Shirky to TN Readers: Help Me Out?

After his piece on Second Life metrics at Many-to-Many spurred a lively discussion here on TerraNova, Clay Shirky has asked that we post this follow-up question here:

I've run across something funny about Second Life numbers, and wonder if any Terra Nova readers can help me out?

I've been trying to figure out how many return users Second Life has since posting my original question. Since the Second Life stats don't include historical Total Users numbers, it's hard to compare the growth of 'Last 60 Days' use with growth in total use. (You'd need the historical Total Users data to separate new signups from return users over time.)

While looking for that data, I came across this Next Net post, saying that a) Second Life has added a million to its registered user count between October 18 and December 14th and b) had only 829,537 people log in in the last 60 days.

How can both figures be true? How can they have added a million users in under 60 days, and have any return users, and still have less than a million logged in in the last 60 days? Since Linden Labs specifically says that the total number does not include "Folks who start the signup process but never complete it", I don't understand how Total Logged In can be less than Total Users Added in the same period? Did 150,000+ people bail after signing up but before even logging in? Or is this something else? Any elucidation greatly appreciated.


Comments on Shirky to TN Readers: Help Me Out?:

Tom says:

I think your supposition is correct -- some significant fraction of potential users will complete the signup process, perhaps go so far as to download the client, but never log in.

I have been aggregating total accounts registered, 7-14-30-60 day uniques, and hourly concurrency numbers for the past several months and can say the number of new accounts abandoned post-signup without ever logging in is no less that 20% of total accounts. If you try to calculate statistics assuming a smaller "non-login" rate, you start getting some craziness like negative retention rates...

Posted Dec 19, 2006 11:17:45 AM | link

Cael says:

Nailed.

They're counting the downloads, aren't they?

Goddam. I knew they were lying to us all.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 11:23:00 AM | link

VanHemlock says:

Definitely something fishy going on here. Been trying to work it out myself and came up with about 225k 'never-logins' but similar ballpark and quite peculiar!

I mean surely - you gone to the trouble of a download and account signup webpage - you're going to want at least *one* look, aren't you? That can't all be people going 'Oh, I'll have a look next month sometime.'

Posted Dec 19, 2006 11:40:46 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

And like "only 829,537 people log in in the last 60 days" is so significantly different than 1,000,000,000?

And even if it is, your obsession about this is a MMORPG vestige. SL isn't a game in the same way. It should be judged like a country, by its GNP and other indicators besides raw population.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 11:47:14 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

*1,000,000 -- and yes, the Lindens cook these numbers. Fascinating to study how/why they cook them But...again, it's a growing country with a booming economy. So when you're done peering into your MMORPG-contaminated geek-o-scopes, please look at the actual phenomenon of what people do there, how they make money, and what it sustains.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 11:49:07 AM | link

Neils Clark says:

At current I'm seeing "Total Residents: 2,079,863"

Total residents could include already established members who purchase additional accounts. This would run it up, and provide a somewhat more feasible reason for not logging in.

Still, It doesn't make any sense to buy an alt and never use it.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:08:13 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Neils,

The numbers of alts or empty accounts has grown fantastically for two reasons:

a) the Lindens removed their ban on the creation of more than 5 accounts -- and that's a good thing. It was really silly to punish their long-term, paying, credit-carded customers for taking a 6th account for pay, when they were letting in thousands of freebies with no credit card check, enabling griefers to keep spinning accounts and gold farmers to farm newbie subsidized first land

b) large corporations have flocked to SL, and they often grab 100 accounts at once to be used by all their staff and visitors. While you can buy your own name now for $1500 as a corporate entity and $150 as an individual, some schools or smaller businesses don't want to spend that, so they buy up the 100 slots of a single generic last name. There are just way, way more accounts being bought and kept on hold to be used for events and staff.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:18:33 PM | link

Douglas Thomas says:

There are pretty demanding specs to run the program. It is not inconceivable that a significant number of people would register, download the client, and not have the hardware to run it.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:47:58 PM | link

IAmEric says:

Hi,

I tried this over on James' article, but either no one reads that blog or no one bothers to comment (is there a difference?).

My suggestion is for US to come up with a satisfactory definition of a "regular SL resident" or whatever and present that definition to the people at LL. Then ask them to report that number based on our definition. They would not be obliged to provide that information, but if it was a sensible enough request, based on what I know, it seems likely they would comply.

So how about it? Instead of being lame ducks, why not do something productive? Come up with a definition that is generally considered satisfactory, present it to LL, and see what happens.

I'm no expert on gaming statistics, but I am a scientist so this task shouldn't be too difficult.

Here is my initial attempt:

A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular presence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 30 days old and they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world per week since the creation of their account.

How many Second Life residents are there?

Suggestions and improvements are welcome.

Best regards,
Eric

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:49:19 PM | link

Idyll says:

Neva,
Where on earth are you getting these numbers and practices from, schools and small businesses? Schools are buying second life accounts? Where, who, why? Perhaps you are deeply vested in second life academia whereas I am not but this is the first I've heard of it.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:54:56 PM | link

says:

"It should be judged like a country, by its GNP and other indicators besides raw population"

Why? It doesn't have the freedom to make its own laws.

"what people do there, how they make money, and what it sustains"

... which is? I hear of lots of little microcontent businesses for micromoney, and a substantial porn-related business,

Posted Dec 19, 2006 12:57:53 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Neva, I don't have an MMO obsession. In fact, I long ago ceded thinking about MMOs to Terra Nova, and Hunter, Ito and Dibbell raz me at conferences for not getting my Warcraft on.

I'm thinking about Second Life precisely because it isn't a game, and because it's being proposed as a fairly profound shift in the social fabric of the net, so I want to understand the cumulated judgment of its users and potential users. (And yes, 829K is quite different from 1M, especially considering that the latter figure includes all new *and* return users.)

Second Life looks like software to me, so I look at the figures as a userbase calculation, but if it looks like a world to you, just switch metaphors: the question I'm asking is, of the potential number of citizens in that world, how many have refused to use the passports they've applied for, how many who did visit have become refugees, and why did they leave?

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:07:52 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Eric, I kiss you!!!1!

I love this definition:

"A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular presence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 30 days old and they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world per week since the creation of their account."

The one adjustment I might make is something like "maintained a minimum of 2 hours per week", because averages are susceptible to front-loading effects, like if I sign in once, play around for 30 mins, and then leave the client running in the background overnight, but never return after that, I could be counted as a regular resident 30 days later.

The other, more complicated question is the 1->N relation between users and avatars. You could maybe say "At least one of their accounts must be..." and "must have maintained, with any of their avatars, a minimum of..."

But those are niggles -- this is the crispest statement of the problem I've seen.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:24:14 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Prokofy Neva wrote:

It should be judged like a country

I'm glad you're capable of reasonable agreement here. Countries are often judged on population. In fact, the US spends an incredible amount of money and time every 10 years trying to figure out how many people are in it.

--matt

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:30:52 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Not in the way you imagine, Matt, because you're introducing a fallacy here.

No, a country's population, while relevant, is not any sort of massive indicator of its well-being. You can have small countries that are very wealthy like Switzerland or very poor and oppressed like Belarus. Population ALONE is no indicator of ANYTHING.

That's why I urge getting away from this MMORPG concept, which works for online games like cable television, because the number of subscriptions tells you the number of people who bother to play and be entertained.

In a place like Second Life, like JFK Airport, some people come for short stays; some live there; some visit. You have to look at the GNP and other things like freedom indicators and the health and education systems.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:36:44 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

"A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular presence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 30 days old and they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world per week since the creation of their account."

This is silly. Why would you have to stay on for 3 hours? You could be among the most wealthiest avatars, leaving out your vendor for your kick-a$$ vehicle or widget, and play WoW all day, but be logging literally for 5 minuts a week.

Length of log-in tells you nothing about the country. Lots of people have to stop in Ireland every year as their international flights refuel or they make a connecting flight. That's not telling you anything about Ireland other than that their airport duty-free stores have this or that income, which isn't going to be a really important descriptor of their internal economy and life.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:38:42 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>the question I'm asking is, of the potential number of citizens in that world, how many have refused to use the passports they've applied for, how many who did visit have become refugees, and why did they leave?

I gave you this information already, for the border customs post that I can control.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:40:40 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>Neva,
Where on earth are you getting these numbers and practices from, schools and small businesses? Schools are buying second life accounts? Where, who, why? Perhaps you are deeply vested in second life academia whereas I am not but this is the first I've heard of it.

From RL professors I know
From my tenants
From workshops I've attended in SL

It's routine to grab a group of accounts.

Why would that be hard to accept?

Any business project takes multiple accounts as a routine matter.

BTW, educational groups are given tier-free 4096 m2 land for I believe 30 or longer days as an incentive. so there are lots of school groups. These are college-level, not teenagers or kids because they can only be on the teen grid -- but they are there, too.

The Lindens have published the statistics for the number of educational groups in SL -- there were lots. And with $150 tier instead of $195, and sims for $950 instead of $1250, they have a non-profit rate, there are more and more.

Honestly, I'm not getting this: why all this shock, horror, skepticism, and sneering about SL? I mean, I speak as the official Infamous Antagonist of Second Life who sneers several times a day.

Huh?

Just go in, look at the map. Look at groups. Type in the key words. Go to infohubs. Fly around. It's all there to be seen.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:44:25 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Second Life looks like software to me, so I look at the figures as a userbase calculation, but if it looks like a world to you, just switch metaphors:

BTW, that's the kind of condescending remark that I'm responding to, vigorously.

You are positing from your lofty domain as a computer social software Internet Web 1.0 geek that "it's only software; get over it".

But, frankly, it's a world. And I don't say this to be all sentimental and dewey-eyed about a crashy, laggy, opppressive place that is just as much dystopia as utopia.

I just explain, matter-of-factly, that when you have this many people gathering in a place and doing things in 3-D, it's a world.

Not because there are as many as they say.

Not because the hype is true.

But because this many people gathering and doing things makes a world. It's not a world of fantasy men-in-tights stuff. It's a world where elves as well as IBM suits are co-habiting. But world is is -- and you'll be seeing lots more of them. Get used to it.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:47:39 PM | link

IAmEric says:

Hi Prokofy,

I hope I don't manage to get on your bad side. From what I've read, that is not a pleasant place to be :)

================
You said in a comment to what I said:

"A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular presence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 30 days old and they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world per week since the creation of their account."

