If you work for a major company and have even considered an outpost in Second Life, think Facebook first.
The technical novelty of Second Life has made it a favorite of the geeky set. And just as Facebook has received significant attention from mainstream media recently (e.g. Newsweek and TIME), so has Linden Labs’ virtual world over the last year or so.
Beyond the media hype — or perhaps, because of it — lots of major companies have established “in-world” presence in Second Life, from Adidas Reebok to Wells Fargo and including heavyweights like IBM, Coca Cola, Mazda, Major League Baseball, ING Group, MTV, Toyota, Disney and Dell. In the government and non-profit sectors, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Cancer Society have outposts.
That’s why a recently updated blog post, “Why I Gave Up on Second Life,” by Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson is a must-read for anyone consider a Second Life excursion.
I freely confess that I haven’t tried Second Life, so I’m not speaking from first-hand experience. (In some ways, I will even boast of this, because it gives me a ready response at work, where I’m perceived — correctly — as a technophile, when people ask, “Is there any technology or gadget you haven’t tried?”) I’ve seen some demos and screen shots, though, and from what I’ve read — including this Wired article — here is why I think businesses should put much more effort into Facebook (and MySpace) and forget Second Life (unless they want to consider it an educational experience for communications and marketing staff.)
- Size. Second Life claims an “in-world” population of 7 million avatars, but Linden Labs says the number of real people represented is more like 4 million because many Second Lifers have multiple personality disorder. Facebook’s user base is 10 times as big, and is growing by more than a million users a week. In other words, Facebook is growing the equivalent of a Second Life population every month.
- Engagement. As the Wired article pointed out, only a million Second Life users had logged in during the previous 30 days. Fully half of Facebook’s 40 million active users return at least once a day and spend an average of 20 minutes on the site.
- Reality. Do we really need another place on the internet where people can abandon their inhibitions by taking on a fake personality? Don’t we already have MySpace? As the TIME article on Facebook says, one of its chief advantages is that people mostly use their real first names and last names, not a Freudian alter id.
- Ease of Entry. You can get into Facebook in minutes, and don’t need any special software, just a browser. In Second Life you need to download the software client, and the hardware requirements are significant.
- Scalability – Each Second Life processor can handle only 70 avatars at a time, so you’ll never draw even a virtual crowd. The Apple Students group in Facebook, by contrast, has more than 424,000 members as of this moment.
Chris Anderson is as geeky as they come, as exemplified by his infatuation with radio-controlled UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). His “checking out” of Second Life gives me comfort that it’s not a place that I need to check into, at least yet.
Maybe as technology advances and the simulators become browser-based and more scalable, places like Second Life will matter for business. And for some of the corporations investing in Second Life, even the hundreds of thousands of real American (vs. Linden) dollars they spend are barely rounding error in their overall marketing budgets. So they can count it as continuing marketing education.
As Shel Holtz says, it might be a good idea to get the experience with 3D virtual worlds now, so that when they do eventually become important, you’ll be ready. He thinks that might be five to seven years. He didn’t exactly put it this way, but one of the benefits of experimenting with Second Life now is that you don’t have to worry about anyone seeing your mistakes.
I think Second Life is currently a long way from consequential for marketers, but my main point is not anti-Second Life. My main point is a positive one, and I leave it to you in the form of a question: