The battle for the future virtual world environment is on!

Nevertheless, Second Life®, even without gadgets, thrives. This is what the post-hype press has completely failed to capture. The so-called exponential growth curve in new accounts back in 2006/7 might have been mostly due to a huge increase of spam bots — a thesis that was proposed a year ago to explain why Second Life continues to have 10-15k new signups every day but few new users actually appear in-world. Because Linden Lab’s community portal is known by forum spammers as showing an active community of millions, using an expensive software which is only employed by huge communities (or it wouldn’t be worth the cost), it’s not unusual to claim that most new registrations are attempts from automated registration ‘bots to desperately try to get access to that community portal. Obviously, they never appear in-world as actual avatars.

As Linden Lab started to review their numbers and post information with much more care and reluctance, few metrics are currently known by the population at large. However, it’s interesting to notice that, although there certainly was an increase of actual humans inhabiting the virtual space in 2007, there is much less ‘decline’ than the post-hype press likes to admit. They were fooled (like we all were) by the automated spambot registrations. But actual users of Second Life back then were also fooled. We seriously believed that humans were joining Second Life by the millions. We increased development of everything — products, services, virtual goods — because we expected all those millions to be actual human beings willing to engage in a virtual world.

It turned out that all of those were probably nothing more than spammers. But this was carefully ignored; in fact, past CEOs of Linden Lab have tried to address the issue of user retention and blame their own difficult-to-understand interface to explain why so many registered but so few actually used the virtual world. I still think they’re completely on the wrong track: the lack of users is not really because of lack of appropriate technical skills to navigate the virtual world, but because… virtual worlds are not a mainstream product, but just a niche product.

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