This is silly. Why would you have to stay on for 3 hours? You could be among the most wealthiest avatars, leaving out your vendor for your kick-a$$ vehicle or widget, and play WoW all day, but be logging literally for 5 minuts a week.

================

I don't know. I am trying to define a "Second Life resident". To be a resident implies that you actually live there. To be counted as someone who lives there, I think you should actually be required to spend time there. Perhaps 3 hours per week is not the best metric. I'm open to suggestions.

You can argue that the number of residents is irrelevant. That may be absolutely true for your purposes, but others may have a legitimate reason for wanting to know how many residents there are. For example, in economics, the "GDP per capita" is a useful statisic. To get at that, you need to know both the macro GDP AND the denominator, i.e. how many "capitae" (forgive my horrible conjugation!) :)

Best regards,
Eric

Posted Dec 19, 2006 1:59:37 PM | link

Gabriel says:

Just reading through the comments on the LL blog about 2 million residents (which are, by the way, more critical of LL than TN's are), and one of the comments caught my eye:

"Can you fathom how immense that truly is? What business, company gotten 16,000 new accounts [per day] for the past 2 months and managed to handle it as well as LL labs did."

Well, if you want to be technical about it: SOE, Turbine, Blizzard ...

Posted Dec 19, 2006 2:29:58 PM | link

Tom says:

If you want to include the fraction of avatars that leave a "fire and forget" vendor in your population number, then you could just modify the original statement to something like:

"A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular influence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 30 days old. In addition, they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world per week since the creation of their account OR have performed an average of at least US$X per month in net financial transactions over the past 3 months."

The "net transaction" requirement will filter out anyone trying to boost the population number by passing garbage transactions between alts, yet will be sufficient to capture those who have some effect on the world of SL that does not require them to actually log in with great frequency. My suggestion would be to set X=$10, but others may prefer higher of lower usage thresholds.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 2:33:11 PM | link

Baobab says:

Quote Neva "I just explain, matter-of-factly, that when you have this many people gathering in a place and doing things in 3-D, it's a world."

So, by that wording I can rightly claim then; that World of warcraft, everquest, Dark age of camelot, and all the other highly populated MMOs that you shun, are also worlds. I post the following facts:

1> most of them use a 3d client.

2> most have as many or more people logged in at one time than second life

3> most of these people are actively doing something with other people on the server.

Therefor, by your own definition of what second life is it, is also an MMO.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 2:59:32 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Prokofy, you say "This is silly. Why would you have to stay on for 3 hours?", but you don't actually respond. what is your definition of a resident?

Posted Dec 19, 2006 3:09:17 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Of course they're worlds. No one ever said they weren't *worlds*. We just said they are *games* with closed systems. SL is a world with an open system and not-a-game.

People differ in their opinions as to whether SL is a MMO or even MMORPG. I think it's just a world that people use for different things.

Eric, I'm not the one who thought up this hippie commune California term "resident". We've always said it is misleading and horribly politically-correct sounding. To me, consures up visions of a hugely expensive New England psychiatric facility with nurses treading around in white soft shoes speaking in hushed tones about the "residents" when she means "patients".

They cooked up this term to use instead of "players" to get away from the not-a-game stuff and also to show the relationship to land, a business model involving contiguous land and parcels for sale, etc.

You get the term "resident" the minute you make an account, instead of the term "tourist". That's all. "Resident" *is* misleading, but it's merely the term for "accounts".

You could say "users" and "subscribers". The subscribers are people who *pay*. There are 36,000 of them.

While you can fume about my "bad side," I'm really terribly necessary corrective to the extreme geekiness of not only this blog, but most of the blogs pwning the metaverse now -- it's got to make room for more ordinary folks.

What I'm trying to do is point up this kind of scenario:

Plumber about New York City: that's not a city, it's just a collection of badly-flushing toilets and water treatment centers.

Electrician about Niagara Falls: that's not a city with a wonder of the world, it's just a lot of water and bunches of wires.

Clay Shirky about Second Life: that's not a world, it's just software.

People who make software cannot define and proscribe meaning and metrics for worlds. They simply have to zoom out farther from their obsessive collectivitis about counting the number of boxes of their software sold.

The counting of Second Life is a hangover from boxed games and from MMORPGs that judge success by subscription to games.

Second Life should be judged as a country by its GNP and other indicators.

So rather than ranting about how you can backdate this obvious truth to try to warp your bean-counting again back to counting citizens or saying that GNP depends on numbers of citizens, try to grasp the point here: sheer numbers doesn't make sense as a metric.

The metric has to be about what the numbers DO. The 12 million in Belarus aren't doing the same thing as the 12 million in some other country without a Soviet past, etc.

Prokofy

Posted Dec 19, 2006 3:11:57 PM | link

Gabriel says:

"The counting of Second Life is a hangover from boxed games and from MMORPGs that judge success by subscription to games."

Except, when you get to it, SL is a business venture. LL is out to make money, and their idea is that by providing a freeform place to play and allowing many transactions to occur in it, they can take a percentage and make a profit. To LL, "subscribers" are extremely important because they pay for their hardware and their salaries.

Therefore, counting is not a "hangover" from other games. It's a valuable metric to determine whether SL succeeds or fails.

Let's move on to your next point, that SL is a country. I'm going to list several reasons why SL is not an independent state and is, in fact, software.

1. SL does not have internationally recognized boundaries. If this were the only reason SL was not a state, then it could be placed in the same category as Abkhazia (Georgia's breakaway region), Kurdistan in Iraq, Chechnya in Russia, and the Basque region in Spain. However, this is not the only reason:

2. SL does not have a government that provides public service and police power. It has, instead, a company with a customer service department. Which neatly leads into my third reason:

3. SL does not have sovereignty. The residents of SL live in SL because LL keeps it running. SL runs off of LL's servers, its software, and its whim. The residents cannot say "Let us cast off thesedigitalshackles and rise up to control SL!" and expect to run the game. LL is the only group that determines what happens, and they determine this independently of your actions.

Economic activity alone does not make you a sovereign country. You'll have to do much better than transacting money to convince anyone that you should be measured by GDP.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 3:28:32 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Assessment, assessment, assessment. We're desperate to quantify as the precursor to significance, and the (let's be frank) out-of-proportion media attention that SL has garnered makes us all the more desperate to do so. The problem is, we *cannot* assess in any kind of precise way how important SL is in the ultimate sense -- there's too much still up in the air about it. It doesn't matter if we want a fundamentally population-driven metric or a fundamentally market-driven metric (like GNP), neither is going to give us a final word. In fact, each in its own way vastly distorts SL because SL is not one thing (and has shown that it generates the unexpected). Of course, more data (of all kinds) is helpful, but there's no reason to think one of them is going to settle this issue once and for all.

Whether SL is important depends both on what happens in or around it and the broader social transformations of technology and digital society of which it is still one (minor) part. It looks like those interested in making the case for (or against) SL's significance are going to have to do it the old-fashioned way (that would be reasoned argument and the marshalling of evidence, quantitative and qualitative). Anything short of that risks looking suspiciously like either zealous over-promotion or sour grapes. So perhaps instead of getting bogged down in definitional wrangling, we should talk more directly about what we're interested in, and why SL sparks, or doesn't spark, that interest.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 3:41:18 PM | link

greglas says:

I'm with Thomas -- though I guess this was a pitch by Liz to help Clay figure out the numbers, so we're kind of off topic.

With due respect to my own disinterest in the 100K vs. 2M question, I can see why Clay and others would want to understand this. If you're an investor or a business player and you're interested in comparing SL to other opportunities, you want to know how SL's churn rate compares to other Web 2.0 plays out there. If you're interested in Web start-ups, you want that context too.

If TN were interested in #s, otoh, we'd be paying as much attention to Sulake and Neopets as we do to WoW. They have high #s, good RMT economies, they're sticky, etc.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 3:52:22 PM | link

Cael says:

thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0thereisnoweb2.0.

It's just another hype bubble. See also WiMAX, Segway and Second Life.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 4:26:49 PM | link

mjh says:

On the original question: I went to a GDC session by Daniel James a few years back talking about the struggle to get people to play Puzzle Pirates, and he had a little chart: each step of the way--from visiting the web page, to downloading the client, to installing the client, to registering your account, to actually playing the game--there was a dropoff in the number of people completing it. People would even start downloading the client and then stop in the middle.

(i suspect this isn't unique to PP, but is true across all downloadable games, particularly casual or quasi-casual ones; personal anecdote reveals that my desktop is full of installers and shortcuts for demos that i've never worked up the gusto to click on.)

Posted Dec 19, 2006 4:40:56 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Tom, if you're still reading, I'd love to compare notes on the data you've got.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 4:58:26 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

1. SL does not have internationally recognized boundaries.

It has recognizable boundaries -- they lie at the log-in point accessible from any computer with an Internet hookup.

They can use the trick Chechnya (Ichkeria) tried, which was to attempt to deposit at the UN headquarters their signed copies of various treaties, in the hopes that acceptance of the package might constitute de facto recognition of their accession to the treaties. Well, they got that far...Now they just need the perm 5 to open up the envelope...

Second Life could declare itself a sovereign nation, it wouldn't be the first nor last time, nor even the most absurd. It does have control over its borders; LL pretty much secures them, barring the occasional hack.

2. SL does not have a government that provides public service and police power.

SL does have a very primitive and Wild West or Wild East kind of sim government, and of course LL plays the role of a federal government. It definitely provides public service and police power. I think LL provides just as much government as, I dunno, Somalia right now, in its own digital, virtual, messed-up way.

3. SL does not have sovereignty.

To be sure, residents don't have sovereignty from Linden Lab -- we're working on it! -- but Linden Lab has emulated sovereignty from the State of California, whose gaming commission has not yet moved against its many casinos, for example.

Stand up, Tier Nation!

Posted Dec 19, 2006 4:59:11 PM | link

Bill Ashbless says:

@Neva: Second Life does not have political boundaries. It does not provide political or civic services. It does not have political sovereignty. It has 36 000 paying users. It is a dinky fish in a big pond.

