Shirky FTW

The inimitable Clay Shirky has just posted a wonderful essay about the recent hype on Second Life, and the relevance to our understanding of the New New Thing (tm).

There’s nothing wrong with a service that appeals to tens of thousands of people, but in a billion-person internet, that population is also a rounding error. If most of the people who try Second Life bail (and they do), we should adopt a considerably more skeptical attitude about proclamations that the oft-delayed Virtual Worlds revolution has now arrived.

God, I wish we'd been able to able to buy him when we started Terra Nova. There's no way we can afford him now.


Comments on Shirky FTW:

IAmEric says:

I don't get it. What is so wonderful about the article?

Posted Dec 13, 2006 2:27:09 AM | link

Don McGlumphy III says:

Second life shows what a great job LL is doing to convince the media that SL is the biggest thing to come along since sliced bread, and demonstrates how poorly the media does it's job to actually do any journalism.

LL keeps shoveling out tripe, and the media keeps asking for seconds without asking any questions.

There was a recent slashdot article talking about a "grey goo" attack with a quote stating that SLs 600k players dealt with that attack. I was in SL at the time and there were only ~14k users in the world at that time. This is a gross misrepresentation of their user base.

More recently one of the technical guys at LL stated in an interview that SL is as popular as WoW because SLs peak concurrent ~16k users are all in one world whereas they are sharded in WoW. I guess that makes SL about as popular as a single WoW server, but to read his comments it would appear to a casual observer SL>WoW.

Their outright lies are appalling. Using LLs "maths" EVE Online must be twice as popular as WoW because EVE has achieved ~33k concurrent users in a single world. Go comprehensive journalism for teh win!

I resisted checking out my second life because the premise of the VW didn't appeal to me. After reading the slashdot comments regarding "copy bot" i finally figured i had better have a closer look.

If Jack Thompson ever logs into SL, we are going to have the LL founders before a congressional panel. People seemed so opposed to the copy botters "stealing" their IP. The first thing i noticed in SL is that it's little more than an analog of first life. This includes the rampant real-world IP violations going on there.

I know Toyota and Pontiac have virtual cars in SL, but I'm sure the many other car manufacturers whose brands are being diluted in SL wouldn't be very happy with the blatant IP violations going on. This doesn't just apply to cars, but to pretty much anything you can find at your local Walmart.

I got a can of coke from the coke vending machine, bought a Sig Sauer handgun from the gun store, drove around in a dodge viper, and danced at studio54. Funny how the people who steal real-world works get mad when someone comes to steal their virtual works.

I've seen many cases recently where 45-year-old-male detectives pose as 13-year-old teenage girls and bust someone for some immoral online contact. I wonder how this is different that said 45-year-old-male resident of SL having "immoral" contact with someone pretending to be 13 in game. I'm sure Jack Thompson has an opinion.

The only three places people seem to frequent in SL are red-light districts, dance clubs, and casinos. Odd that it's illegal to send my money to paypal, and then oversees to do some online gambling for real-world cash, yet I can do just that in SL. I've seen the forum posts that claim gambling -- for real US dollars -- is "legal" in SL because Linden dollars aren't real true US greenbacks. This ignores that those linden dollars are readily convertible to US dollars via the linden exchange, and still ignores that you don't have to gamble with dollars for it to be gambling.

I don't gamble with greenbacks at my local casino. I trade them in for little plastic chips -- much like little linden dollars -- and gamble with those. At the end of my gambling session, I convert them back to good ol' US dollars much like people do on the linden exchange. It matters not where I'm gambling in Linden dollars, Yen, or Pounds, since those can be readily converted back to US dollars it's gambling just the same.

I'm not stating that diluting trademarked brands, having immoral relations with pretend teenage girls, or online gambling should be illegal – in fact they should not -- but the US government prosecutes people in all three of those areas and I wonder how much longer the LL propaganda machine can run until one of those "journalists" actually starts digging.

~don

It's pretty

Now to find those linkies...

Posted Dec 13, 2006 2:44:52 AM | link

Don McGlumphy III says:

slashdot quote talking about 600k "active" users:

http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/20/0218221

repost of SL article at brokentoys.org regards SL popularity:

http://www.brokentoys.org/2006/12/07/well-sure-you-could-get-them-all-in-one-place-if-they-shared-five-computers/

Addendum to previous post. It's also funny how the LL VP of Technology states that SLs ~16k users can "all" attend the same event if they wish. This is a lie. The "sims" in SL on the mainland have a 40 user limit. This means only 40 people can be in the same area at the same time. Even private islands are usually capped at 50 users/island. If you held an in game even you can only have 50 users maximum attend your event. Not 16k as they claim.

Of course LL will bring in additional servers for your event if you tell them weeks in advance of your event. Now that's load balancing!

~don

Posted Dec 13, 2006 3:00:48 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

You guys ought to figure out a way to do "Related Posts" automatically. For instance, the interview with Anshe Chung goes with this one.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 3:46:02 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Terra Nova once again revealing their deep-seated biases against Second Life, evidently because it is not a game.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 3:52:18 AM | link

Cael says:

That is possibly the single shortest Prokofy Neva comment ever.

"Terra Nova once again revealing their deep-seated biases against Second Life, evidently because it is not a game." - Prokofy Neva

More likely because it is a) an excercise in hype over substance, b) a technological joke which still fails to be funny and c) shit.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 4:14:23 AM | link

Cael says:

Incidentally, what's so wonderful about the essay is the clear, unbiased and matter-of-fact way in which it is written and the arguments presented.

I can't do that without frothing at the keyboard about the way that SL is an armed nuke pointing at the whole online world industry and that "age-play" alone could kill us all. Maybe Mr Shirky is somewhat less personally invested. In any case, it's a great essay.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 4:18:33 AM | link

Jed Harris says:

Clay's essay is interesting but he isn't focused on the lifestyle issues that engage the commenters here, he is asking for SL numbers.

Curious to see if more numbers are available, I used Google and indeed they are -- many, many, many numbers. Including how many hours are spent on SL each month, the 30 day visitor number Clay wanted, total transaction volume broken down various ways, etc. Many of these are available down to the day granularity.

Also these numbers are available in conveniently formatted text files and spreadsheets.

The most surprising number I found is 7,464,000 hours used in November. Maybe they got the decimal point wrong, but it sure is a big number -- nearly 25,000 people pulling 10 hour days in SL every day of November.

So, I'd like to see people analyzing these numbers rather than complaining about not having them.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 4:38:01 AM | link

Leonel says:

Oh yeah.
If this guy's sooo right, I guess he should have looked at this:
http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy-graphs.php

40000+ PAYING residents, paying monthly, and rising rapidly. Quite a long shot from 10000.

Now add a conservative estimate of non-paying users...
Then check who's paying to use land or other stuff.

Yeah, it can be a fad. And yes, this guy is reporting from his wishes, not from reality. Both things are true.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 5:05:12 AM | link

Peter Clay says:

"Terra Nova once again revealing their deep-seated biases against Second Life, evidently because it is not a game."

Funny, I've seen many more pro-SL than anti-SL articles on here.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 5:53:35 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

Yes, as the comments in the linked post say, the 30 days figures *are* there, but I guess Shirky couldn't find them. What were people saying about researching before making headlines?

That said, I thought everyone kind of accepted that the claimed an quoted figures were highly spun, and I wouldn't argue against that. Maybe when it all blows over, the backlash hungry people can go back to playing "queue for the whack-a-mole game" and leave us to build and socialise in some kind of peace. If Reebok want to shake some spare change out of their sandwich budget to pay some sherpas in SL on the back of some inflated figures, then let them. I expect they are quite aware of the "truth" of the situation anyway.

Sidenote- From what I understand, EVE's concurrency is massively overstated compared to actual active players playing at the time, but then a lot of SL avs online are afk campers, so who knows.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 6:09:53 AM | link

ren reynolds says:

The press, getting it wrong about SL. Not researching stuff or having any history and just un-critically regurgitating hype - I’ve never heard such nonsense, certainly never touched on that on TN. Look at this from yesterday’s Washington Post about SL, every word of it adding muscle behind the sword of truth and clarity that is the press:

Second Life is a subscription-based 3-D fantasy world devoted to capitalism _ a 21st century version of Monopoly that generates real money for successful players. More than 1.95 million people worldwide have Second Life characters, called avatars.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 6:30:43 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

So, the press has it wrong this week? Next week -- next year? They'll get it better. Shirky himself didn't even read the economics page.

"Snarky Shirky or Why the Geeks Got to Go"
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2006/12/clay_shirky_or_.html

Some better analysis of publicly available numbers:
http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/12/what_is_the_tru.html#comments

Posted Dec 13, 2006 7:45:49 AM | link

Cael says:

By the time they get it right, the backlash against Linden Labs' outright lies and of course, all the porn - "PAEDO GAME SUCKERS BBC!" - might well flatten Second Life.

