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Dec 26, 2006

Comments

1.

Do you have any problem with that, Dan ? I guess you don't . In my book, you are a decent honest guy. Clay ? He is the one doing a favour to the gamers. And, Dan, we both know that there is more than Shirky getting to the bottom of whatever " secret " . Polichinelle's secret. Or Victoria's one. This your blog plays a role. Yes, you are an important person; the same is Clay. And it's not only about SL. It's about : we the gamers , we are looking for interractions.How many are we ? Does the numbers counts ? Dan,all this gaming thingie, it's about money.Influence. Power.
Dan, i have a question for you, and i mean it : do we, as humans, really need the PvP ? I come to you with this basic question.Care to answer, plzzzzzzz ?

2.

Dan >our job for us, getting to the bottom of the dirty little secret that is the press and its relationship to Second Life.

Not really. And a bit of credit for the TN hive mind might have been nice, some here have put quite a bit of time into analysis of figures (I’m not looking for credit myself, I’ve done squat). I do like his naming names and prediction of what story we are going to see next though.

I don’t think this is to do with journalists and SL per se, as Clay’s piece says “the press hasn't really covered Second Life as business story or tech story so much as a trend story”, it’s to do with journalists and new tech hype, as commentators on the piece have said, you can just swap ‘SL’ for ‘.com’ and here we go again.

Also, as I’ve pointed out before, journalists are still miss reporting Dr C’s numbers about GDP per capita as GDP – how many years is that?

You know, this could be cleared up pretty quickly. There is obvious confusion out there as to what a Resident is, people in investing money on the basis of the number that they hear in the press - yes they should do their own research, but how do they do that? As Second Life is an economy that people do invest in, and some of they key metrics behind it are how many unique people with actual money are there in SL then it would seem that Linden have a duty to the market to clarify two things:

What is the definition of Resident?
How many paid accounts are there?

If we are going to take all this virtual stuff seriously then is it not important enough for us to get actual facts like this and not work on things issued by PR firms. As SL is advertised as somewhere to do business, is there no requirement under US law for facts to be given to the market? If not, why not?

3.

Do you want me to believe that Toyota ( just an example ) are investing money in SL based on SL hype PR ? Under the provisions of EULA and ToS ?
Is LL practicing double standards ? If yes, is it legal in the US ? How many accounts are paid by " institutions " ( like the CIA ) ? Are the LL employees allowed to run SL accounts ? What does mean " role playing " ? Am i gonna see Gitmo from inside , if my alt in SL gonna type : " i wanna nuke the USA " ? Are 10,000 players not important enough for the " public policy " , but 30,000 are ? I'm living in Belarus and i've just made 1 billion in SL , partially already sold for real cash, who - and how - gonna tax me ? Is SL - as it is today - a viable game-model and business-model ? My opinion is : as it stand today, SL model is not a viable one. For the above reasons and for many others. But , quoting a blonde : " the horrible death of a worm is the wonderfull birth of a butterfly " .

4.

paid accounts is around 40,000, as displayed here:
http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy-graphs.php

5.

thx
the related page: http://blog.secondlife.com/2006/12/12/growth-of-second-life-community-and-economy/
makes interesting reading too

6.

I wrote a long comment here about three times and then erased it each time, but what it boiled down to was that all this shaming and gloating is pretty distasteful to me. It makes me a bit sad. There are so many ways to approach this that would be so much more constructive.

7.

Thanks, Mark.

8.

Mark,

I agree 100%, and have avoided commenting and posting on the matter entirely as there really is only one point to be made and everyone seems to agree on it. "The numbers don't add up".

The point has been made and has been acknowledged by those who can actually change the discussion, lets move on.

9.

Mark, I think Clay's article is the first of the backlash I've been expecting and writing about here (the three new dissembling approaches to SL's popularity that he mentions have all been seen here on TN already, FWIW).

I'm not interested in gloating or shaming; neither serves any useful purpose -- and for anyone who's tempted, I'd remind them of how incredibly difficult it is to build the kind of technology and community that LL has built in SL.