Come back and try to talk intelligently instead of lying by twisting simple concepts.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 5:33:48 PM | link

greglas says:

Cael -- There is a Web 2.0. There is a Second Life. There's even a Segway. There's also a lot of hype about those three things.

Some words are pretty useless, but when people say a word as much as they've said Web 2.0, you can be pretty sure that they at least *think* they know what they're talking about. Whether that thing they think they are talking about is conceptually coherent or worth thinking about is another question.

I don't know exactly what Web 2.0 is, but here's one attempt to figure out what people think they're talking about when they talk about it.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 6:16:56 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Why all this shock, horror, skepticism and sneering about anything ? The truth is not important to anyone, anymore. We must to be told that Victoria allegedly has an affair at her teenage and she work for CIA;that's important;and that her husband maybe used to smoke joint during his trip to Africa-but we cannot disclose whatever documents on this , because are secret;actually,we are not accountable for what 100 important media freely chose to press about the subject;the numbers and figures about SL are not important at all : this is why LL post them on their site's front page.SL is not a MMORPG, but is a place where ppls are invited to do business,so, ofcourse, the real numbers and figures have no relevance.Afterall,LL is doing business with players money. The Metaverse is here,why all this shock, horror, skepticism and sneering ?!Why aren't you just happy for the 2 billion accounts?! Why dont you just transfer another $150 to LL's Bank account ?! Just believe us : everything is ok, we have 2 billion accounts, and there in Iraq are a lot of WMDs ;they even managed to buy some uranium.Oh, and they are linked to terrorists. And 386958 schools and small business feels a monthly urge to put their money in SL,wich have a steady tremendous growth rate.Dont you wanna be a part of it ?! Really, i dont get it : why would anyone want to know the truth ?!

Posted Dec 19, 2006 7:00:47 PM | link

dave says:

The million users stat reflects SL and Teen SL while the logged in stats reflect the particular server you are looking at?

Posted Dec 19, 2006 7:28:28 PM | link

Verilazic says:

What about measuring SL popularity by something along the lines of bandwidth usage and "server size." I'm not sure how SL works, but in WoW you can get a different point of view on the size of the "population" by looking at how many servers Blizzard has, along with how many users each server can handle.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 8:42:52 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Verilazic, The popularity tells just sweet nothings about how healthy is a business.A lot of bad businesses had a huge popularity. Then they discovered that Enron was based on hypes and inflated numbers, and fraudulent manoevres. There is nobody out there preventing LL staff to make 1 billion fake accounts and to " recycle " the currency. Or to make subscriptions and withdrawals of cash. This is why is important to keep the leisure aside of business : because we have different laws and accountabilities for each of them .

Posted Dec 19, 2006 10:07:53 PM | link

[email protected] says:

oh give it a rest folks. what's next, an article on how secondlife is killing baby kittens?

Posted Dec 19, 2006 10:17:43 PM | link

Verilazic says:

Good point Amarilla.

Posted Dec 19, 2006 10:33:18 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Once again I'm horribly glad for Thomas Malaby... "Assessment, assessment, assessment." Not exactly how I'd phrase it, but 1/3 of close enough ;-)

Here's the thing: in marketing (my day gig) we always have a goal for measurements, and we measure for three main reasons: to assess (thanks, Thomas), to predict, and to compare. Often what we do is a funky combo of those. We don't measure just for the freakin' fun of it, because measurement (like any activity) takes time and resources. And, unlike other activities, measurement can generate lots of false wisdom and argument and smoke and bad feelings and gimcrackery.

Which is what's going on here; which is what Clay was complaining about in his article; which is what (I still think) he was doing in his article while complaining about it.

This is a long comment. Sorry, but I'm wading in with both feet...

Before setting out to measure, you need a goal for the measurement. If you think that "2 million residents" is a "bad measurement," you need to tell me what you want a "good measurement" to accomplish; what are you trying to predict, compare or assess?

"A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular presence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 30 days old and they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world per week since the creation of their account."

Really? Well, in that case, if you were comparing SL activity to many other activities, most of us would not be:

- sexually active (plenty of folks don't spend 3 hours a week getting it on)

- spiritual (church and other religious activities count for less than 3 hours a week for many people)

- members of our original, nuclear families (I spend about 45 minutes a week in toto on the phone and writing emails with my parents and brother)

- audiences of any major network TV show in history (most of which last 30-60 minutes per week)

By the "3 hours a week" measurement, I'm not sure we do anything except work, sleep, watch TV and (in general) surf the 'Net. I read more than 3 hours a week, but lots of that is for work, some is magazines, some is blogs... Not all one source. Maybe I read in one book, but then that book is done and I move on... I don't spend no 3-hours a week on any particular site, that's for sure.

Maybe players of WoW and other... oh. Ah. Yes. Now we're getting somewhere. Is that what we're comparing SL to? Remember: predict, compare, assess. Are we comparing SL to WoW?

OK. Then I have question about WoW: How many residents does it have? Answer: zero. Even if you take the lowest number Clay's willing to allow for SL, it's a VW that allows for residency. Permanence. Economy. Creativity. WoW? Not so much. When I log off, my character is in The Land of Nod. I leave no shadow behind me on the server except generic stuff I can sell in the auction house, and nobody cares if they buy from me or my evil twin Tauren brother, Garth.

So. In a comparison of SL to WoW, in terms of creative VR tools, SL must be judged a complete and overwhelming success.

Except that's ridiculous. Because WoW doesn't provide those tools. So how can we compare WoW to SL in terms of...

Whoops. Back to where we started. Can't compare the two. Which is what I've been saying all along. You might as well compare WoW to the number of people who rented movies at Blockbuster or went to Disney World.

Because we're comparing things without a goal for that measurement. We're measuring because it's fun to say, "This thing's big. That thing's bigger. Look at how many people fit in the phone booth."

Which, yes, is the problem with all the "2 million residents of SL" press stories. [btw... there has been serious press about SL since 2002, not just since the 1 million or 2 million "resident" mark: see http://secondlife.com/news/]

But that's also the problem with simply saying, "Look at this number problem!" and not having a solution, other than saying, "I want a number that conforms to a different (3 hours a week?) goal-less paradigm."

OK. Enough on comparison. Until you tell me exactly what you want to compare SL to and why, I can't give you a reasonable argument for or against. Well, I'm trying on the "against" thing r.e. WoW and "3 hours a week."

Coming up with "apples-to-apples" comparisons is going to be a problem, because there's not a lot to compare SL to. Or, if there is, we haven't brought it up. Clay says, in his article, LambdaMOO. I find that so... odd... I'm just going to skim on by and assume the comment was meant as litotes.

Let's invite other comparisons, sure. That would be fine. As long as we have a purpose. If the purpose is to say, "Look. SL is better/worse than VR service A, B, C, and the numbers we've set up as a comparison bear that out..." OK. Great. That's a valid review system. That might help people choose one thing over another.

But, right now, would *ANY* measure of user acceptance of SL render a benefit to a potential customer that would help him/her choose to spend time in SL vs...

MySpace? Google Maps? There? WoW?

Right now, Clay thinks that the dubiously positive SL press is causing people to choose to try SL when it may be unwarranted. That really doesn't bother me much. If you're not media-savvy enough to read through some hype and judge SL on its merits after you give it a whirl... if it sucks for you, but you keep playing because the Business Week article was so rosy... well, you're a loon. I think the benefits to the VR/MMO scene from the SL press far outweigh the negatives of the dodgy numerics. We have far more people and companies interested in being involved than ever before. Which is great.

To summarize: If there's a good reason for a better number for comparison, and a good thing to compare it to, let me hear them. If not, complaint noted about the 2 million thing being PR noise. We knew that. Truly, though... I'm kinda over it.

We can talk more about assessment and prediction if you want. The first is often used to quantify internal company goals for shareholders, employees, customers, etc. They can be very specific and even personal. When you assess company strengths and weaknesses over time, those measurements can become (hopefully) predictive.

Let's look at the four logged-in numbers on SL's econ screen today (12/18). Residents Logged-In During:

Last 7 Days: 233,536
Last 14 Days: 338,946
Last 30 Days: 541,827
Last 60 Days: 832,134

Looking just at these numbers, from an assessment standpoint, we can see that the number of logins/day is:

For the last 7 days: 33,362
For the last 14 days: 24,210
For the last 30 days: 18,061
For the last 60 days: 13,869

Logins/day is a velocity number -- how fast are people logging in. Not a size number -- how many of them are in the system in total. Size is important, yes. But velocity is more so, because it predicts size. Looking at this, we see a good trend: More (much more) velocity in the more recent time frames.

OK. So you may say, "Well, all those 7-day numbers are because of new logins. Many of whom jumped on-board because of bogus '2-million resident' stories in the press."

Fair enough. That's one data point. Let's go back and look at the same data for November 18:

Last 7: (192,597) = 27,514/day
Last 14: (270,104) = 19,293/day
Last 30: (435,478) = 14,516/day
Last 60: (589,289) = 9,821/day

Similar pattern; recent usage/day is higher. But now, with two data points we can do some evaluation. From November to December, the growth in users/day at each level was:

Last 7 days: +17.53%
Last 14 days: +20.31%
Last 30 days: +19.63%
Last 60 days: +29.18%

Here's some weirdness! Even though we're thinking (supposing, pondering) that much of our rate of *use* is because of new (and, we think, shallow) users... the greatest rate-in-rise of use is in the oldest set of folks; people who've been "trailing" in the last 60 days.

Let's go back further to October 18... you can't get there from the drop-down that Linden uses, but you can type in the next logical URL for the Excel spreadsheet and get at it ;-)

7 days: (148,478) = 21,211/day
14 days: (194,072)= 13,862/day
30 days: (271,769) = 9,059/day
60 days: (405,931) = 6,766/day

which, when we compare 10/18 to the 11/18 data is:

Last 7 days: +22.91%
Last 14 days: +28.15%
Last 30 days: +37.59%
Last 60 days: +31.12%

Now we see two interesting things in this data:

1. Bigger month-to-month growth in October-to-November vs. Nov-Dec. Let me repeat; the *growth* in logins/day has slowed across two month's worth of comparative data. That's all that means. [There's a weird spike in there... in the Oct 30 day data... may be because of the password leakage issue]

2. And the lowest drop in the slow-down is in the 60-day bucket. We're now talking not even about velocity, but acceleration. Or, to be nit-picky, negative acceleration, commonly called deceleration. Size or volume over time-squared. Because we're measuring the change of logins/day over month. Time-over-time variation.