Which would be good.

But it might also flatten every other online world. Which would be bad.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 9:03:54 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

Cael > By the time they get it right, the backlash against Linden Labs' outright lies and of course, all the porn - "PAEDO GAME SUCKERS BBC!" - might well flatten Second Life.

I already have the Countdown to backlash post written, I was just waiting to post.


>Which would be good.

why?

Posted Dec 13, 2006 9:23:12 AM | link

Endie says:

That "Snarky Shirky" piece that Prokofy wrote is pretty hilarious. Well worth a read if you fancy a laugh (although admittedly perhaps not in the way intended).

Posted Dec 13, 2006 10:42:06 AM | link

RickR says:

Many people, I think, log in for the first time, realize all the fetishists really do give them the creeps, and leave 10 mins later when they realize there's nothing to actually do... around about the time the environment has finally finished loading, I think.

I'm personally quite surprised good ol' Jack Thompson hasn't chimed in on SL yet. That'll be a hoot to watch. I'm planning on making popcorn.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 10:52:12 AM | link

Cael says:

Ren:

pour encourager les autres, of course.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 11:46:41 AM | link

Hellinar says:

RickR > Many people, I think, log in for the first time, realize all the fetishists really do give them the creeps, and leave 10 mins later when they realize there's nothing to actually do... around about the time the environment has finally finished loading, I think. <

I’ve spent a lot longer then ten minutes in SL, and never to my knowledge run into any fetishists. I’m aware it’s a big part of the scene in SL, just look at the clothing stores. But in my experience at least, you can travel a long way in SL without actually coming across any active fetish scene. My friends in that world are not involved in it, and its easy to ignore.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 11:56:36 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Thanks to Leonel for pointing out the SL economics page above. This is good data.

Though I'm not sure why he and other SL boosters are crowing about SL having 36K "premium" users. As the referenced blog post says, while these aren't the only users who contribute to the economy, they are the only ones who might be called "subscribers" supplying regular recurring revenue.

So, by the numbers:

  • 2,000,000: Number of users total sign-ups projected for SL by the end of the year.
  • 789,440: number of those who have logged in over the past 60 days -- meaning that about 60% of those who have ever signed up haven't been back in the past two months, even using this "long tail" view of what an active user is.
  • 527,556: Number of 'active users' the more industry-standard (though perhaps inapplicable) 30-day number. This represents a 74% churn overall.
  • 90,000: Number of people who have bought L$ on the exchange. Ever. -- just under 5% of all registrations.
  • 36,000: Number of people paying a subscription for their SL account, or just about 2% of overall registrations.
  • 16,000: According to LL VP Joe Miller, as quoted by the BBC a few days ago, the number of people who can be in one place at one time, "enjoying the same live music event" in SL.
  • 15,000: The approximate number of concurrent users typically on SL.
  • 4100: The approximate number of servers powering SL (about 3.6 users per cpu).
  • 2946: The number of SL users ("business owners") who made more than $50 in monthly profit in SL in November. This is less than 0.4% of the 60-day active users.
  • 50: The approximate number of SL users who can actually be in the same place at the same time enjoying the same live music event (maybe a few more if they all take off their hair).
  • 0.0: The probability, in my opinion, that by any rational measure Second Life will overtake World of Warcraft. Dmitri's quarter is safe. Except maybe from hype.
Second Life is in many ways unique; it is an innovative virtual world, borrowing from the past of Club Caribe, Worlds Chat, The Palace, and the like, just as most MMOGs borrow heavily from the Diku MUD tradition. Unfortunately, as Shirky's post points out, its uniqueness seems to breed an attitude in its proponents that comes out as either hype that would make PT Barnum blush or knee-jerk protectiveness. Neither of these or the perception that it is made up almost entirely of hyper-sexualized fetishists, casinos, and soulless dance clubs are going to help SL's case as its public visibility grows. Hopefully LL and its boosters will look to shoring up the difference between the reality and the image before the otherwise inevitable backlash hits.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 12:25:04 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Endie: That "Snarky Shirky" piece that Prokofy wrote is pretty hilarious. Well worth a read if you fancy a laugh (although admittedly perhaps not in the way intended).

Actually, it was rather good. He flamed geeks for a lot of the right reasons in a funny way. I am a geek. :P Mainstream people enjoy productive leisure activities: knitting, gardening etc... Seen that in LPmuds, MOOs, Activeworlds etc, even with horrible toos, but 3D worlds won't be mainstream until computers come with client software preinstalled and are vastly improved. Most people won't install software and LEARN it, unless they are forced to. Heck, even point-n-click web-browsing can be complicated.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 12:33:14 PM | link

greglas says:

The key point of Clay's post is not about numbers, imho -- that's just the frame. The key part, imho, is where he gives guesses about why journalists find the Second Life hype so appealing -- and I think he gets that part quite right.

The only thing I might say in reaction is that his first point about the press fascination with SL -- the fascination with mimesis by the average journalist -- is actually something that I am beginning to think is more substantive than I previously realized.

In other words, "virtual cow gives virtual milk in Second Life" is such a cliche news story that we can roll our eyes about it, but I'm *reluctantly* starting to realize that it is fascinating to a journalist because it does have some explanatory power for the popularity of VWs. There is probably some interesting work to be done in unpacking our fascination with this. My hunch, though, is that any good writing about this will need to go back to Plato and Aristotle, and not just focus on the last way this has played out with computer technology.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 1:16:26 PM | link

says:

Ace Albion > Sidenote- From what I understand, EVE's concurrency is massively overstated compared to actual active players playing at the time

To clarify, the concurrent users are total logged on characters. This means that yes, alts can be logged on to inflate the number, but does this damage the record itself? Since alts are actual second accounts (only one character per account can be logged in at once) it represents a seperate login to the servers. CCP's claim is less that they have 33,000 unique users logged in and more that their game can handle 33,000 unique connections to the virtual world.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 1:18:38 PM | link

says:

"You can travel a long way in SL without actually coming across any active fetish scene."

Now, there's an ironclad argument for any platform.

****

Picking up on Greg's thoughts - I think the real world finds SL a lot less threatening. The real threat to the daily order is provided by fantasy games, where people can live in an alternative mythological cosmos. Journalists seem to be in denial about that, and find the SL form of escape much more digestible.

****

The SL numbers I am watching are concurrent users, which they conveniently post on their front page. It's been under 10k for awhile. If it starts sneaking up to 30k or so, like EVE, then we may have something happening.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 2:38:34 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Sure, the quarter appears safe by any reasonable metric, but it's also conceivable that hype actually impacts reality. So on the plus side for LL, the coverage must be increasing the number of people trying SL out. On the minus side is the very low retention rate. And Clay is probably right to nick at that bubble.

As I've said before, I love the concept and the people behind it, but I'm doubtful that the place can bring in loads of "regular people" until it gets a lot easier to use and offers more than sex and casinos (not that I am personally above such things). I'm still rooting for it. Despite what some posters suggest, there aren't any haters on that author list.^fn1

fn1 We might make an exception for Entropia.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 2:46:56 PM | link

Fedelmid says:

STOP THE PRESSES!!!!

This just in:

*** BEGIN QUOTE ***
On Friday, December 15, IBM will be giving a tour at 10:00 a.m. ET to show new areas of experimentation on the IBM islands in Second Life. We expect the tour will take approximately 30-45 minutes, and you will be free to explore the islands on your own after that.

As you may know, earlier this year IBM announced it would launch a new business around virtual worlds and 3D Internet. IBM's work in virtual worlds, and what IBM will be opening to the public next week, focuses on three key areas:

1. Virtual business, or v-business – exploring how to extend business opportunities into virtual worlds, but also how to apply virtual worlds to business problems and opportunities. We can show you some of our early experimentations underway in this space with clients.

2. Collaboration and education – focusing on how to extend virtual worlds to help business collaborate both internally and externally in ways that more closely resemble real life, and where we are using these immersive, 3D environments to simplify complex concepts by "showing" them in a visual fashion.

3. Innovation experimentation – working with a broad community to push the limits of what is possible with virtual worlds and to build a community to help build out the next generation Web, one that is immersive, interactive and 3D.

IBM is in the very early days of experimentations here and is not marketing to the average Second Lifer, but rather using Second Life as a platform to experiment on how to apply 3D environments to business and real business problems.

Please let me know if you want to learn more. We will send an invite with details on the location of the event on Friday morning.

Best,

Kenny

SL: Kj Cao

Kenneth Harley

Text 100 Public Relations
Direct: 212.331.8416
Mobile: 212.464.7337
kennethH@text100.com
Holmes Report Technology PR Agency of the Year

*** END QUOTE ***

Posted Dec 13, 2006 2:53:24 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

The irony of the SL is that while it's built for the non-geek, the actual users happen to be just as geeky as the people who play run-of-the-mill games. And more normal people play games, overall, than run businesses. Unsurprisingly, more geeks play games, overall, than run businesses. Ergo, the preference for stupid (yes, very, very stupid; but popular) games like WoW over businesses in SL. You might say socialization, or identity play. I can do both just fine in both WoW and SL, so it's a non-factor. (Well, I've never played WoW, so maybe you can't, but from what I hear...)