But I think that Clay's pursuit is valuable and important far beyond any chortling over Second Life's supposed comeuppance. At one level it acts as a sort of antidote to the 'irrational exuberance' (to hijack Greenspan's phrase) surrounding SL's PR and coverage in the mainstream press. Beyond that though, it is a reminder that virtual worlds now are in the mainstream, and will live and die, be raised or crushed, by the inexorable, often unthinking or at least unfair standards that prevail there.

If basic honesty and a desire for accuracy didn't do so, the current situation warrants a bit more caution on the part of virtual world operators: Don't claim a million people use your world (however obfuscated the claim is) unless they're really there. Don't say people own the world unless they do. Don't claim to be creating millionaires out of your users unless you really are. And as hard as this is, don't silently smile and nod as the press consistently overestimates your world's popularity or financial success.

The time for easy if not altogether accurate PR wins and P.T. Barnum antics in virtual worlds is over, IMO. We're no longer just a little niche that no one cares about. But along with the public notoriety of CNN, the NYT, the Washington Post, etc., comes the potential for overexposure and disdain if the worlds so publicly known don't live up to the hype -- and for better or worse, Second Life is at the head of this pack right now.

Clay outlined his next wave of reporting that's going to happen regarding Second Life -- no correction of past mistakes, support for the trend even if it's not borne out by erroneous SL numbers, and a deflection from talking about numbers altogether. My prediction is that beyond the retrenching Clay describes, the next big wave of stories covering virtual worlds won't be about Toyota or CNet being in SL, but will be about "average joes" trying to explore these brave new worlds, only to be accosted by endlessly replicating party hats, furry sex clubs, aggressive object trade requests, vulgar bombs launched randomly, or most especially, creative griefing by mortar-like attacks of giant flying penises disrupting interviews or other functions.

As Clay has said, the media backlash won't be about "hey we got the numbers wrong." It has the potential to zoom past that to "these places are dangerous and not where you want to be," especially if journalists feel a need to cover their past mistakes by pointing out "the darker side of this popular trend" as so often happens. It's a natural (if I hope not inevitable) reverberation from the earlier PR; the price that may have to be paid. But it doesn't help any of us who are supporters of virtual worlds, any more than virtual worlds are helped by trying to defend illusory popularity numbers that only obscure the (financial and popular) reality.

10.

Mark Wallace wrote:

I wrote a long comment here about three times and then erased it each time, but what it boiled down to was that all this shaming and gloating is pretty distasteful to me.

I'm sure Bush supporters find it distasteful when people gleefully (but rightly) point out the numerous lies that emanate from the White House. Linden engages in the same kind of behavior. Why shouldn't they be called to task for it?

I'm not asking a rhetorical question. It's pretty tough to argue that Linden Labs doesn't outright lie to the press (see Joe Miller's lie to the BBC about SL's technical capability, for instance). Is there some good reason I'm missing that they should be given a pass on this kind of behavior?

What I find distasteful is that anyone would implicitly condone that kind of behavior.

--matt

11.

@Matt: I can't stand the Bush White House, but I find gleeful pointing out of political lies to be distasteful also. It's the glee and the gloat that bothers me, not the pointing out of lies. I don't condone LL's misinformation (read the Herald, and my blog), nor the White House's.

@Mike: I agree that the pursuit of accuracy is the most important thing here. I just think that setting up an antagonistic relationship with the press is not the best way to go about it. Why not take some more positive, more pro-active steps? Where is the joint industry/academic organization devoted to VW research and metrics? Where's the outreach to journalists in the form of clear, brief one-sheets laying out some facts? Why so few non-game journalists invited to most of the conferences? Why not bring these people into the fold instead of assuming they'll just get it wrong? Stuff like that.

12.

Nod, fair enough Mark. Personal taste I guess. I find a fair few reasons to be gleeful when those-who-deceive are exposed.

--matt

13.

Mark,

I have to tell you, I only wrote those pieces after becoming convinced that there in fact _aren't_ ways to approach this that would be more constructive.

I've been thinking hard about SL since last summer, when I heard, at a conference on social software, yet another set of Second Life numbers that didn't make any sense to me. I used to be the CTO of a company that did media tracking online, and I've had a hand in the spread about the idea of social software, so it bugs me when I hear numbers I can't understand. It bugs me more when I see other people reasoning about the world using those same numbers. And it bugs me most when the press seems willing to amplify those numbers uncritically.