So not only is some of the greatest positive change over time (velocity) seen in the longest-lived bucket, but the lowest change in change (deceleration) is in the same bucket. Fascinating stuff...

Now... Just so we're clear that I'm clear... this analysis of mine is total crap.

It's based on three time-based data points, each of which is based on four numeric data points that relate to one statistic; log-ins. It's an interesting exercise. It says nothing, frankly, other than what I just said, summarized as:

From the months of October to December, we can see that the rate-of-use of Second Life, as measured by logins-per-day, rose across all categories of measurement (7, 14, 30 and 60 day buckets). The rate-of-rise seems to be slowing, however, as the most recent comparative period (11/18 to 12/18) shows a rate-of-rise of 17.53% vs. a rate of 22.91% for the similar period the month before (in the 7-day bucket). The largest rate-of-rise, however, and the lowest slow-down in same, is in the 60-day bucket, which dropped from 31.12% in Oct-to-Nov to 29.18% in Nov-to-Dec.

We know SL is growing. Therefore, again... this analysis is, except as an internal assessment, somewhat garbonzo. We can ask, "Why did the rate of growth slow from Oct-Nov to Nov-Dec?" Some (like me) might speculate that it has to do with the holidays. There's lots of that ho-ho-ho going on, you know.

But we've had huge SL press in just the last month, since 11/18. If the "2 million users" stories are causing all the froth, then the rate in growth should be on the rise over the previous month's timeframe. Eh? It will be interesting to see what the rate-of-rise does for Dec-to-Jan and Jan-to-Feb.

If it levels out for any reasonable time at, let's say (just eyeballing here), +15% per month (ie, 15% more logins/day every month than the month before), and we equate logins in some linear way with accounts and profit... then you've got a pretty robust growth mechanism in place. If churn has been, as Clay and others have been suggesting, 75% over the 4-ish year history of SL, that's about 2%/month (very rough; no geometry at this hour for Andy, sorry). If Linden can add 15% and lose 2% a month... OK, that works.

Again... That's a whole lot of spinning from just three month's worth of data. And I'm the one who's saying, "It's bogus spinning, AND it doesn't matter."

We still don't know, as Clay is asking, if these logins are "repeat" or "religious" or "heavy-duty" users. We don't know if 99% of these logins are for 1 minute and 1% are for 300 hours. That's important stuff, too.

I don't know enough about what any of this means to make a reasonable, goal-based, assessment of any stats we've got right now. I know enough, though, to be suspicious of both the flaming PR and the flaming thereof.

When SL has a similar enough or robust enough competitor (Rock on, Areae!), then I think we can get prickly about comparative stats. Or not.

I never liked "Everybody Loves Raymond," even though, apparently, everybody loved him. And I liked "Foucault's Pendulum" much better than "The Da Vinci Code," despite the wondermous success of the latter.

So, again, maybe stats are...less than what we need to "assess assess assess."

Here endeth the waaaaay too long comment. Sorry for the wind. At this point in such a new media, I'm just real leery of both overly-good press one way, and overly cynical press the other. I'd like to stay balanced and focused on what we do know about SL: apocalyptic furry goth disco diaspora gambling pron.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 1:03:58 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Andy Havens>Before setting out to measure, you need a goal for the measurement. If you think that "2 million residents" is a "bad measurement," you need to tell me what you want a "good measurement" to accomplish; what are you trying to predict, compare or assess?

What does Linden Labs have as its goal in announcing these figures? Publicity?

Virtual worlds have always boasted about the size of their user base. A newbie is more likely to head for a world with more players than a competitor, because "if it has more players then it must be better", right? It's certainly worth looking at first. If the numbers themselves are impressive in absolute terms, you don't even need a competitor: "eat rotten meat: a million flies can't be wrong".

Linden Labs wamt more SL players. Announcing how many sign-ups they have is one way to encourage this. The thing is, this is a mechanism that has been discredited in the rest of the virtual world industry, for reasons that apply whether your virtual world is game-like or social-only.

>Whoops. Back to where we started. Can't compare the two. Which is what I've been saying all along. You might as well compare WoW to the number of people who rented movies at Blockbuster or went to Disney World.

No, you can compare the two. SL and WoW are similar enough at a fundamental level that we can talk about them both on this blog and yet not have discussions about Blockbuster or Disney World. Usage figures are important because they're understood by non-players. Politicians may not understand why virtual worlds are worth anything, but they know what "7,500,000 players" means. Even though he doesn't write much about virtual worlds, journalists call on SirBruce ahead of almost everyone who writes on this blog because it's he who has the usage figures. Business plans always include usage figures for "similar products".

If nothing else, player head count is important because player head count is important..!

LL is telling the world about its SL sign-ups because they hope to get more sign-ups as a result. It's a strategy that's working for the moment. The reaction of other virtual worlds is understandable, though: if the media think 2 million sign-ups is impressive, well look at us, we have X (where X>2) million sign-ups. Except, we've already been there, done that, and found there are better (albeit not perfect) ways of measuring the populations of virtual worlds.

Richard

Posted Dec 20, 2006 3:36:43 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

Going back to the numbers- I think Prokofy is right to suggest there are people (or organisations) who are signing up blocks of accounts with the same surnames. Because SL surnames are only available for a limited time, so anyone who, for example, wants to mark out a family's worth (either RL or SL roleplay family) of names will do so.

I don't have any numbers on that, except to say I know people who have done this- registered half a dozen accounts to bag surnames for a collection of avatars. They probably don't log them all in.

Dave's (I think- it was way up there somewhere) point about the signups including teen grid, and the logins including only the live main grid might be something. That or maybe they double count everyone who logs into the test grids too :)

Posted Dec 20, 2006 4:50:55 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Andy, with all respect, i can tell you exactely what a resident active player is : is that gamer who pays more $ than the company is spending for mantaining his account active. Yes, it's about a gamer, not about a working programmer doing a business with his work on LL's servers/platform : a real programmer would never give away his work under the provisions of SL EULA and ToS. We are talking about gamers/gamblers. Erm, ofcourse, this doesn't applies when it's about copy -bot.

Shirky,you aint gonna see any real numbers. Keeping tham secret is a part of the " technology ".

Posted Dec 20, 2006 5:51:21 AM | link

Gareth Eckley says:

N.B. The below is an opinion.

Ahahaha.

*Wipes tear from Eye.*

SL is a club. Or perhaps a service. Since it has no ability to project political power and no coherent or credible "voice" as a populace and can be ended with an axe and a large magnet, it isn't a country, developing nation or anything of the sort.

Until it has the ability to project force, it isn't anything but a sociology project and repeatedly stating how "it's a developing nation" isn't going to change that.

A cross channel ferry has a pool of changing visitors and some permanent residents. It does not legally fall within any other juridiction for much of it's existance. It has it's own set of laws. It has an active economy and a defined heirachy. It has it's own in-group linguistic terms.

A cross channel ferry is not a nation-state. A bunch of users connected to a server is not a QNE. Scale is irrelevant.

If your country can lose a vast chunk of it's populace because their REAL country changes their laws regarding net traffic or online usage, then it's not really a country, is it?

It's a fad. It will die.

A real metaverse will only come to pass when it's something millions of users get by default. A bit like how millions of people started surfing the web when their OS started coming with a web client and a PC with a modem.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 6:47:24 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Andy, don't forget how your measurements can get skewed by the day of the week:

1. Tuesdays -- payday, when loads of people finally do log in those alts to collect their stipends -- and maybe pay monthly tier with them

2. Wednesdays -- patch day, when people don't log in at all, and wait for the jello to set the next day.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:12:13 AM | link

Endie says:

Prokofy said:
Second Life should be judged as a country by its GNP and other indicators.

O rly?

Why is it that the kool-aid consumers from SLtopia always claim to be a "country"? I don't see intermediate claims, nor a firm grounding in IR theory for their spoutings. I never see them researching and discussing precedents, either the serious attempts at micronationalism such as Sealand or the Freedom Ship, nor the equally loony cyber-babbling of those such as Cyber Yugoslavia?

Again, if any of the SL-advocates had bothered to acquire a grounding in what the rest of humanity has come up with, instead of blithely imagining that they tread on virgin territory, then they could try and appropriate Benedict Anderson's ideas about nations as imagined communities, or Hobsbawm's description of nations as political creations aimed at economic ends. I'd disagree, but I'd have to admit they'd be harder and more fun to argue with.

My suggestion is that the closest to nationality that Second Life could involve would be the treatment of avatars as legal persons, along the same lines as companies. Good luck persuading any judge in the world.

And there's the point: if no state in the world recognises you, then you are not a nation, a country or a state, either de facto or de jure. You are a bunch of hobbyists playing in a little, happy, furry-friendly cybergame (and oh, it is a game, even if, like golfers, some of you play for money).

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:12:29 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Cmon Endie ! You aren't snip his bubble away , are you ?! Loooooool ! Endie, what are you trying to do here, are you trying to tell him that the Elves are not for real ??!!! It's not a game, it's a Metaverse ! Sleep well, sweet prince....ops, sry, dont forget the monthly subscription plzzzzzzz.....

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:53:06 AM | link

says:

3. SL does not have sovereignty.

To be sure, residents don't have sovereignty from Linden Lab -- we're working on it! -- but Linden Lab has emulated sovereignty from the State of California, whose gaming commission has not yet moved against its many casinos, for example.

"The law hasn't caught up with our illegal gambling den yet, therefore it must be legal"

The FBI could decide tomorrow that the "age-play" in SL warrants an investigation, and proceed to seize the SL servers just as they did to Steve Jackson Games when investigating hacking. At that point, the world goes *poof*, as does your investment in it.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:59:01 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>SL is a club. Or perhaps a service. Since it has no ability to project political power and no coherent or credible "voice" as a populace and can be ended with an axe and a large magnet, it isn't a country, developing nation or anything of the sort

Many people say that about Belarus, too, yet, it has a founding seat at the UN.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 9:53:43 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>The FBI could decide tomorrow that the "age-play" in SL warrants an investigation, and proceed to seize the SL servers just as they did to Steve Jackson Games when investigating hacking. At that point, the world goes *poof*, as does your investment in it.