As has been stated over and over, the marketing is drawing new users. The new users rarely stick. Yes, some do; most don't. It's great that so many companies are taking an interest in SL. Let's see some results. "20% reduction in productivity due to employees fiddling with their hairdo so one participant each from 75 locations can meet up. And then we realized they couldn't actually hear each other, so we went back to a chatroom, which was the same but the window flashed when someone else spoke."

Separate the concept behind SL, which everyone is nicely infatuated with, from the product of SL, which is incredulous.

The concept is great. Like Anshe, I expect it will be picked up by a competitor who demonstrates some competence, at which point SL will explode. Slowly. Unlike Anshe, I don't expect it to happen "later".

Since I'm a poor college student, I can't afford a quarter. My dime says a serious competitor by 2010 on SL's own playing field. By 2020, we'll be referencing SL the same way we do LambdaMOO. (Remember that thing back in the day?)

Posted Dec 13, 2006 3:53:31 PM | link

csven says:

"My dime says a serious competitor by 2010 on SL's own playing field."

I tend to agree. Only I'm not so sure it won't be LL rolling out a new version.

Posted Dec 13, 2006 5:03:21 PM | link

Raph says:

I actually just posted about the cultural gap between SL users and the rest of the MMOsphere today. I think alot of this thread illustrates it.

http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/12/13/the-sl-cultural-gap/

Posted Dec 13, 2006 7:04:52 PM | link

greglas says:

Hey, LambdaMOO was still up and running, last time I checked. :-)

Posted Dec 13, 2006 9:19:05 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

I didn't say SL would shut down; people would file lawsuits and such, though I haven't been convinced they'd succeed. (Did anyone file after Asheron's Call? I would have expected it to be noted here, so I'm assuming not.) And how often do you talk about what you did last night in LambdaMOO, Greg? =P Virtual worlds are like zombies. Eternally after your brains.

If LL rolls out a new version that makes everything all better, I'd be shocked to my core, but extremely pleased.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 12:08:10 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

I forgot to mention that I think the competitor will be IBM.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 2:43:50 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Michael they roll out a new version that makes everything all better every Wednesday, Michael, do be shocked. Um, it doesn't always making things better, but actually, SL is running like a Swiss Watch today. My theory, too, is that they will at some point, rather than face the agony of having to dump all the land barons and blingtards off the laggy clunky server farm, they will leave us there, and just make a new server far with a clean boot of a new improved SL that they can license to third parties to either host their own or have some kind of customized registration -- they already have a third-party registration API, and this is all the talk of their latest secret FIC session:

http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/12/other_worlds.html

Posted Dec 14, 2006 3:13:30 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

I wasn't picking on EVE except it was given as an example, and I know some things about how people play it that make me think twice about being impressed by the numbers.

A lot of players do use two (or more) accounts to fly around, but a lot of players also leave their characters logged in game in space stations all day- areas of the game that are outside of the world except for text chat and "spreadsheet" stuff. That probably doesn't put much strain on the system.

Michael, there are a lot of geeks in SL, but most of the people I meet in SL aren't geeks at all- they are in the "you have internet, you're a geek" sense maybe, but they're not technical, or into star trek.

A friend of mine suggested that the only way Linden Lab could beat the next big thing to take on SL, would be to be the ones who make it- become their own best competitor. So Prokofy's theory makes sense there, but who knows (or is telling) what goes on behind closed doors? In the meantime I'll make prims while the sun shines (way too much at noon in SL).

Posted Dec 14, 2006 4:51:03 AM | link

Cael says:

There is a pronounced difference between "geeks", as in people who enjoy and understand technology and "infatuated morons", like these people :-

http://www.wearetheweb.org/videos.html

I bet they play Second Life.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 6:06:56 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

(I look over my comment and it looks more like an undirected rant than a response. So take it as such. Sorry if I derail the thread.)

Photo geeks. Architecture geeks. Sound geeks. Hell, I know business geeks. The term geek is characterized by extreme passion for, and expertise, in an unexpected specialization. I know people who think the Internet is a waste of time, but consider themselves geeks. Remember: geekhood existed before Al Gore. But like many other things, this is conveniently forgotten. It's called Presentism by Barry Wellman. To not be a geek, in SL, means you're there solely for the socialization, the museum tours, or playing with a gadget, since there's nothing else to do.

And yes, I entertained the possibility that they'd do the same thing I'm starting to complain (following HRose/Abalieno's lead) about: every MMO company can't maintain even one MMO, but that doesn't stop them from trying to maintain two, three, or four.

I'm really not convinced Philip Rosedale has enough evil genius or visionary in him to pull an Apple revival. I admit I don't pay much attention, but I only started paying attention to TN again a couple weeks ago. My laptop broke down, so I couldn't keep tabs during class anymore.

What you're suggesting, Prokofy, is more like a Sun: constantly limping behind the big boys and shaking hands with whoever extends one. "We do both believe in intellectual property," says Ballmer to McNealy. Right. Hey, McNealy, you change your tune again with SE 6?

Though Sun did take initiative with Project Blackbox, which was tremendously admirable. Maybe LL will buy a couple of those shipping containers and load'em up with bits and bytes of randomized ownership and do the private selling to corporations. If one of the Lindens is paying attention, I'd say do it. It's a good idea.

I should end on that note. And sleep. And maybe sign up for one of those IBM tours so I can fly through the halls. Ought to buy a Superman outfit just for the occasion. See if I can find Lex Luther somewhere in there.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 6:21:45 AM | link

Moses says:

"they will leave us there, and just make a new server far with a clean boot of a new improved SL that they can license to third parties to either host their own or have some kind of customized registration"

This is exactly the sort of thing which I find irksome about where development of these technologies is headed in a general sense. People often reference Stephenson's Snow Crash in these blogs, but I think the piece of his work to keep in mind as we're looking at how virtual worlds get developed and who has access to them is The Diamond Age. The potential implications for further technology driven socio-econommic stratification are disturbing to say the least.

Now I know this is more than a bit off topic from the general thread here, so let me bring it back by saying that this entire thread has been tremendously informative for me. Its been particularly sweet having all of these #s in one place. As far as Shirky's piece, all I can say is it doesn't matter whether or not he got it all right. He got enough of it right to incite Prokofy to post a rather excellent counter argument, and for those of us who are "new in the game" he also provided some back story which is good to have.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 12:22:20 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

I get so beefed some days...

"What are the real numbers?" Asks Clay Shirky, whom I generally do not care to read. Sorry, Clay. I'm with Prokofy on this one. Clay got he numbers wrong while giving other people crap for not paying attention to the numbers. That rings the "Game Over" bell in my head.

He also isn't paying attention to the right number.

I don't care how many people *play* WoW. None of them -- not one -- has ever impacted that world the same way that dozens and hundreds and thousands of people have affected SL. Call 'em users, members, citizens, avies, whatever. I don't care.

We are talking about the difference between *readers* and *writers* here, people.

It seems like a very similar thing, because the interfaces are similar. Look! There goes a weird, purple character that I control with the WADS keys. Look! I can type in an IM window. Look! I can move crap around on the screen and do other various stuff with my avie...

The difference between SL and just about every other MMO out there is the difference between going to an art museum and taking an art class. It's the difference between listening in church and preaching from the pulpit. Dancing in a club vs. watching Club MTV.

Comparing user stats from SL and WoW is like comparing the number of people who watch movies and the number of people who make movies.

I don't care that only a few people are doing it now. It's complicated crap (today) this 3D design and scripting and texture creation. 5 years ago it was IMPOSSIBLE crap.

It comes down to this: In SL, I can be a game god. I can say, "Let there be prims," and there will be prims. I can make the world in my image.

The number that is important, the number that Shirky is ignoring, the most important number is Second Life...

...is the number "1."

One. Me. My. It's my world. Because I can dance with it.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 5:49:28 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

I found it ironic that this was posted today: Become the thing that replaces you.

Hey, Andy, what happens when that number is 2?

Posted Dec 14, 2006 6:46:11 PM | link

Amarilla says:

yo, Andy,congratz ! Btw, where are you dancing at, at the time when LL cannot find more " passionates " to pay LL's expenses and profits, heh ? Remember Enron ? When a company is starting to hype blatant lies , that's the sign that the company is going down ; for a very simple reason : the players figured what's going on and are cashing-out.So,the company needs some fresh blood;wich aint gonna happend, because the gamers have a bad habit : they communicate rather about their bad experiences in a game.Now, it's very probable that SL will continue to exist for the next decades...afterall, Pokemon does too.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 7:21:58 PM | link

Richard Urban says:

Hi TN,

So does anyone know of any reliable statistics from the MUD, MOO, AciveWorld days? Just doing a little bit of backstory for a paper I'm working on and haven't stumbled upon anything similar to the convo going on here about SL.

