“Extra, extra, read all about it!”
There seems to be a current trend of people jumping on the “Second Life is not important” bandwagon. I’ve responded to several of these on the SL Educators listserv. I have decided to post these responses on this blog for others to reference.
This first link is to a blog entry by Clay Shirky casting doubt on the much touted memberhip numbers tossed around in the media about Second Life. The perceived increase in membership in SL seems to have really irked Clay for some reason. Here is the link to his rant on “the numbers”, the press, and Second Life in general:
Second Life: What are the real numbers? by: Clay Shirky
Here is my response that was posted to the Second Life Educators Listserv:
There are many people out there that fear change, fear innovation, and despise any attention paid to any new technology that promises to be revolutionary, or even evolutionary. I’ve watched the development of online gaming and social networks from the late 70’s through to today. I’ve seen the trends, I’ve seen the promises, and I’ve seen all of the flops. I wrote about these for 5 years for a major Computer Gaming magazine. The naysayers and doom and gloomers have always been there slinging their mud and trying to tear down the numbers.
Here are some quotes from other naysayers:
Charles H. Duell, Office of Patents, 1899
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
Lt. Joseph Ives after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.
“Ours has been the first, and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.”
Decca executive, 1962, after turning down the Beatles.
“We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out.”
Business Week, August 2, 1968
“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the US market.”
Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp. 1977
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Western Union memo, 1876
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”
David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urging investment in the radio in the 1920’s.
“No imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
“Who wants to hear actors talk?”
Thomas J. Watson, chairman of the board of IBM.
“I think there’s a world market for about five computers.”
Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
“Stocks have reached a permanently high plateau.”
Lee DeForest, inventor
“While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.”
Bill Gates, 1993
“The Internet? We are not interested in it”
“Anybody who thinks a little 9,000-line program that’s distributed free and can be cloned by anyone is going to affect anything we do at Microsoft has his head screwed on wrong.”
The Financial Times, 7/11/97:
“Apple no longer plays a leading role in the $200 billion personal computer industry. ‘The idea that they’re going to go back to the past to hit a big home run…is delusional,’ says Dave Winer, a software developer.”
The fact of the matter is that there has been continual advancement in online virtual worlds and the Internet over the past 20 years. World of Warcraft, the giant gorilla of MMO’s, would not exist today if not for all the MUD’s and failed virtual worlds of the past. World of Warcraft has over 7 million active paying accounts. That is no longer a niche market. Most people wrote SL off several years ago, I know I did. They (Linden Lab) managed to keep afloat while some of us caught up to them. With the private islands now available for education, and many very progressive and innovative projects starting up, the demand will only increase for SL as word spreads. Will SL steal away users from WOW? Heck no…….no way in the world. Will it go in another direction, possibly gaining even more users? Very likely.
I think that Clay Shirky is looking at SL through the eyes of a mass market MMO like WOW. Right now anything that does not have more than a million users is considered a flop. I really don’t think at this time that SL wants to be a WOW. The difference between the two are about as stark as between Night Elves and Taurens (a little WOW humor). SL will take longer to gel into a cohesive environment that has a purpose and a following than the explosive growth experienced by WOW. I heard plenty of people say that social networks (and shudder, MySpace) would never amount to anything (I think I even stated that a few times). Putting aside that I think MySpace is a complete and total waste of time, space and bandwidth, it’s obvious that it appeals to a certain demographic and is now achieving some commercial success.
Here’s one simple vision for a tangent for SL (I always believe if you are going to argue something, you need to provide an alternative):
Make a client for the personal computer similar to an IM client. When you have the program running, it phones home to LL and let’s people know via a flag in a directory that it’s online/active. This mini-grid can contain objects that have been purchased in SL on the main grid. Objects can be purchased from the main grid to stream content (video, iTunes, MP3, etc.) onto the mini-grids. Admission to the private mini-grid could be open access, or restricted to a friends list. If the mini-grid were going to allow for commerce there would be a monthly fee or transaction based charge. There would need to be a firewall of sorts between the mini-grid and the main grid for data integrity. This filter would check the inventory of avatars passing between grids with the central LL database. L$ would be kept centrally on LL servers, as to prevent fraud.