Wow, this is like...big news? Like...a shock? Like...whoah...something NOBODY UNTIL YOU ever thought of, and never blogged about or yammered about endlessly on forums?

BTW, can someone point me to the same sort of jaundiced analysis bearing down on WoW's first million?

Posted Dec 20, 2006 9:55:00 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>O rly?

Yeah, rly dude! like wow!

Why is it that the kool-aid consumers from SLtopia always claim to be a "country"?

I don't drink any Kool-Aid. Philip Rosedale, of course, was the first to use this term in a famous quote. We merely try to take him up on it.

I dunno, where are all you Kool-Aid-spillers when John Perry Barlow was putting out all his dewey-ided utopian manifestos about cyberspace some years ago? Did you all gang up on *him*?

>I don't see intermediate claims, nor a firm grounding in IR theory for their spoutings. I never see them researching and discussing precedents, either the serious attempts at micronationalism such as Sealand or the Freedom Ship, nor the equally loony cyber-babbling of those such as Cyber Yugoslavia?

Well, let them talk. Perhaps some day something will come of it. Can't hurt.

>Again, if any of the SL-advocates had bothered to acquire a grounding in what the rest of humanity has come up with, instead of blithely imagining that they tread on virgin territory, then they could try and appropriate Benedict Anderson's ideas about nations as imagined communities, or Hobsbawm's description of nations as political creations aimed at economic ends. I'd disagree, but I'd have to admit they'd be harder and more fun to argue with.

Well, it's precisely beause we *are* grounded in those *very texts* that we could posit this country stuff. Or do you think you're the only one with some basic college education?

>My suggestion is that the closest to nationality that Second Life could involve would be the treatment of avatars as legal persons, along the same lines as companies. Good luck persuading any judge in the world.

I doubt that any judge in the world *would* be persuaded of much of anything about Second Life except that it's a game, and should be regulated as such.

That shouldn't stop the freedom fighters, however!

I guess you were like some of those people who stayed in Ireland instead of getting on the boat to the new country. What can you do? You're going to endlessly argue that you did the right thing.

>And there's the point: if no state in the world recognises you, then you are not a nation, a country or a state, either de facto or de jure. You are a bunch of hobbyists playing in a little, happy, furry-friendly cybergame (and oh, it is a game, even if, like golfers, some of you play for money).

You know, Russians often say this about Belarus!

Posted Dec 20, 2006 10:00:15 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Andy, you are now second only to Prokofy in most words written avoiding the question. Linden Labs is a business, so the apposite comparison is with other businesses, because money is a delightfully context-free measure. Any business can be analyzed for return on investment -- how much did they spend, and what did they get for it.

Lets say I buy a national TV spot for my new product, KittyMulch -- "Now you can mulch your gardenias with real ground-up baby kittens!" The delta between the denominator (who saw the ad) and the numerator (who bought a bag of KittyMulch) is clear.

What Second Life is spending money to get is users, but they have intentionally obscured how many users they have, and unlike you, I'm not at all complacent about the use of shady numbers to convince the rubes to give it a whirl.

I don't care about the in-world experience of SL; I care about the people (not avatars, not accounts, people) who care about SL. How many tried it, and how many stayed? This will be a far better predictor of Linden's viability than metrics about business adoption or login growth.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 10:06:09 AM | link

Kohs says:

"Many people say that about Belarus, too, yet, it has a founding seat at the UN."

Let us all know when SL gets one of those, ok?

Posted Dec 20, 2006 10:20:20 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Prokofy: BTW, can someone point me to the same sort of jaundiced analysis bearing down on WoW's first million?

No, and here's why:

  • There's never been any argument about what Blizzard claims as a user. They've been very clear about this from the beginning (and it's a much more conservative view than LL takes).
  • Blizzard's management didn't make inflated claims for years about "users" of amorphous numbers or definitions, or encourage such reports in the press.
  • WoW had over 250,000 paying subscribers in the first few days after it launched. It had over 1,000,000 paying players within a couple of months of launch. (Compare to SL's 36,000 paying users.)
  • WoW's supporters (or anyone else for that matter) haven't tried to play the game both ways -- "look at our huge number of users!" and then "wait, numbers aren't important" -- as SL boosters have. If you want to say that numbers are important, then you rise and fall with them. If they're not important, then stop trumpeting useless and obscurative ones.
The "jaundiced analysis" you perceive is the inevitable backlash to people (officially and unofficially) making unsupportable claims about the SL as a virtual world (a million, no, two million users! all in the same place at the same time! it's an online country! it's the metaverse!). Stay with the facts and this sort of thing tends not to happen. But that also nets you fewer headlines and cheap thrills.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 10:21:01 AM | link

Brace says:

Wow...

are we STILL talking about all this??

We'll never ever know the REAL meaningful numbers.

Like how many individual human beings are living their second lives

give it up already

(I've opted out, so you can subtract one genuine non second life livin human being from any more trumped up numbers and analysis that might occur)

Posted Dec 20, 2006 10:43:37 AM | link

Scott Jennings says:

Second Life is a business. No more, no less.

It's not TEH MATRIX, it's not an MMORPG except by the most tenuous of definitions (a graphic MUSH would be a good description), it's an online service.

As such, since Terra Nova analyzes virtual worlds (which Second Life arguably is) and online services (which Second Life *is*), checking the numbers is valid, especially since Linden seems to play fast and loose with them to encourage media attention.

Second Life as Belarus... now THAT is amusing imagery. I wonder if Lukashenko owns any poser balls. Ah, the ineffable joys of Prokofy Neva in full rant mode.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 11:11:01 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Prokofy, I certainly made fun of "Declaration of the Rights of Cyberspace" when it came out, and I teach in in my classes to this day as an exemplar of poor thinking, and teaching something to grad students takes considerably more effort than what I'm expending vis-a-vis Second Life. I've also wondered aloud about the viability of, inter alia, the Semantic Web, WAP, and ontological classification systems, so I think you can set your persecution complex aside -- I'm an equal opportunity skeptic.

It's funny that you'd beat up on Barlow, though, as his thesis in DotRoC was that cyberspace should be regarded as a separate country.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 12:29:35 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

"in in" == "it in"

Posted Dec 20, 2006 12:30:26 PM | link

IAmEric says:

By the way, Tateru chimed in with her attempt at a definition of an SL resident over at SLI.

"I might have a looser definition of Resident than you. I'd say someone who spends time at least once every three months qualifies. Let's put a number on the hours. Say three hours, every three months. If I were running a bar, I'd call that a regular. I'd hope for a lot of those, rather than trying to rely on my die-hards."

Clay, I still think that with you, me, and Tateru plus anyone else who actually has something constructive to contribute, we can come up with something to present to LL.

Let's try to finalize something and present it. Blending Tateru's and my suggestion gives something like:

"A Second Life resident is someone who maintains a recurring and regular presence within Second Life. Their account must be at least 3 months old, and they must have maintained an average of 3 hours in world during every 3 month period since their account was created excluding the initial 1 week period."

I'm not sure I would count people who have invested in SL as a resident if they do not spend time in world. I would count those more like foreign investors or something.

Excluding the initial 1 week period is an attempt to eliminate people sufferening from the "try me" virus.

What do you think?

Eric

Posted Dec 20, 2006 1:34:57 PM | link

Ben says:

Speaking as a "regular" at a local bar, three hours every three months seems very irregular to me.

If I go in once a week, for two hours or so, I am chided for have been away for too long.

If I was trying to define a resident of any place, be it a country, a city, a game, a school, or a club, I would say that without an average of four visits per month (which could be 1 per week, or 4 in one week, then nothing for three) you would just be a visitor.

How long you spend there shouldn't be a condition, just that you have taken the time to log in, which shows active participation.

Because that is what you are really trying to find out, right? Who is an active participant in a "world," not just who has accounts. Because as a marketer, I really could care less how many potential eyeballs there exist, but how many of those are actually eyeballs that could see my product/service/etc.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 1:43:02 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

Are alts counted in the Residents count, or just Accounts? Does anyone know?

Posted Dec 20, 2006 3:49:36 PM | link

says:

AFAIK, any *avatar* that could possibly login is counted in the "Total Residents" number. That includes alts.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 3:57:26 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Alts are counted, yes, and this has always been stated.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 6:05:54 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Clay , who is the accountable official authority which could vouche for any numbers at all ?! Only LL have the numbers, the true informations.
You simply dont know anything about anything SL related stuff.It's secret. It's on LL's private database.It's " virtual " ! Btw, quoting LL's CEO : "...whatever comes after "" virtual"", it means it's not for real ". Except the very real $, USD , dollars, cash,whatever....i dont know what is Belarus's currency these days.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 6:15:16 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

I care about the people (not avatars, not accounts, people) who care about SL. How many tried it, and how many stayed? This will be a far better predictor of Linden's viability than metrics about business adoption or login growth.

I'm not getting at all why I'm being harangued by you, Clay, and told them I'm "avoiding the question" when I in fact completely agree with you.

I've written many times on my blog or in the Herald that we really only have at most something like 100,000-150,000 really live people with active accounts logging in for 30 days or whatever.

That's good enough for me to pronounce it as revolutionary. In fact, even if it were only 10,000 it would be revolutionary, because I'm not playing the numbers game that you are.

You don't have to be some contorted, Kool-Aid drinking Lindesident to simply state that any device that helps you connect to other people for various purposes and helps you moneterize your time online, is hugely important and a great breakthrough in development of the Internet and social software.

You're the one writing a great many worlds trying to evade that reality of virtuality because it doesn't fit with your rigid worldview.

This 3-hour stuff is just !@#@##$ ridiculous. What if someone like Kermit Quirk who has made gadzillion lindens on Tringo and reaches the limits of his endurance with the technology never logs in again? Or once a week for a few minutes to look at his vendors or something?

You folks never subject World of Warcraft or any of your cooler groovier golfclub games like Eve Online to this scrutiny. Have you determined that WoW or Eve have in fact eliminated alts from their numbers; and have defined users as 3 hours a week or more? Why the fuss-budget approach to SL then?