Tnx.

Posted Dec 14, 2006 8:32:57 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Michael: Good Lord... More 2.0 humor. Me 2.0? I think we call that schizophrenia, don't we?

The "Passionate Users" post is interesting. And what Kathy calls "finding the meta level" is old wine in a new skin. Back in the Total Quality days, we called that "The Root Why." You keep asking "Why" about the reasons for doing something -- whether that be a new product, an improvement, a campaign, etc. -- until you get to something that is part of the foundation of your business. You don't ever "just do stuff."

The concept is also linked to the idea of "doing the right things right." Many companies (and people) do a great job at the wrong things. But because they don't identify the right things (using tools like "root why"), they "succeed their way into failure." They get very good at stuff that doesn't matter.

I don't really care if Linden/SL are the ones that finally (and only) "get it right" when it comes to a user-created VW. I think they're generally nice people (Enron? Jeez, come on) who give good product for the price, which, for many of us, is naught.

What I *do* care about, from a communications and creativity perspective, is that the folks who are most involved in this industry, do just what the blog you pointed at asks us to do, and what I was yapping on about above: identify *the thing* that makes any experience unique and/or powerful. In the case of SL (and, maybe, other good competitors in the future), those are the creative tool-sets and interactions with the world at a higher level.

I'm not a raving SL fan. There are issues with it. If I'd been on the Linden team, I would have *insisted* on much, much more of an emphasis on in-game training "games" for newbies, since revenue relies on folks being able to build/make stuff or buy things from folks that do so. I don't know what the ratio of "builder" to "buyer" is, but I'm guessing that for every one person who learns how to add content to the world, you get a couple people who stick around to use it and buy it. Linden generally treats their high-end users like good customers. Which feels right under the old rules. But if they did the "why-so-who-cares" thing from Kathy's blog -- the root why -- I think they might discover that they should be treating them much more like employees.

SL may be on the decline or the incline. I don't know enough about the metrics and the insides of their finances to be able to tell. But I think that, to paraphrase the scriptures, the difference between SL and most MMOs is that in many games you are "in the world," and in SL you are "of the world."

Posted Dec 14, 2006 10:08:48 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Andy : the ideea of a 3D platform , and the ideea of interractions on it sounds ok, nice, dandy and all.Sure LL deserves a payment for their work. But making it a shady business , acting by purpose in the gray area of laws , and performing this activity ( service provider ?! product seller ?! )under the auspicies of LL's EULA and ToS,is wrong and bad. I can see it from Bragg's case , from the " copy bot " and from many other issues.I apologize for my harsh tone,but even the dynomite was a nice constructive ideea.It counts very much how the ideea is applied. And by whom.IMO, LL -and not only - are ruining a concept.It sounds like when one " brings money into the temple".IMO,the problem is exactely at " bluring the lines between IRL and the game ".Yes,the producer of a game have to be paid.Let the customer to decide how much -and if , at all-based on the percieved quality and value.But what's going on in a game should be just that, a game, meant for fun.The scammery is when the producer start misleading claims , based on the business model : " ...ok,we have 1k new accountants/month, at a 10 % retaining rate there still are 100 of them paying $ 10/month. No problem if they will leave next month, a new sucker is born every minute.Let tell them a load of lies, afterall there is no law or liability against us ".

Posted Dec 15, 2006 12:30:02 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Amarilla: I'm confused as to what part of SL's EULA/TOS you're thinking is shady/illegal. Nobody forces any player to spend a dime in SL. You can play for free. If you want to pay a reasonable amount per month -- very similar to what you pay for an MMO -- you can set up a piece of land and have a "game space" to build things, chat with friends, keep your virtual stuff, etc. etc. Again, totally your choice. If you want to spend more money (and think of it as "investing" -- it may not be, but use that term if you like), you can buy more land, set up a store, spend more time, sell stuff, etc. etc.

But nobody is forcing anybody to do anything in SL. And I don't ever recall Linden forcing anybody to translate their user statistics incorrectly. Does the press? Hell yeah. Is it good for SL when the press does so? Oh, yah. When some idiot in the MSM gets all gushy about SL having "a million residents," and interprets that as "a million people all in one big room having a simultaneous naked rave," that sounds great and generates more interest.

What, specifically, is your beef?

Posted Dec 15, 2006 9:21:12 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

Andy, if you like SL, more power to you, but note that my question is not "Why do the people who like Second Life like it?" I'm not passing judgment on passionate users, who are rightly a law unto themselves. My question is "Of the users who try it, how many become passionate users?" (The related question, of course, is "Why is that number so hard to get to, and why is the press (wilfully? cluelessly?) reporting logins as a metric for those users?")

Your 'Game Over" complaint suggests that you are looking for a way to ignore the question, rather than provide an answer, so let me see if I can ask again, in a register that is less grating to you:

Of the users who log in to Second Life once, how many come back? And of those, how many keep coming back?

I will be the first to admit that I do not have those numbers. Do you? or do you know anyone who does?

Posted Dec 15, 2006 3:15:20 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Clay: I'm not seeking a way to ignore the question. And I'm not even really a passionate SL user, myself. I agree, in fact, with a number of the points you make in your essay. Your statement about the press being all over SL because "the tech beat is an intake valve for the young" is right on point and one I haven't seen before or thought of; nicely done. But I don't see the question in your essay about "passionate users" that you pose here in your comment. You ask, simply, "What are the real numbers?"

OK... The question you ask in your essay is: "How many return users are there?" You then quote the numbers from the SL home page:

"We know from the startup screen that the advertised churn of Second Life is over 60% (as I write this, it’s 690,800 recent users to 1,901,173 signups, or 63%.)"

Right. That's 690,800 users who have logged on in the last 60 days out of 2 million+ (as of recently) who have created accounts since the beginning of SL and not explicitly expired them [I'm a bit shaky on that last; if someone knows differently, if the 2 million includes expired accounts, please correct me].

Churn in most industries does not measure the number of customers you have lost since the beginning of time, but the percentage who have left during a particular billing period (usually, as you point out, in a month).

In the cellular industry, where I spent 10 years, 2% monthly churn was considered pretty durn good back in the 90's. That works out to about 25% a year. SL has been around for more than 3 years. Now, to figure out the average monthly churn, we'd need to know a bunch more info (which, I agree with you, would be fun). But saying they've had 63% total customer churn over more than 3 years is, well... while not misleading, somewhat less than fully instructive.

You're looking for more data from Linden? Well, some more monthly data is available here:
http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php

As I write, here's what we get for log-in info. Residents Logged-In During:

Last 7 Days: 227,254
Last 14 Days: 335,795
Last 30 Days: 541,627
Last 60 Days: 821,549

You say:

"Were the press to shift to reporting Recently Logged In as their best approximation of the population, the number of reported users would shrink by an order of magnitude; were they to adopt industry-standard unique users reporting (assuming they could get those numbers), the reported population would probably drop by two orders."

One order of magnitude? OK... 2 million drops to 200,000 logged in last week, per above. Two orders of magnitude though? Well, that would be 20,000... which is close to what the logged-on right now number is right now (17,489 as of 6:34 est). But we're not talking about that.

You then say:

"There’s nothing wrong with a service that appeals to tens of thousands of people, but in a billion-person internet, that population is also a rounding error."

It's not a billion-person Internet of people who can play SL, though. You need broadband, which is significantly smaller than a billion. And when you look back just two years ago and see that the idea of a "mainstream" MMO getting upwards of a million users was considered a very big deal, the idea of 200,000+ folks logging in every week to mess around with a non-game like SL is not a small thing.

You say: "If most of the people who try Second Life bail (and they do), we should adopt a considerably more skeptical attitude about proclamations that the oft-delayed Virtual Worlds revolution has now arrived."

I don't agree. Churn in and of itself isn't a predictor of the final analysis of the success of any product. You need to know adoption rate, profitability numbers and all kinds of other neat stuff (again, that I'd like to see, too) before you can make that call. If a billion people join and then 90% jump... that's good eatin'.

We also don't know how many people -- like myself -- are "froth" in that churn; people who quit and come back. Now, that will lower the overall pop number, but it will also raise the repeat-customer number. More info that would be good to have, yes.

If you are curious and skeptical, fine. So am I. Lots of what passes for PR for SL raises my BS meter. My point was that you are criticizing folks for wrongly reporting numbers and then doing that yourself. If you wanted to go one click further and do some trend-line analysis of the economic/pop data that SL makes available one-page-down from the home page, and then make some good guesses as to what that means for long-term adoption or month-by-month churn or casual users vs. serious users... OK. But it seems like you're taking the same shallow data that everyone else is saying "Hallelujah" over and, instead, saying "Bah, Humbug!" over, but with no more cause.