This would allow for all kinds of unique environments using the SL engine. LL would be out of the business of providing processors for these mini-grids, while increasing their fee structure. A simple interface could even be developed for those who had no interest in building anything. A free mini-grid would lay waste to MySpace and other social networks because of the 3D environment and openness of the creation tools. Commercially, there could be all kinds of “cool stuff” that the MySpace crowd would want for their “VSpace”. If you added P2P between these VSpace clients you could really open up some possibilities. And because this is a pseudo IM client, you could have a variety of devices to alert you when your “friends” came online. Teleportations could be directly from mini-grid to mini-grid, or from main to mini and back. Think “teleport button” next to friend name in your IM address book.
Instead of thinking about innovative directions SL might take, the Clay Shirky’s of the world are content with tearing down these new technologies and trying to kill them before they can grow to any maturity of markets.
There will always be Clay Shirky’s in the world, they are part of the virtual ecosystem. As long as they do not completely stifle innovation, or the progression of new ideas, they will never amount to much more than fertilizer in our virtual worlds.
“Stay out of MySpace”
The next link is to a blog entry by Danah Boyd. Like Clay, she obviously does not like Second Life. Danah seems to think that we are all anxious to abandon our physical bodies and move full time into virtual immersive worlds. From her post, you would think that Virtual Light Goggles were at the top of everyone’s Christmas list this year. As I say in my listserv post “get real”. So here is the link to Danah’s blog and her thoughts on SL:
On being virtual by: Danah Boyd
Here is my listserve entry in response to Danah’s thoughts on SL:
Add another doubter to the pack, how many people can fit on this bandwagon?
Again, we have someone who has either not spent time in SL, or has had a bad experience and now wants to convince the world that SL has no value and no future. If Danah is so deeply rooted in social spaces, like MySpace and others, it’s no wonder she does not see SL as a next step. To me, SL has the potential to replace all of those social networks with personal 3D spaces, all linked via a pseudo-metaverse. Maybe Danah has been reading too many Stephenson and Gibson novels of late, because I don’t think I’ve ever read a post, blog entry or article in a major publication that suggested we were pushing towards divorcing ourselves from reality and physicality, and moving entirely into these immersive virtual spaces. Come on, get real already<bwg>.
SL has the potential to add a new level to the existing web technologies. Being another layer over existing technologies, those who are comfortable with the current models can stay behind while the rest of us move up to the next level. As always happens, these slow adopters will eventually be dragged kicking and screaming along when they find nobody occupying the space they stayed behind to protect. I have a large collection of buttons that I’ve gathered at various computer conventions over the past 25 years. One of my favorites that I display on my office wall is from Word Perfect Corp. It simply states “I’m sticking with DOS”. Back when World Perfect was making the move to the new GUI of Windows, a very large number of their longtime users stayed with DOS (actually, the majority of their market share stayed with DOS). I think you would be very hard pressed today to find anyone still using a DOS version of Word Perfect. How could serious work ever be done by trading in embedded codes for pull down menus?
This argument repeats itself over and over throughout time as each new technology emerges that has the potential to replace or improve upon an existing technology. SL is not some new revolutionary model that has never been seen before. It is a social space, a virtual space that can be used to model things not easily modeled in reality, and it’s a graphical layer that has the potential to link together many of the 2D media that we currently access via the Internet. It is VERY well suited for connecting people from physically distant spaces for shared learning, communication and group participation. This is why there is a current increase in educators coming to SL.
Now that Clay’s article has been linked to from all over the web, expect more of these me-too’s to jump in to add their words of criticism to the void. Don’t worry, they will eventually get it. We’ll see them again when “the next big thing” comes along that needs someone to take the negative position.