Because the media hypes it? Well, you've de-hyped it, but didn't get *as much* media yet, that's all.

And Clay, my point about the Rights of Cyberspace is that most copyleft free-thinking geeksters don't mock it --though they should, if they have any intellectual rigour -- it's got a lot of silly stuff in it.

The country analogy is as useful a metric as counting "subscriptions".

I have a WoW "subscription" and I'm counted in the 7 million, though I played it for a grand total of 45 minutes and never looked back. I gave the account to someone who already had accounts, and was already counted in the 7 million.

Don't you see that this entire bogus exercise of counting heads in games is ludicruous? You cannot get satisfactory numbers from anything. It's not the way to judge the main attraction here, which is the emergence of the Metaverse.

I guess it's no accident that Ted Castronova was quoted as glibly saying "20 or 30 million" -- hey, 10 million give or take 10 million, hey, 10 million here, 10 million there, pretty soon you have an entire Planetary Hive Mind, WOOT.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 6:16:08 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

*words (not worlds)

BTW, IAmEric, before you get too busy taking only "constructive input" (you sound like a perfect match to work at the Lab, BTW, with that kind of NewSpeak) and celebrate Tatero and all the rest, keep this in mind: before Shirky, you, and many others took your hand to this exercise, Anshe herself calculated only something like 100,000 for real a few weeks ago, and others like Tony Walsh and Raph Koster also heavily questioned these numbers.

Tony Walsh at www.clickableculture.com has had a very long and credible history puncturing every mythic number put out by LL, and trying to reason through what it really could be.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 6:20:55 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Prokofy, who is Anshe, anyways ?! Is she a Linden ?! Is she paid by Linden ?! Who TF is Alice, anyways ?! And, you know, Tony Walsh having a credible ( to you ) story....ops, his story....ops, history....cmon....

Posted Dec 20, 2006 6:48:34 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Cmon Prokofy, it becomes embarassing ! " 150,000 real life ppls..." ...." various purposes "...man....you need a real life...." ludicrous "...plz, keep Castronova out of this...
But i agree you on at least 1 point : yes, the SL is an example, from a historical point of views.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:23:17 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Amarilla, no one is accountable, I'm just trying to understand what we know already, so I can frame the question right next time I write about it.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:32:57 PM | link

Peter Clay says:

SL is a club. Or perhaps a service. Since it has no ability to project political power and no coherent or credible "voice" as a populace and can be ended with an axe and a large magnet, it isn't a country, developing nation or anything of the sort

Many people say that about Belarus, too, yet, it has a founding seat at the UN.

Excuse me while I find a magnet, I want to turn off Belarus. :)

Posted Dec 20, 2006 7:59:42 PM | link

IAmEric says:

Hi Prokofy,

Althought it may not seem like it, I'm pretty much on your side. I'm just way behind you and trying to learn as much as I can.

When you said,

"I care about the people (not avatars, not accounts, people) who care about SL. How many tried it, and how many stayed? This will be a far better predictor of Linden's viability than metrics about business adoption or login growth."

you hit it on the head. This is the number that you, me, and Clay are trying to get at. By "constructive input", I mean that I am trying (and not successfully it seems) with the help of others to come up with a definition that captures exactly what you said. "How many people tried it, and how many stayed?"

By the way, I don't care how many trillions of $L Kermit Quirk, you or any body else makes in SL. If they do not spend time in SL, they should not be considered as someone who "stayed". They are more like a foreign investor as far as I'm concerned. Just because I may have investments in country X and visit there once in a while to check up on the economy doesn't make me a resident of country X.

I think it would be "constructive" to come up with a definition that could then be presented to LL. So far you've been very good at deconstructive criticism, i.e. telling me how badly my definition sucks, which I'm certainly willing to agree to. Now how about something constructive? How would YOU, Prokofy Neva, define someone who "tried it and stayed" in an unambiguous manner that can be quantified?

Best regards,
Eric

Posted Dec 20, 2006 8:02:40 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Prokofy, thanks.

Is there somewhere the alt inclusion is documented, or (better) is Resident, as Linden is using the term for their login page count, defined anywhere?

Posted Dec 20, 2006 8:15:30 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Resident=account. Resident=sign-ups. There are basic, free accounts that are like endless trials -- game companies would end them after 7 days or something.

They don't define resident in the elaborate way you wish with hours, etc. etc. It's merely their term for accounts. Sign-ups. Making a name, like you would on Yahoo, using an email to register, and getting the confirmation in your email box. Many people don't get past that stage because they don't have DSL or a good enough graphics card or all they wanted to do was grab their RL last name as they saw it go by (I had two friends I had alerted about this sign up today -- it might be months before they'll have the time to get DSL, etc. and have me walk them through it. Do they count? Not in your book -- but they count in the Lindens' book.

But then...I signed up for Project Entropia and couldn't get the game to work; ditto Eve Online. I kept the accounts for months hoping to have time to figure out what configuration wasn't working -- I never got inside the worlds. If you are going to be rigorous about this happening with Second Life, you have to be as much or more rigorous with having it happen elsewhere.


Here, Jeff Linden explains that incomplete registrations aren't counted:

http://blog.secondlife.com/2006/12/14/ill-see-your-million-and-double-that/

In typical Linden fashion, they also disenfranchise people who happen to be suspended for infractions -- they lose their resident status and aren't counted either (would a game do that?)

this blog entry by Zee Linden talks some more about their concepts of growth:

http://blog.secondlife.com/2006/12/12/growth-of-second-life-community-and-economy/

"There are two types of accounts that a Resident in Second Life might have: Basic and Premium. Basic accounts are free. Premium Residents pay a recurring fee to buy land directly from Linden Lab, and receive a weekly allowance of Linden Dollars called a “stipend.”."

etc.

I guess we live in an information space where this stuff is deluged night and day, it doesn't seem surprising to us that a) they cook the numbers b) they re-cook them and explain how they are cooking them and cook them some more; c) hundreds of people object vigorously and loudly.

While the inclusion of alts is implied in this thread and discussed and objected to by residents, this isn't the thread with the definitive statement that "alt inclusions is documented."

There are numerous occasions where Philip and other Lindens have said they *are* including alts; and they even name percentages of alts being like 10-20 percent or something. I'm just not finding this now, but it's a given. They indeed to include alts. And why not? Alts are sign-ups, and alts make money, too. Ll does not deny that they include alts.

Posted Dec 20, 2006 11:47:27 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>Excuse me while I find a magnet, I want to turn off Belarus. :)

You know, Vladimir Putin says that same thing some days, too : )

He's got a more crude method though, called "turn off the gas". Then the tyrannical leader of Belarus has an effective counter-strategy, "turn off Russian TV".

Perhaps they just don't have a big enough magnet?

Posted Dec 20, 2006 11:50:45 PM | link

Amarilla says:

Prokofy, alts dont make money, alts make linden$.
LL make money. The player lose money-or earn money. I thought we're talking about ppls, not about alts.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 12:11:34 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@IAmEric and Clay:

What is it you are trying to measure and why? What's the goal of the metric? That will determine the proper measurement.

If you want to measure revenue or profitability, which is the underlying goal for measuring users in standard subscription-model systems, you'll have a harder time in SL. Because you'd need to measure not "time spent" or "recently logged in" stats, but some kind of true economic participation.

In WoW, for example, the business metric is pretty simple: one player = $15/month (in almost all cases). So, really, when you measure user adoption, you're really measuring how good a business model Blizzard has put out there in terms of providing an entertainment value-per-dollar proposition. If they were to raise the price (or lower it), the number of users would go up or down (to some degree) irrespective of the quality of the service. Likewise, the quality of the product (how much time is spent on graphics, story, engine, upgrade, service, etc.) is directly impacted by the price-to-user ratio.

In SL, however, the value of a player isn't always one-to-one. A single player may bring no economic value to the system, or, in fact, negative value (a free user who griefs, for example). Or a single player may pay Linden for an entire island, generating much more than $10/month for Linden. Someone may by L$5,000 and spend it on clothes, with most of that going to resident businesspeople.

The same holds true for the value of time-spent in game, if you use that as a measure. One user may choose to spend 3-hours per month or week engaged in simple chat. Or in helping noobs get around and, thus, stay on longer as return users. Or building a great new entertainment service. Or a user may spend 3-hours a day logged in, but doing nothing but hanging out in a camp-chair.

The variety of types and levels of participation is so great, that flat-counting "users" in any of these ways is, I think, as contextually meaningless as counting 2 million downloads. That's what I've been trying to say.

Sorry it's taking so many words, Clay ;-)

Posted Dec 21, 2006 1:03:06 AM | link

Gareth Eckley says:

"Don't you see that this entire bogus exercise of counting heads in games is ludicruous? You cannot get satisfactory numbers from anything. It's not the way to judge the main attraction here, which is the emergence of the Metaverse."

I couldn't agree more. The best way to get a feel for the dynamics of a large scale "virtual world" which is monitored digitally 24/7 on a per user basis must be to read press reports uncritically from the marketing department of the company that runs the service.

Also, I hear feeling bumps on the heads of users is also a pretty credible method of sociological analysis.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 8:53:20 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

How many landowners in WoW, how many end-user-content creators in EVE (no, cooking preexisting assets using predetermined recipe books and ingredients doesn't count)? How many angels dancing on the head of a pin?

I liked Andy's point up there somewhere about what kind of users you're counting. If you're counting how many contributing/enabled users, SL is way off the scale compared to the other VWs. And nobody in SL falls for the 2million hype. It's quite a way down on the priorities of footstamping rants for the residents though. Who cares how many eyeballs Reebok gets on its inworld branding stunts? Reebok? Other companies? PR agencies? Why should I care? Why should TN or Shirky?

Posted Dec 21, 2006 10:18:22 AM | link

Liz Lawley says:

Coincidentally, I created an account this week and then never logged in with it--I was checking to see if SL required a credit card for a free account, and in order to determine that I had to go through the full signup process.

As others have already pointed out, once you go through that signup, you still have to do the massive download--which is probably offputting to many new signups (esp if they weren't expecting it), and then you don't know if your computer is even able to run the software (which requires decent graphics capability).

So, it seems more and more plausible to me that there would that kind of gap in the numbers.