My "Game Over" comment was an attempt to be punny (you know... game?). I then went on to be all poetic and stuff about the difference between SL and blah blah blah. I like to mix my qualitative with quantitative. I get like that.

I agree with you 100% that having better numbers would be interesting. And I also agree that much of what passes for PR around SL is goofy. But I think that dickering over even 1 order of magnitude when some "fairly large" number of people have decided to mod 3D structures, design textures, program and animate characters for fun and profit is, well, missing the point. Less than 5 years ago, the only people that did this 3D design and texture work were the creators of games; now players are doing it. Some tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of players.

Posted Dec 15, 2006 7:19:56 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Andy, nobody is forcing you to buy drugs as well.Nobody is forcing you to become a victim of a scammery, misleaded by hypes and false advertising.
The very first - and actually the sole SL's EULA statement - " we have all the rights and you have none " is the illegal one. It doesnt matter how one sugar-coat it , it doesnt matter if LL is selling a product or a service; such claim in a contract is illegal. It's against the basis of any civilized commerce. Explaining me the dynamics of a scammery,and the options i have as a victim, and telling me that nobody forced me to become one, doesnt change the nature of a scammery. I'm not telling that SL is a scammery.I'm telling that LL makes aggressive public claims and statements wich contradict their EULA and ToS; i'm not telling that LL pays the media to release misleading numbers and hypes.
I'm telling that : it " wack " like a duck, it walks like a duck, it smells like a duck , i step into a duck poo.....nah, it's a Virtual World :-)

Posted Dec 15, 2006 8:58:07 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Andy, ofcourse i play for free. But what about those who paid their $ , misleaded and hooked by the hype PR ? What about those banned for arbitrary reasons or for no reason ? They have some real hard earned cash there , and to simply take their money away just because the EULA and ToS says so, to me it sounds pretty illegal.
Yes, the devs are the Gods in game and you are free to remove / modify all my skills /items , i have no problem with that.Ban me, for any reason or for no reason. But what about the $5000 i've paid to you 1 hour ago ? Yes, i was a sucker and i believed your hypes and the PRs. Yes i was a sucker and i never red the EULA /ToS. Does this make it legal for you to take my money and to give me nothing in return ? As long as i dont have any legal recourse against your " right " to vanish with my money , this is what makes your business shady and illegal.

Posted Dec 15, 2006 9:23:10 PM | link

dave says:

To Amarilla:

http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php

3.2 You retain copyright and other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create in Second Life, to the extent that you have such rights under applicable law."

Now, section 3.3 might give you pause as it says:

"Linden Lab retains ownership of the account and related data, regardless of intellectual property rights you may have in content you create or otherwise own."

But council has elaborated on this and said that Linden maintains ownership of the bits and bytes but not any item you create.

http://secondlife.com/knowledgebase/article.php?id=321

I challenge you to provide something that says otherwise.

What nobody cares to mention is the fact that SL seems to be the most unsecretive virtual world. What other game tells me the number of current users logged in? The number of people paying for a premium membership? The number of profitable members ranked into tiers?

No one knows for sure how many people play EQ2 or WoW.

Linden should be praised for openness.

Posted Dec 15, 2006 10:22:18 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Dave wrote:

What other game tells me the number of current users logged in?

You're joking, right?

www.runescape.com

Most popular MMO in the West. Numbers are right there.

155,000 simultaneous users at the moment.
--matt

Posted Dec 15, 2006 11:00:39 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Andy, I think there are three problems with the numbers floating around right now. The first is my fault; the other two aren't.

I speculated about 30 day numbers when I could have used them directly, and calculated a ~74% bailout myself. (I am switching from "churn", to avoid the overloaded word from subscription billing periods.) This was my fault.

However, that is the only number I speculated about which I could have gotten on my own, because even the 30 day bailout rate does not tell us directly about return users, and given the social nature of the SL offering, requiring both synchrony and critical mass (but not too critical; they have a problem similar to irc in that regard) the return user rate, however calculated, matters far more than simply discounting the storm surge of press-driven signups.

A few weeks ago, I started tabulating daily reported total and 60 day logins, on the thought that the respective deltas could in turn tell me what percentage of the 60 day growth was from new signups, but as I began, I realized how long it would take to reverse engineer even speculative numbers.

Now this would make sense if SL were being secretive about its numbers, but (and this is the second problem) they are reporting numbers like crazy -- they are just reporting the wrong ones. Many people have pointed out the stats numbers, or Rosedale quoting a 10% figure, but on the login page they report the flattering numbers, and the official Second Life blog, they refer to first-time users as Residents, a fairly egregious attempt to confuse the average viewer. I have no more patience with the 'Everybody inflates the numbers that way, and the LL team has been more straightforward in the occasional interview' argument than I do for the 'We don't need to report CEO compensation directly, because smart investors know to add in things like options.'

Several repsonses to the piece have suggested that the number of actual users doesn't matter, but LL is clearly benefiting from the perception that there are millions of people doing something with SL; this is just as clearly not true. LL is doing many things to direct attention to non-social metrics like first-time logins, and then encouraging the press to use those as if they were social proof of value, trying to trigger the "Two million users can't be wrong" sensibility. (Assist by Business Week.)

And this is the third problem, of course. The press seems not just to be falling for those numbers, but falling all over themselves in doing so. The impetus for the piece was realizing that it was easy to get useless numbers about SL (even paid users is a poor proxy in an environment where many accounts are business expenses, and hours logged in can't be backed into the median user without knowing the distribution curve) but hard to get useful ones. After that impetus, though, most of the _content_ of the piece was wondering why the press does not seem to care about the bait and switch metrics.

It may well be interesting that lots of people are making things in 3D -- when I was making Quake levels with QuArK in the 90s, I always assumed that sort of thing would go mainstream. But it was also interesting when people were logging into LambdaMOO, and when people were playing Zork, and those environments turned out to be closer in spirit to the Society for Creative Anachronism or Renaissance Faires than they were like email or the Web -- they were the beloved province of passionate users without ever going mainstream.

I am not passing judgment on Second Life as an experience -- some people like it, some don't. I would, however, like to know the ratio between those two values of 'some', because I want to know what the users who _are_ passing judgment on Second Life as an experience think of it. To conclude that every service that generates some good effects and delights some users is a success is to set the bar too low -- the world is filled with sites and services that met those thresholds and still failed.

If a lot of users who try it come to use it regularly, or if the users who use it regularly gradually increase their usage, that is good news, but if only a few users come back, and if the ones that come back spend a while indulging dollhouse pleasures only to leave later (as with Friendster and profile decoration) that's bad news, and given the rhetorical weight SL has taken on for people thinking about social software for the first time, sorting out the likelihood of those possible outcomes matters a lot.

Posted Dec 15, 2006 11:36:08 PM | link

Moses says:

The one thing that comes to me now on a second read of many of these posts (and I should admittedly reread Clay's article before posting but hey), is that of the two to three main topics here (numbers, LLs business practices, and the press) one of them is a sort of non-issue.

The press will be the press. To criticize the media for blowing a story up for convenience, for marketing, or just out of habit is not unlike criticizing politicians for making (and breaking) campaign promises. If you step back and look at the larger media landscape, there are some very salient reasons for taking a story like SL and making much of it. After all, it is fundamentally a success story (at least for the time being), and for the vast majority of people it looks like something novel whether or not it really is. When you know your audience is staring intractable failure in the face every morning over their cups of coffee, things like novelty and success are pretty hard not to make the most of.

I'm not trying to let the writers, editors, or anyone else who either didn't do their homework or willfuly ignored relevant facts off the hook here. I'm just saying that there's one piece in all of this which shouldn't come as a surprise to any of us.

Posted Dec 16, 2006 12:36:09 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Dave, who told you that LL's claims in EULA/ToS are legal, legit, ethically correct or moral ? AFAIK, Bragg's case is not over yet. Dont challange me, challange the Judges :-)

Posted Dec 16, 2006 6:24:06 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Oh Dave , the " council has elaborated and..." let see what the council is telling us : i own the item i create...hmmmm....that must be the programm, the script, the code i write , right ? That " thingie " wich is able to interract with/on SL. Well, but after i upload it to SL, it becomes bits and bytes on SL's servers....now i get it....it somehow becomes LL's ownership;and it's not me who trade that thing , is the avatar...ops, the avatar is also LL's ownership....but yes i praise Linden for its openness : "....whatever comes after VIRTUAL,means it is NOT ". This urge to release flamboyant numbers , and to make " virtual" ( lol ) statements , standing with half a** in the real world and with the other half in a pretended-above reality " VW " , is telling the true story.
Even if would be 1 billion active players there,i still remember a fact : the earth is not flat, as billions used to believe.
And David,who cares how unsecretive is SL ?! We are talking about LL . But even if LL/SL is the most unsecretive entity , it is still much too secretive . Btw, try to challange me on the in-real -world fields, not inside LL's black-box.I'm not there.

