attention will become the new new Adult Continent anyway: at least people arriving there by choice, not chance, will know exactly what they’re looking for, and they might soon become SL’s group of most faithful customers…

  • Two Worlds

    A failing software company with a rapidly stagnating userbase proposes using a new performance metric in order to insist their product is still relavent? Fascinating. Tell me more.

    So it’s like this…all my friends are on Facebook. All of them. I don’t need a seperate piece of software to use Facebook–I just use Firefox, and I can access this social media mini-portal. Second Life requires a seperate client, is often either laggy or buggy, no one’s ever on it and definitely no one I know, there are rarely fun and engaging things to do or places to see, and occasionally the high graphics requirements will threaten to make my laptop burst in flame.

    Guess which one I use more?

  • Two Worlds, if your point is, “there are more registered users in Facebook”, yes, sure, I’m sure of it.

    If your point is, Facebook is way easier to use than Second Life, sure, you’re right again. Even though there are easier social networking tools out there (Twitter comes to mind 😉 ), Facebook is way easier than Second Life… and will be… ever.

    It’s like saying “IRC is easier than Plurk”. Oh yes! But just because IRC is easier to use, it doesn’t mean that the number of Plurk users is not growing…

    If you mean that none of your friends have embraced Web 3.0, and you feel alone out there, while everybody you know are happily embracing the last remains of innovation on Web 2.0… well, sure. It’s always hard to start something from scratch. Guess what, all my contacts on Facebook, without a single exception, are on Second Life! But they’re just a small part of out of the 1000+ contacts I’ve got in SL… not everyone has a Facebook account. Yet 🙂

    What does that “prove”? That both you and I are anomalies, anedoctal evidence, and outside the norm — so you can’t base conclusions on either of us. That’s why we have specialists for doing metrics, which will carefully trim out the extreme cases which don’t really “fit” the data.

    As for “SL is rarely fun”, I’m sure it is, if your idea of entertainment is: “someone entertain me, or else I’ll get bored”. SL is for people who think the opposite way, ie. “entertainment is what I do to have fun”.

    “A failing software company with a rapidly stagnating userbase using a new performance metric in order to insist their product is still relavent? Fascinating. Tell me more.”

    Sure, the company with the new performance metric is Nielsen, and they aren’t either stagnating, failing, or even a software company — they’re a market research company 😉

    Oh, you meant that LL is a “failing software company”…. right. You know, I’ve heard of three companies that same old story over and over again, it’s not so fun any more: Microsoft, Apple, and Linden Lab. They all have “failed to fail” and are still around, in spite of all doomsday predictions.

  • Two Worlds

    So does this mean developing technologies are only good if they are proceeded by a number with an unneccessary decimal in it? Sweet, you and I and all the rest of our enlightened subspecies will be able to await the glorious Singularity, in which we will be reunited with our true cybernetic bodies…maybe then those pitiful neurotypicals will stop laughing at me when I try to explain to them the wonders of the Metaverse and vee-double-you’s (virtual worlds)!

    Realtalk though…holy penis, I never thought anyone would drink the kool-aid so thoroughly. You describe yourself as a “Second Life evangelist”…so is that basically code for “payrolled Linden Lab spin doctor”, because holy crap…mass amounts of cognitive dissonance here.

  • Of course not, Two Worlds, or LL’s own technology in 2003 would never have a chance to compete in 2009 😉