Liz

Posted Dec 21, 2006 10:24:07 AM | link

anonymouscoward says:

Just out of interest, and appropos of nothing

I was at a Linden Lab presentation in London the other day; when there were around 1,960,000 ish residents listed; certainly a few days before the 2 million mark.

One presenter stated there were 2 million residents; the figure was queried (Could you tell us how you define residents here? Is that unique users? Or account signups?) and the query was brushed aside.

Later in the talk, Greg (? I may have his name wrong; he's something marketingy with Linden, has a moustauche) verbally stated the resident figure as two and a half million.

The man was suffering from a terrible cold, and may not have been on the top of his game, but nonetheless; my issue is with consistency of reporting.

There's a figure used in web metrics; cost per unique user; sometimes you'll see cost per user minute, too - its the equivalent of cost per viewer minute which is a standard measure in the TV industry. It's really important for judging the ROI of your investment in a product. It's hard to judge if SL is delivering on ROI when the figures are used so fast and loose.

I would find it hard to trust a company who were so fuzzy about their numbers, metrics, and key performance indicators were I a potential investor.

However, it's also rare to find a company that would be so open about publishing even the merest hint of performance and user volume data on such a regular basis.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 10:45:51 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

"you still have to do the massive download"

It's 25mb for the Windows version. The latest City of Villains update was 2 GIGAbytes or something crazy (so the update thinger told me).

Posted Dec 21, 2006 11:09:56 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Andy, I am trying to measure something like 'perceived value.'

As I have often said, I don't care why anyone likes Second Life, all that matters to me is that they like it, so what I want to know is "How many people have tried it?" (not signed up, but actually logged in), and how many of those people become regular users (for any crisp definition of regular available -- an hour a week, an afternoon a fortnight, whatever.)

@anonymous, we don't need web sites to publish their numbers, because we have external sources of those numbers. Linden is using the numbers to claim a kind of world-beating growth, while doing little to instill confidence in those numbers.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 11:12:23 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Gareth, I snorted coffee on my keyboard reading this:

"The best way to get a feel for the dynamics of a large scale "virtual world" which is monitored digitally 24/7 on a per user basis must be to read press reports uncritically from the marketing department of the company that runs the service."

You may expect a bill for keyboard cleaning from my lawyer in the afternoon post.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 11:17:17 AM | link

Hellinar says:

Prokofy >I care about the people (not avatars, not accounts, people) who care about SL. How many tried it, and how many stayed? This will be a far better predictor of Linden's viability than metrics about business adoption or login growth.<

People caring about SL may be important in the short term, but not so much in the long term. I’m thinking we are still in the early adopter phase of virtual worlds. We may be ten years out from full scale social adoption. In that context, login growth does matter. It says that, in the vast tide content pouring off the Net, a couple of million people were intrigued enough by this new concept to go through a signup. That’s far more than this time last year.

A significant metric we won’t get is: how many people tried Second Life briefly, didn’t like it, but said “Now if they did some something like that that wasn’t X, I would try it again”. I suspect there are a lot of those people, and a fair number of X’s. I do think the big login numbers tell us something. There is something in the SL experience, as presented by the media, that attracts people. The low return numbers says that SL doesn’t actually give the promised experience to many of those trying it. But future virtual worlds, or even SL 2.0, might snag a lot of those logins if we can figure out the X’s.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 12:16:25 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Clay, who said: "How many people have tried it...and how many of those people become regular users."

Measuring those things aren't goals. I mean, it's *your* goal, sure. But making measurements isn't, on its own, a valid business goal. As I said before, we don't just measure for measuring's sake. Metrics have a purpose.

We know what you want to do. Perhaps I wasn't clear. What is the goal of that measurement? IE, *why* do you want to measure (more accurately than the 2 million number) new users and return users? The goal of that measurement will inform, to a degree, how you go about taking the measurements. That was my point to you and Eric.

For example: if you want to measure new users and repeat users in order to simply compare revenue w/ other VW's/MMOs... well, you'll need a lot more than head-count. While in WoW, you can basically multiply users times $15/month to get revenue, that won't work in SL, as the methods of user-generated cash are hugely variant.

If you want to measure use by login-time, you'll need to define if time-in-world is all your interested in, or if interaction is required; see "chair camping" for an example of something that would qualify as many, many hours of in-world usage with no participation whatsoever.

Do you want to know if repeat visits by long-standing players generate good in-game WOM, or if they tend to congregate in tenure-clusters? IE, does longevity of play encourage referrals? If so, you may want to consider adding "friends lists" to some part of your metric. IE, someone with "no friends" counts less.

Here's my analogy, since you got to grind up cats: if you want to measure how fast some cars will be going, it's very handy to know ahead of time if you need that information for traffic control purposes, or if you're observing an attempt to break the land-speed record. Speed is a well-known measurement, yes; but it gets measured very differently in different situations, depending on the goals of the folks involved in the system, and the limits of the behavior.

So, again. And I'm truly trying to be helpful here: what is it you want to accomplish with your measurement of new and repeat users? To what do you want to compare these numbers; what do you want to assess with them; what do you want to predict with them?

Posted Dec 21, 2006 8:56:42 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Andy, what I want to accomplish is an apples-to-apples comparison with bailout rates of other software services offered over the net.

And the issue isn't measuring anything "more accurately" than the 2M number, since that number is useless, at its current level of definition, for understanding anything about actual use, even by extrapolation.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 9:07:52 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Clay: But if "bailout" isn't the *same* for SL as it is for WoW, even though it obviously exists for both, then you have to be more precise about what you want to measure, and, frankly, you may have to give up on the apples-to-apples thing. You may *want* apples-to-apples, but the point is that, whether SL eventually comes to a screeching halt or not, it is in many respects different from the standard MMO product model. This isn't to say that there is *no* way to compare it to WoW or similar, but Andy is right -- you have to focus your question more than you have, in a way that seks to move beyond the categories for thinking about these spaces that we have worked from in the past.

I also have to say (again) that I still find the desperation to find a quantifiable and universal metric in some of the comments here striking. Y'all are like a dog after a bone. The implication is that, until we have this, we can't even think one coherent thought, or make one coherent judgment, about SL. But sometimes there are too many variables; that doesn't mean we can't say *anything*.

Posted Dec 21, 2006 11:50:01 PM | link

Cael says:

Clay: "How many people have tried it...and how many of those people become regular users."

Andy: "Measuring those things aren't goals. I mean, it's *your* goal, sure. But making measurements isn't, on its own, a valid business goal. As I said before, we don't just measure for measuring's sake. Metrics have a purpose."

That's crazy, of course we do. It's a vital profit/loss metric. Every download of the SL client costs Linden Labs money in bandwidth. Every conversion to a paying account is offset against that expenditure. This, along with operations and staffing costs is how any online service provider makes money, although to be fair some do have extra revenue sources (microstransactions and advertising, for example).

Equally, we don't have a conversion rate for WoW but what we do have is a count of how many people are paying Blizzard money - that's not something Blizzard have ever hidden or obfuscated or even inflated with alts and trial-freebies - although their record on transparency of income from the the9 (Far East operations) could use improving.

I also don't buy the "SL is just different, be happy!" argument. While there may be more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, these figures are not "unknowables". They are withheld deliberately and unhelpful figures are released instead with the deliberate aim of inciting media hype while providing no useful data.

Until that deliberate obfuscation ends, we may as well ask how many furries can dance on the head of a giant flying penis.

As for SL being a "country", well, that's just excited moronism. Belarus is a country. Even the CIA think so*. SL is not a country. It's a porno palace.

*https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bo.html

Posted Dec 22, 2006 4:41:15 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Cael said: "Every download of the SL client costs Linden Labs money in bandwidth."

Bingo. OK, you just nailed one (of probably many) quantifiable operational cost element that's directly related to the "2 million accounts" (or some other) number. If Clay (or anybody) wants to hang a theory or a comparison or a business model justification a bit further along on that... that's cool. But let's be clear: you actually moved one big step down the path from "just measuring things" to "having a quantifiable business goal." You made assumptions about embedded hardware costs. If you go into comparison mode, you'll need to do the same for compeitotors. All of which is super-cool by me.

Back to metaphor land. If I want to compare, let's say, the gas-mileage of two cars, that sounds fair. Unless one is a drag racer and one is Honda's new test-model, ultra-super-hybrid. You can point and say, "That stupid dragster only gets 4 miles to the gallon! It's a lousy car! And the Honda gets 400! That's two orders-of-magnitude better gas mileage."

To equate what Thomas just said... there *is no* apples-to-apples when it comes to gas mileage comparisons for dragsters and hybrids. It's so out of context that it isn't sensible.

Now... I'm not saying that we're *that* out of line when comparing SL to other similar services. But Clay just said, again:

Clay: "...what I want to accomplish is an apples-to-apples comparison with bailout rates of other software services offered over the net."

That's still not a business goal with a root "why" at the bottom. You can have an enormous bail-out rate and still be successful. As I said (at some point in my huge strings here), if you get a billion "try me's" and only 1% stick, but at a good profit for you, you've got 10 million users pusing you cash.

And, again, if you don't care about what people do in SL, why compare it to other platforms and systems? Just to say, "It has a worse/better bail-out rate?" OK. And that means... in the context of... because we're not looking at what you do with...

Now, if you tell me that what you want to know is what percentage of users are profitable for Linden, and if that percentage is growing or shrinking over time... BINGO! You've got a number that will, if you can get at it, prove the future life or death of the company, and, therefore, show whether or not folks should (generally speaking) be spending faith on developing wee domains of delicately designed Dutch doo-dads in world.

But you've switched metrics mid stream a bit. In your original piece, you seemed interested in gross numbers of users, and comparing them to other systems, hence the "rounding error" remark. If you're interested, now, in bail-out or churn... that's an entirely internal number to one system. You could have a final user-base of, let's say, around 10,000 customers, and a fantastic churn rate. You know, 100 new customers come on every year and only 1 leaves. Insanely low bail-out. Those Linden guys... they take care of those 100 people sweeeet.

So. Again. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of what it is that we want to measure. If it's gross numbers of users, to compare against other systems, we should have an idea of why we're comparing them and in what ways (i.e., dragster vs. hybrid).