Posted Dec 16, 2006 11:25:10 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Clay: You keep saying that you're not passing judgment on SL. Let me make something clear; neither am I, not one way or the other in terms of "good or bad."

I am, however, saying that it is "Different." Which, I suppose, is a judgment of sorts. But my criteria for critiquing articles that critique articles that critique SL requires that they take the "difference factor" into account to some degree, or at least acknowledge it. And so a piece that asks "What are the real numbers?" and then goes on to make some valid points about Linden's rose-colored-transparency, and various press silliness, while not taking into account the differences in how those numbers are important between SL and, say, WoW or LambdaMoo, doesn't do the story complete justice.

For example... there were lots of press stories back in the day (cough, groan, where's my Cane of Limping +2?) about Doom and Quake and how modders were making their own versions/levels. The press has gone bonkers over all kinds of Internet doo-dah before, yes. But you make a great point in your piece that you don't follow up on:

"...Unlike Warcraft, where the story is user adoption, here most of the stories are about provider adoption, as with the Reuters office or the IBM meeting or the resident creative agencies. These are things that can be created unilaterally and top-down, catnip to the press, who are generally in the business of covering the world’s deciders."

Right. That's a very interesting piece of the puzzle. If a million kids do something, whoop-dee-doo. Last year it was hoola-hoops, this year it's WoW, next year it's glowing, laser tattoos. It's good for one story in the "Lifestyle" section, and be-gone-with-ye. Until Rupert Murdoch can buy it out, there's no story.

But if a dozen Fortune 500 companies do the same thing... well, that's news, eh? Well, at least it's *different* news. Which is my point, since "different = news" for the press on most days. WoW has gotten plenty of coverage as "The Biggest MMO Evah." And "Addicted to Elves." It's had a "South Park" episode. Great. I really like WoW. It's a great game. It may be "The New Golf." SL, on the other hand, is attracting IBM, ad agencies, American Outfitters, universities, etc. etc. to come in and build stuff, not just play. In some cases, just for the PR. Which is, frankly, one of the reasons early adopter companies had big ol' honkin' Web sites early in that media's life. "Look, ma! I got me a U.R.L! Only 1% of the people can see it... it ain't got no functions but a dump of our brochure, but it got me a story in the paper!"

Earned media from "man-bites-dog" media stunts are not new to SL, the Web or any media.

When the Web came along, lots of naysayers with both feet in old media were very vocal about it being "Slow TV with too much text and crappy little pictures." No, no, no. New media is not old media in too-tight jogging shorts. It takes a while to see the fundamental differences and come up with good metrics that really make clear how to evaluate the value of any media across a broad spectrum, or to compare it to any other.

The point being, that right now, comparing SL numbers to WoW numbers is like comparing TV numbers to Web numbers back in 1995. Or MMO numbers to PC/console game numbers in 2001. Or web-page/content author numbers to email-author numbers in 2001. Or email numbers to snail-mail numbers in 1985.

Remember how few people created Web sites or presences back when you needed to know pure HTML? A blog is, from a technical standpoint, just a Web site, eh? Same with a MySpace page. But a difference in measure becomes a difference in kind when you throw up a tool as easy as Blogger or TypePad or MySpace and enable a number of social networking tools to help folks connect with them, rather than have them exist as solo pages/sites. The ability, within SL, to "do something yourself" makes it more akin to a wiki or BBS than an MMO, in my mind. And that's why I went off on my "The number '1' is the most important number" little rant.

For TV, radio, print, many Web sites, and even many MMOs... my "interaction" is passive. I am not "me" except inasmuch as I have a credit card with which to pay for the service. And the number of people who regularly do so (or some equivalent) is the number that lots of folks are looking at Linden to provide.

How many people pay to use Google as their search engine? How many pay for their SEO vs. getting some good traffic just for their dang fine content? What is the percentage of editors at the Wikipedia who are businesspeople who are being paid to update professional entries? How many freely hosted blogs will have an effect on people's gift buying decisions this holiday season? How many eBay transactions are re-sales of things that were previously bought on eBay?

Lots of good questions about how these things work together. Lots of weird, wild, funky ways for the pieces to fit together. I agree with you that the "The Metaverse is Here Today!" story is garbonzo. But if you want numbers, how about this set from the Business Week story:

"Residents spend a quarter of the time they're logged in, a total of nearly 23,000 hours a day, creating things that become part of the world, available to everyone else. It would take a paid 4,100-person software team to do all that, says Linden Lab. Assuming those programmers make about $100,000 a year, that would be $410 million worth of free work over a year."

OK... Even if that's hyped up by an order of magnitude... why not at least cover that angle, too? "Second Life as giant, cooperative, world-building engine?" Just like the Wikipedia, it's a place where people put stuff in. Stuff that has some level of quantifiable value. If you take even the low-number of "residents" of SL, but compare the platform to a software development company, it becomes a different story entirely than when you compare it to WoW. An unpaid $410 million content-development team (or even a $41 million one) is no longer a rounding error in that universe.

You say, above: "...given the rhetorical weight SL has taken on for people thinking about social software for the first time, sorting out the likelihood of those possible outcomes matters a lot."

I agree... to a degree. It's an important discussion. But if SL tanks due to bad management or financial troubles or misreported numbers or... whatever... I don't believe it will fundamentally clog the pipes of future 3D, interactive, user-built spaces. Maybe Google and SketchUp will do it. Maybe a great Open Source platform will pop up from Sun or IBM or maybe Microsoft will decide to monetize the boojum out of it.

Because I do, think that people like "doll house pleasures." It's just that, at the moment, it's as difficult to dress the doll as it was to code HTML back in '96. When it's as easy to prim, script and texture as it is to create a blog, I believe we'll see way more virtual stuff happening. And then I think (based on no data but my own penchant for fantasy and sci-fi) that the "doll house pleasures" will bloom into things vastly more interesting... just like all those goofy little Web sites from the early 90's bloomed into Amazon, Google, eBay, MySpace, blogs, the Wikipedia, etc.

I teach the history of advertising. At every stage of new media development, we tend to treat the new stuff like the old stuff, but with some funky stank on it. You say in your article that:

"Someone who tries a social service once and bails isn’t really a user any more than someone who gets a sample spoon of ice cream and walks out is a customer."

That's not what lots of WOM marketers would say these days. They'd say that that taste-spoon guy *is* a customer, just one that hasn't purchased. Yet. And he's a heck of a lot closer to a paying customer than one who's never tasted, or is only eating your competitor's product, or doesn't eat ice cream at all, or doesn't know where your store is, or was never exposed to your in-store marketing, well-trained clerks, etc. etc.

No. SL is not the Metaverse. But it is also not WoW. Getting more numbers would be lovely. And having a press that wasn't, often er... silly... would be lovely, even more so on issues like health care and education. But if "sorting out the likelihood of those possible outcomes matters a lot," then I think it's equally important to discuss them in a way that takes "user adoption" into a helpful context.

Posted Dec 16, 2006 11:53:58 AM | link

Hellinar says:

@Andy> SL, on the other hand, is attracting IBM, ad agencies, American Outfitters, universities, etc. etc. to come in and build stuff, not just play. <

I think you have hit a nail on the head there, Andy. It’s the focus on creation that makes SL different. And justifies a focus on the numbers that measure the creative energy and not just the consumption.

I don’t buy the argument that “the Metaverse is arriving tomorrow”. A common thread in the adoption of technology is that it takes a generation or more from something being possible to being widely adopted. Many people forget that TV broadcast started in the 1930’s, but weren’t widely adopted till 30 years later. As long as most of the population values face to face over electronically mediated conversation, and physical over virtual objects, the Metaverse will be in the future. It will take a while for that old fashioned value system to die out though. And for the technology to make the virtual worlds the “obvious” place to get certain things done.

Mind you, one of the big drivers for adopting new technology is warfare. And I wouldn’t discount that. Novel technologies have ways of interacting and reinforcing each other. Take biotechnology for example. It might not take many accidental or deliberate epidemics to make mediated conversation an attractive alternative to the face to face kind. Hopefully, we will take the slow but steady route into the online worlds, rather than being driven there by our own stupidity.

Posted Dec 16, 2006 2:19:31 PM | link

Moses says:

Hellinar said: I don’t buy the argument that “the Metaverse is arriving tomorrow”

and lord knows thats what a lot of the buzz is about here. I'd just like to throw out that flip phones are not communicators a la Star Trek. Although they sure look a heck of a lot closer to it than either their stationary or mobile progenitors, thats really about it, appearance.

Equally SL is not the metaverse, and probably not the egg from which it's going to hatch. Its appearance is tantalizingly close to those forecasted by Gibson and Stephenson and all those other fantastic creative folks, and it's apt to make us want to either celebrate the arrival of a future we thought sheer fantasy (or perhaps have been longingly anticipating), or lambaste it for not being that same thing thereby protecting ourselves from (in some instances repeated) disappointment that so often arises on the heels of promising new things.