Some of the ire has been that the goofy press has been about the goofy 2 million user number. Let's remember that SL was getting great press 2+ years ago when their published number was 15,000. They won a PC Mag "Product of the Year" award back then and were in the NYT. That was when the greatly exagerated rumors of their population hadn't been greatly exagerated yet, and so couldn't have been the cause of any "try me" virus that then caused the rumors. So if the goal of all this is to put "apples-to-apples" numbers in front of the press so that they'll stop spinning the Linden wheel so hard... well, as long as people -- whether 15,000 or 500,000 or whatever -- are building schizophrenia simulators and giant hamster-balls and hosting Suzanne Vega concerts and making Hawaii and having kinky 9-way furry sex in SL... I think the press will keep reporting it.

Posted Dec 22, 2006 7:17:00 AM | link

Clay Shirky says:

@Andy, at this point, you are not trying to get at what I want to measure, you are trying to smother two simple questions -- how many people have logged in, and how many stayed -- in a lot of hypotheticals unrelated to those questions.

I used to work at a media firm, so you can't kid me. In the research department, there are numbers you try to get because you have a specific question you want to answer, and then there are numbers that are so fundamental that everyone needs to know them even to think of the more sophisticated questions. Reach and conversion are two of those numbers.

I think you are desperate for me to say something like "I want to show how SL is unsuccessful relative to EVE Online" or something, so you don't have to admit you have no idea how many people use SL, because you can introduce all sorts of non-demograpic metrics like amount of creativity. (This is Prokofy's angle with the "lets call it a country, but not talk about population" angle as well.)

But I don't have a goal like that -- my goal is much simpler. I want to know how well Second Life is doing in attracting and keeping users. Any ideas?

Posted Dec 22, 2006 12:40:53 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Clay: Yes, "stayed" is a simple matter for Second Life! With WoW, it's obvious what retention means -- active accounts, whether the person logs on or not. But consider even the fact that SL has a lot of activity directly relevant to LL's revenue that doesn't take place in-world (creation, marketing, etc). What does "stay" mean under those circumstances? I'm not trying to say that there aren't helpful and relevant numbers that we'd like to have about Second Life. But there seems to be a refusal on your part to acknowledge that the categories for some of those relevant statistics (1) may need to be new ones, and (2) may not tell much of the story going ahead anyway. I'd love to see someone come up with a clever metric that helps us get at how sticky SL is, but it's going to take more thinking outside the box.

Posted Dec 22, 2006 1:36:40 PM | link

Jeff Cole says:

Due respect, Thomas, but in your piece to which you linked in "What's up with group IM in Second Life?", you merely assert that SL has 350,000 "residents." "Residents" is defined only as a "population of users."

Certainly, you chose the 350,000 figure (rather than 16,000) to support your position that SL is "a rapidly growing online world."

Is it really not fair or relevant to ask, "What do you mean by 'resident'?"

Posted Dec 22, 2006 2:19:24 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

(This is Prokofy's angle with the "lets call it a country, but not talk about population" angle as well.)

I remain an American citizen regardless if I "stay" in the country.

I'm really, really having a problem with the "stay" bit.

In a closed-system game, I log on to level up, quest, get the rares, whatever. I buy the subscription to be entertained by playing the game. If I reach level 51 and get bored, I leave, or I reach 64 and sell my avatar on ebay. So measure me if you like for 60 days or 90 days until I reach my ebay sale-point, then measure me on ebay or my next game. All good.

Second Life isn't like that. There isn't a quest or a game -- it's open-ended. If I am a teacher who ran a class for 6 months and then logged off the next semester or the whole summer, am I now a lesser Second-Life being? Am I less a part of that SL membership than I am of my RL school where I remain in good standing even over the summer?

People can log on once a week to make something or go to an event, or once in three months.

Richard Bartle, you made an account to do a lecture once and I think you never logged on again. Do you consider yourself a member of SL or not? Probably not. But I wouldn't hesitate to grant you SL citizenship.

The uses of SL are so varied and wide that I don't think your definition of "stay" is going to be a credible one if you shoehorn it into the game MMORPG slot once again.

Someday they might fix this problem for you by having the software licensed. Microsoft can say it has x billion Word users. One-time buyers of the license get counted even if they never type a word, or if they type once and come back in 60 days. SL is more like that.

>But there seems to be a refusal on your part to acknowledge that the categories for some of those relevant statistics (1) may need to be new ones, and (2) may not tell much of the story going ahead anyway.

This is exactly right. You would think Clay would declare a truce at this point until he can develop those metrics and research them.

At my little level, I develop these metrics to see whether it's worth bothering with, whether to buy more houses or land, etc. If I see that my own metric of "logged in last 21 days or not" starts to turn up not five percent leaving or disappearing completely from the People list, but 25, that would change things for me.

But the growth trumps it all because it is steady. I blogged the entry "My Numbers" just the other day with about 1000 people logged in the groups; today it is at 1250 just like that (due to Time magazine and the Axel-Springer tabloid opening possibly).

This wave will definitely wash back to 1000 or 1100 I imagine, because whenever there is a huge rush like the Time magazine, there are lots of people who just join for a look-see.

The point is that even after the ebb of the look-seers leaving, there is still increased growth.

And I think there is only one way to judge that reliably: number of tier-paying landowners.

Clay seems to reject THAT metric possibly because it is politically incorrect -- it conjures up images of latifundisti or something, who the hell knows -- people have all kinds of prejudices about land ownership I find.

He'd like to be able to come up with something like "dwarf RP logs on 3 times a week with expenditure of $1500 for four hours and income of $36.17 per month".

BTW, the Lindens gave us this figure of average log-on as 4 hours, average expenditure $1500 which I thought bogus at the time (some months ago). Worth asking what it is now.


Posted Dec 22, 2006 2:30:29 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

I want to know how well Second Life is doing in attracting and keeping users. Any ideas?

Clay, your questions are good ones, as they go to the viability of this new form of non-game virtual world. That there continues to be so much dust thrown up around them in the form of utterly irrelevant arguments illustrates only how important they are.

My answers to your questions would be something like this:

SL's Total reach: ~2,000,000 accounts created. This is a superset of the number of people who have signed up (given multiple free accounts per person), but total reach probably isn't less than 75% of this number (at a guess).

Total commercial reach: ~90,000 people who have ever participated in an economic transaction in SL (4.5% of total reach).

Significant commercial reach: ~36,000 people who pay recurring fees (1.8% of total reach).

How much each of the latter two groups pays in is unknown (I don't believe the $1500 average figure Prokofy names, as that would be $135M if applied to all 90K people in the "commercial reach" -- and if this were so LL would be trumpeting it everywhere). If the average spend per person on the order of a few hundred to thousand dollars per year, SL is potentially viable as a significantly profitable business. If it's on the order of tens of dollars on average, that would seem to be significantly less likely.

The velocity of increase in reach, total commercial reach, and significant commercial reach could be calculated pretty easily from existing economic data published by LL. The missing term is still (as always) average revenue per user; but given the velocity equation and different ARPU points, the business case for SL overall could be projected.

Posted Dec 22, 2006 3:31:00 PM | link

Clay Shirky says:

Mike, it's almost certainly less than 75%. We know that at least 20% of the second million Residents have never been reported as having logged in, and we know that there are something like 1.25 avatars per user. We also don't know if the 90% bailout is to be applied to Residents (which figure we know) or users (which figure we don't), but given the opacity of the other numbers, I'm betting on the latter.

And I'm not interested in the business case of SL. I don't care if LL is a viable business -- for all I know, they could take a cut of the adult action and be in clover for the rest of their lives. I'm interested in the perceived value case from the users point of view.

Posted Dec 22, 2006 3:47:27 PM | link

Cael says:

The really scary figure is

2.4 CPUs/online user.

Which pretty much makes any business case look like a colander.

Posted Dec 22, 2006 3:49:05 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Clay: You've now said you don't care about what actually happens inside SL. And that you don't care about the financial viability of the service. But you care about the "perceived value case." This means, simply, how many users bail, vs. how many try, right?

Just so I've got it straight...

What we're trying to count is: a new user, who has never been involved with SL before, signs up, downloads the client, actually gives the service a whirl (for some amount of time we'll agree to), makes a judgment as to whether or not the experience is something he/she is interested in long-term, and either stays (for some amount of time we'll agree to that counts as actual participation, not just "lurking"), or bags it.

You don't care if the person is a minimal user; barely-non-lurking wanderer, no-payer, no-buyer, adding no value, chair-camper, maybe even causing some trouble. Or an SL 24/7, island-building, scripter, experience-architect, 300+ friends, uber-user who totally rocks the Casbah. Both these folks count the same in the churn calculation you're looking for?

Posted Dec 22, 2006 4:59:27 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Jeff: I'm not in that piece primarily concerned with the rate of growth in Second Life. The piece is about a different set of issues, so I do not there parse what the term "resident" means (it takes enough time to parse what the term "content" means around LL, which is what the piece is about). The segment of the piece that you quote is context-setting, and if for that purpose claiming that 350,000 "residents" (as against about 13,000 at the end of 2004) constitutes "rapidly growing" is to you an unfair characterization, then I would say, fine, but the piece isn't about that, so it matters little. If the piece, again, had depended upon 350,000 (vs 2,000, or 500, or whatever) then it would be a relevant issue.

Posted Dec 22, 2006 6:24:20 PM | link

lewy says:

What about peak usage? From what I recall that was the metric that Asian research firms had seized on to measure the popularity of Asian MMOG's given the notorious difficulties associated with counting users on that continent. Interestingly enough, those same companies dismissed total user accounts, etc. as outright fiction.

Since I've been watching, over the past month or so, peak usage as reported on SL's official web site has been pretty stable--around 14-15k.

Unless I'm mistaken there's an old rule of thumb that dates back to MUD days that the maximum chunk of the active user base that will ever be online at one time is about one out of three. Applying that rule to the above gives an active user population of about 45k for Second Life. Not really all that earth shattering.

There's a commonly accepted bit of start-up wisdom that suggests that the first company out of the gate with a good idea hardly ever makes it big. Instead it's the second wave, which has the advantage of seeing all the pitfalls that the pioneer fell into, which reaps the rewards. Second Life seems to me to be a prime candidate to prove the rule.

Posted Dec 23, 2006 1:01:39 AM | link