What I'm driving at is that there is a bigger phenomenon than user created content, dodgy numbers, or poor reporting involved here. The human imagination is at play and people have collective and indivual visions about what this all means and where its going (including the people writing on this blog). Hence, the fact that SL is not the metaverse doesn't really matter. It has us thinking and talking about this so called metaverse and thats actually pretty significant no matter if you are an advocate, a critic, or even a "normal person."

Posted Dec 16, 2006 3:38:22 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

@Moses: Part of the issue regarding the press is that LL is spoonfeeding them. The press will be the press, but a lot of this is being handed to them. And we aren't surprised; but neither is LL. I want to reiterate that I don't mind that; I think good press is good. But it gets very tiresome.

@Andy: The "What happens when there are 2?" comment wasn't a reference to 2.0. I was asking "Two choices?" Like, "I could either go to Second Life, or the big shiny over there..." Second Life played this role for a while against There; we don't hear about There anymore, because the LL hype machine obliterated them and left them in the dust. It's still There (ha, yeah, no); similarly, Second Life will still be there even if they get steamrolled by some competitor.

Second Life is important. Most of us acknowledge that, if by doing nothing else but making it the only other world that TN reports on more than once in a blue moon. (See: Endie's data mine analysis) The hubbub surrounding that debate, I suspect, has dampened the authors' enthusiasm for posting anything.

I know about five people that recently (last month) got Second Life accounts, at least partly by my insistence. (Nevermind that I've been suggesting it for the past year. My marketing sucks. Sue me.) None of them were impressed. One actually called it clunky. Which it is. I finally downloaded Second Life again last night (after playing around with Multiverse) and discovered a Stargate someone built. Kinda cool. Then I realized my music streaming wasn't working properly, so I couldn't enjoy my old haunt anymore. Bleh.

It's important. But not in and of itself. In a vacuum, SL is irrelevant. (And so is WoW.) But it's important as a milestone. (So is WoW, for the same reason.) It's something to go to, take pictures for the vacation slideshows, and then move on. Will SL last? No, not in its current state. Neither will WoW. SL has the potential to change, though, which is something WoW doesn't have. Especially if you read Abalieno; you'd be convinced WoW died over a year ago, honestly.

So I'm expecting a competitor, but I already went over that.

Posted Dec 17, 2006 1:17:14 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Clay, I wouldn't have had to write as an extensive critique of your post as I did if you were merely skeptical about numbers. You're unimpressed and snarky about a lot more than the numbers -- the whole thing chafes you and I think it's because it goes against the grain of all your received wisdoms. I think rather than have the dispute about the numbers be what you hide your irritation over, you should just go ahead and hack at SL for the real reasons it bothers you so we can get more about what's up -- and I imagine my critique has in fact summed it up -- it's not a tekkie-wiki geek thing, even being made by geeks.

Oh, and...The Metaverse is already here.

The numbers like 2 million are fake. This is news? No. But it is growing, and I can only talk about the realities of this virtuality I know, like the 6,000 landowners growing to 36,000 within 18 months. or my own numbers in my business:
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2006/12/my_numbers.html

Aside from all the very relevant and legitimate questions here about how to measure churn, which Andy and others flag, the question is: how many come back? I see this happen all the time. People come back in 30-60-90 day cycles because either they can take on the time or expense or the learning curve or they got a better graphics card. I was like that myself.

Posted Dec 17, 2006 2:04:32 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Michael: I was being (attempting to be) funny. I know you weren't talking 2.0 in a Web 2.0 sense. I assumed you meant competition. But since I meant "1" in the sense of "I/me," I took "2" to mean "two of me," which would mean internal two-ness. Which, when I can have multiple avies, already kind of exists. SL (and other non-meat pursuits) is, in a way, competing with RL for my time. I am a heap of broken images. Hence the name of my blog ;-)

You say: "In a vacuum, SL is irrelevant. (And so is WoW.)" Well, in a vacuum, the only thing that's important is air, or the lack thereof. There's a great Python sketch where Cleese is an ad man, selling string for (I think) Palin, his client. He claims, at one point, that the string is water-proof. Palin says, "It is not!" So Cleese says, "Then it's water absorbent!" Yup. Everything that's not water-proof, is, by default, water absorbent. When I told my brother-in-law (a lawyer... brother-at-law?) this, he replied, "Everything *is* water proof, to a degree. If you remove the element of time."

So. Yes. In a vacuum, nothing is important. But I never got paid for in a vacuum or laid in a vacuum or ate a fine meal in a vacuum. So we're stuck evaluating SL, WoW, There and other data points.

@Prokofy: I'm agreeing with you on this one in so many ways... but when you say, "The Metaverse is already here," you end up (to some people) sounding like folks who use the term "literally" and then say figurative things:

"I was literally on fire with excitement for the project."

No. You weren't. You were figuratively on fire.

"Snow Crash" is an important book to the cyber-culture, and SL owes a bunch to it, sure. And if we want to use "metaverse" (small-"m") to mean "shared, 3D virtual worlds with representative, physical avatars," I got no beef with that. But, at this point, there's a bunch of stuff that the "Metaverse" (capital-"M") could do that nothing on earth is capable of; some of which is "Matrix-y" good-fun, ding-dong, entertainment-level, fictional, interesting stuff... some of which would be, in fact, either scary or useful or disturbing or dangerous. Some of it both.

When we say "The Metaverse is already here," it makes some smart people go all fidgety. Because, by the same token, I could say, "Jet back-packs are already here." Yeah, I saw 'em on the Science Channel. And they can carry one, well-trained guy for 5 minutes. Hydrogen cars are here, too. If by "here" you mean that some minuscule number of test-mobiles and short-run experimental designs are up and running. And solar power is here, yeah. But... etc. etc.

But "The Metaverse," as it is exemplified in "Snow Crash," is not. In that usage, it was pervasive, invasive and deeply important to the society described. We can certainly say, "The 'Net is already here." And "Hackers are already here." And "Cybercrime is already here." There are many elements of what was cyberpunk/sci-fi fiction just 10-15 years ago that are now, clearly, here.

The Metaverse? SL (and others) may become it. But just like Arpanet was not "The 'Net," and CB radio was not "mobile telephony," I don't think we have anything yet that qualifies as "The Metaverse."

That doesn't make SL and the rest of the scene any less important. But over inflating the language we use to describe what's going on currently (outside the realm of fiction or poetry... where I always encourage hyper-inflation) is less than helpful.

Posted Dec 17, 2006 12:51:39 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

But Andy, the Metaverse *is* here. You're soaking in it!

Posted Dec 18, 2006 4:32:05 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Prokofy: Oh. OK. I thought that was cathode rays. My bad.

Posted Dec 18, 2006 9:03:44 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

Prokofy, you didn't write an extensive critique of my work, you wrote an extensive critique of Orlowski's work and put my name at the top.

Let us stipulate, as the lawyers say, that dissing users who like something is both contemptible and irrelevant. You and I are in agreement on that point, which is why I did not and would not comment on in-world experience in SL. Nothing I could say on that subject pro or con would matter. Your syllogism -- Clay is an old skool geek, old skool geeks criticize the Second Life experience, therefore Clay is criticizing the SL experience -- isn't borne out by my original post, which asks about the numbers.

So lets talk about the numbers. You say, more clearly here than on your own blog, that the 2 million number is a lie. You also say that this isn't news. I have to disagree on the latter point; the blog and email traffic I've gotten after posting that suggests that there are quite a few people who weren't aware of the phoniness of those numbers, and there are quite a few commentators basing their predictions of a bright future in part on those very figures. It seems self-evident that if LL didn't get some benefit from that kind of lying, they wouldn't do it, so I think your cynicism about everyone seeing through the numbers is not in fact true.

Your phrasing of the question (again, much more clearly here than on your own blog) is the right one: how many people come back. I think you can see why, in the face of a company that distributes numbers that even its defenders deride as lies, I'm not willing to accept "it happens all the time" as a metric. If you could quantify what you mean by 'all the time" -- 10% of users spend 10 hours a month, 5% of users return weekly, any metric at all in fact -- you'd be offering a far more cogent reply to that question than anyone else has managed so far.

Posted Dec 18, 2006 9:38:31 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Andy, I think I understand your point about difference, and I think it may be where we diverge most.

*Everything* is different from everything else, depending on the level of detail. Back In The Day, there were passionate discussions about the differences between MUDs, MUCKs, MUSHes and MOOs. From our current vantage point, they all look like variable implementations of the same idea, but from inside that world, those differences loomed large. Any two technologies differ, or they wouldn't be two technologies; from my point of view the question isn't one of difference but salience.

You point to the adoption of SL by Reuters, Harvard, et al. That is certainly a difference, but is it a salient one? I don't know. I've seen enough institutional adoption of appealing but ineffective technologies (knowledge management, intranets) and enough world-changing tools drawn in in despite initial institutional indifference or even hostility (email, IM) to make me discount that sort of adoption as a good proxy for either popularity or utility.

As to your point about there being skeptics about HTML et al, yes, of course there were, but what are we to make of that fact? One fork in the conclusion tree for "People were skeptical of technology X, and X succeeded, so skepticism is useless, and all technologies succeed." The other, more tenable fork is to ask "What separates predictive and non-predictive skepticism?" I don't have a full accounting of the answer, but I have a piece of it: with HTML et al, the skeptics weren't users and the users weren't skeptics. Whatever the bumps on the road to ubiquity for the Web, they didn't include a high percentage of the early adopters bailing.

You ask why I don't write about the way in which SL involves novel productive models, and the simple answer is that I don't trust myself to pass judgment on that subject and, more to the point, I don't trust anyone else, least of all LL, to pass judgment either, without first knowing if that difference is salient. And the only metric I can think of for salience is user adoption -- not how many people try it, but how many of the triers become users? Even Rosedale's 10% active users" quote is problematic, because he proposes no threshold measure for 'active.'

I sort of expected, after my original post, that someone would answer the question with a real metric, but mostly what I've seen are links to the stats page or attempts to change the subject to thinks like metrics of institutional adoption. I also assume LL knows these numbers and won't publish them. What I don't know is if anyone else has them.

Posted Dec 18, 2006 9:59:01 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

Clay > […] the 2 million number is a lie. You also say that this isn't news. I have to disagree on the latter point

To generalize I’d suggest that - for anyone with any skin in the Virtual World game it’s not news, for anyone for who Virtual Worlds are news, it probably is.

Having said this, I still read that Dr C said that Norrath’s GDP makes it the 77th richest place in the world.

Posted Dec 18, 2006 4:09:37 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Clay, your contempt for the people in this world where you didn't find anything compelling because you have a "rich first life" (as you felt compelled to let everyone know) drips from every line and follow-up response, and lets me know just how ideological and emotional this is for you. It surprises me. With all your love of technology, study of group dynamics, and everything you write about, SL is the perfect place for you. By all logic, you should have opened up at least a 512 m2 shack to hold discussions and little experiments in this place, which is fascinating. Instead, it's a yawn.

I'm sorry if you haven't read my blog or the Herald or my posts for months in which I and other writers said the one million was a lie and the two million is perhaps less a lie but still fake. How many prostrations on this does anybody have to make to satisfy you?

*Bows to East, West, North, and South points of the compass and chants, "The LL subscriptions numbers are cooked, the LL subscription numbers are cooked.*

Are we done yet?

Nobody has objected to your deflating of the numbers. But you're tackling the numbers out of impure motives -- or else you wouldn't have the energy you have on this and the blinkered approach to recognizing the vast work of other puncturers before you like Urizenus Sklar or Tateru Nino. You went after these numbers because -- admit it -- Second Life just irritates the hell out of you. You find it shallow and dull and in crass, mass taste. You like to be a guru of such things, but never to participate in them because that would be beneath you. So that bleeds through -- and you took up the numbers issue as an expedient way to vent your snark about Web 2.0 in general, and SL in particular.

We've all shored you up on your puncturing of the numbers. Because we punctured them long before you. There are hundreds of posts on the official Linden blog puncturing them. Hamlet, the former inhouse organist who now has a site sponsored by a former Linden who now owns a consulting company, and is very loyalist to LL, has even punctured them. Everybody has punctured the balloon. It lies in shreds of plastic now on the docks. Next? Next is finding a way to independently monitor these numbers either through assiduous RSS feed analysis as some are doing to watch their wierd jumps, or aggressive sampling of a group within SL to try to extrapolate.

But it's never enough, you keep demanding blood after having already drained it dry. That's because you're not really about the numbers; you won't rest until you can prove the thing itself isn't growing at all or is a complete fluke and fulfills your smug notion that the virtual worlds predicted in 1993 and flopping in 1993 still didn't prove to be true.

That's just plain silly though. The Metaverse really is already here. When Ted Castranova talks about 20-30 million people in virtual worlds, what does it take to declare THAT the Metaverse? Did you think the Metaverse only arrives when you and the rest of the Politburo and the Central Committee announce a ribbon-cutting ceremony and declare you've finished building the architecture, discussing its meaning at a conference, and signed your metaversal consulting contracts? Sorry, but everybody else got started without you.

My own blog is the frankest thing on two legs around Second Life, so as to *twice* characterize me as somehow fluffing for Lindens and pulling my punches is just plain silly -- you are just belatedly tuning in.

I gave a compelling story on my blog about the REAL numbers -- 6,000 to 36,000 landowners -- and me, as a landowner, growing from 50 to 1,000 customers. That's all. Not impressive. Tiny. But growth. I speak to the real numbers of real assets and experience. I don't feed the hype. There are no millions. Look at the map. Lots of empty sims.

I know from experience having been interviewed by the major outlets myself that they brush away any reality check. For example, for years, I've supplied sample budgets and cost projections and tried to explain that their hysterical focus on the Anshe miracle isn't even correct about the Anshe miracle, let along 3,000 other people who do the same thing and make a fraction of the money. Nobody wants to hear it.

Short of invading my tenants' privacy and trying to track all their avatar key numbers for when they log on, I don't see how the numbers you desire could be produced. Of course, the Lindens have a TOS in which we all agreed for them to scrape this data. The Lindens would not have any qualms about searching on a query with avatar keys logging in and how long they stay and whether their account is cancelled or goes dormant. But they're not talking.

Only if some enterprising pollster or sociologist could first brave the Linden regulations for research in SL (please try; we need a lot more of these studies) could you perhaps come up with the numbers.

I myself merely eyeball them. I already gave statistics for my group: within 21 days (I eject them if they have not logged on at all within 21 days) there are 950-1000 people at any given time; actually I see more like 1050 today after the Time magazine article and I have no idea if they will increase or last the week.

Many have paid a 30-day rental cube and stayed. Admittedly, this is a more skewed sample than the whole of SL, because someone who has reached a comfort level where they have paid a 30-day rental cube is likely to stay.

I calculate the number of returnees who got frustrated by the number of applicants to the 5 newbie communities I have -- I have a 120-day age limit. Each week I get at least 5-6 people who say while they are over 120, they are really new because they got frustrated and couldn't keep going in SL. I look them over and if they are not obvious griefing alts with griefing groups I let them in, where I can see they really are newbs by their questions and clumsy builds.

I also have an estimated half dozen or more per month that are long-term SL players who leave for 60 days or 90 days and then come back and say, oh, I'm here again, can you give me back my old house.

They leave sometimes due to frustration with the game itself (yes, something that has a 50-50 percent change is a game, not a piece of software) but I have to tell you, all you eggheads are way off the mark by thinking the problem with SL is the steep learning curve.

Dollars to donuts, the single greatest reason people log off, don't come back, and cancel accounts is relationships gone sour -- either bad business deals or hurtful romantic relationships that break up. After all, SL is about people, like any social software. And it's those people reasons, not technology, that make people leave. SL needs better dispute resolution systems.

I dunno, I try to do this for real, as a job, and as a field test, at great cost and risk. You're sitting at game conferences and sniping.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:12:37 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Prokofy , first of all, i insist to re-state that i firmly believe that you are a very intelligent person; also a high qualified person;also that you are motivated by high scientific and moral and ethical standards and reasonings.But let not forget that the road to the hell is paved with good intentions too.
Now : me being rich or poor , in the real life , how this affect the validity of my arguements ?! I had higher expectations from you, Prokofy....
Then : i'm ideological and emotional in the matters concerning my money, my work, my rights...you can bet i am ! I'm surprised that you are surprised ! Prokofy, the Herald is a VW inside a VW ; a game in a game .We are not done yet. " Impure motives " ?! Are you talking about " purity " ?!First, you should define what " virtual " means to you. The SL does not iritates me as much as Linden Labs does.And SL does not equals the concept of web 0.2.
" We've all shored you ..." what do you mean by " we " , do you mean : you and LL's CEO ? Oh, and " next is monitoring " ?! Dude, you want me to monitor LL's fake accounts, or what ?! It becomes boring, you know....let me tell you a news : the human intelligence is here since ages, it's called : " common sense ".But please, feel free to work on the Artificial Intelligence, whatever that might be....afterall, SL is about money,cash, US dollars, and this is what make peoples leave. SL needs a second life. Dont try to do it asd a job; try to do it as a gamer .

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:39:38 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Prokofy, who tricked you to take such big costs and risks ? Sue him. But if , as you say, are doing it as a job, for a living , ask a rise from your boss. Me, as a gamer, a client, a consummer,i refuse to be your " field of researches " , especially when you make ME to pay for it. I vote with my money. And with my presence - or absence - in your Virtual World.
Ofcourse, dont take the " you " as literally, but just in a virtual way.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 4:07:31 PM | link