So, in the last month, I've spent a lot of time reading about SL and looking at their published numbers, and, more importantly, talking to people who are basing their conclusions on those numbers, and I don't think I can convey to you any better than the current piece on Valleywag how fruitless those conversations were.

When I pointed out a credulous bit of reporting on Schonfeld's Biz2 blog, he fired off a query to Linden -- in the comments of his own blog. There's hard-hitting investigative journalism for you. Wagner James Au, who calls himself an embedded reporter, wouldn't vouch for the SL numbers he'd published, but pointed me to Tateru Nino. Nino, who calls herself a demographer, denies that the two million number was ever meant to have any actual meaning.

No one thought to check what they thought they heard when the Lindens said Resident, knows what the real numbers are, and no one who writes about SL seems to want to know. Au gave me some attaboys over on GigaGamez, saying how glad he was that someone was looking into this, but his actions made it equally clear that this gladness did not produce any motivation to look into the numbers himself, and so on.

I could go on -- I've talked to people at the New York Times, Business Week, Forbes, on and on -- and no one actually asked Lindens how many people use Second Life regularly, or have even logged in. However, since they'd already told their readers a visibly phoney number, they seem in no mood to follow up either.

So, after a while, I came to conclude that it would be almost impossible to get the real numbers (if Linden would let the New York Times and Fortune get them publicly wrong, why would they share with me?), and more to the point, even if I had them, what would I do with them? My audience is a fraction of Business Week's. The only avenue I could think of for changing the rhetorical climate was to try to reach the reporters who cover the Lindens, and change their views. Even that is a Hail Mary play; I'm not terribly optimistic about the results. But I care a lot about the ways in which people reason about social software, so I couldn't just do nothing.

14.

I hear you, Clay. The amount of BS surrounding the resident number, on all sides, is just appalling. But please don't paint all journalism on the matter with the same brush. It makes it more difficult for the message to get through.

15.

@Mark, I'd be with you on that point, but for this: I haven't found anyone really digging, and I've read more articles about SL at this point than anyone except Linden's PR rep.

I've found people publishing numbers they don't know are BS, I've found people publishing numbers they *do* know are BS, and I've found people who see that the numbers don't pass the sniff test and put Resident in quotes, to cover their bases. What I have not found is anyone who can provide an answer to two simple questions: how many actual people have tried SL, and how many of them have become regular users?

No absolute statement is accurate, of course, but to a first approximation, the public explanations of SL demographics have been written either by manipulators or chumps. If you can point me to people who are writing about the answers to those questions, or are publicly pointing out that the rest of the press is wrongly reporting those numbers, I'd be happy to call attention to them.

16.

"If you can point me to people who are writing about the answers to those questions, or are publicly pointing out that the rest of the press is wrongly reporting those numbers, I'd be happy to call attention to them."

Do you mean in the press? Because you've already noted that plenty of bloggers are publicly pointing out the inaccuracy of the figures and reporting on them. Anyway, here's a story in the Guardian quoting you, published before your latest VW post, I think.

"What I have not found is anyone who can provide an answer to two simple questions: how many actual people have tried SL, and how many of them have become regular users?"

I don't believe that's because no one has tried to get the answers to these questions. As you know, MMO companies are notoriously reticent about giving out these numbers. One issue is the definition of regular users. There's never going to be one definition of that term that satisfies everyone. It would be great if we could get this kind of information out of LL or anyone else for that matter, but it's just not out there. No one digs deeper than Sir Bruce, and if he can't get it, why would you expect a journalist -- most of whom are covering any number of subjects at once -- to be able to easily come up with it? Anyway, the broader research community can't even agree on what's important. Is it regular users (whatever that means), concurrency, total signups, paying customers, average usage per customer per month...? The problem is not solely with the journalists, it's with the companies and the academics as well.

And do you really want to keep calling us "chumps"? Is that the kind of discourse you want to foster around virtual worlds and social software? Is that how you hope to develop sympathetic ears among journalists? In your words: "I care a lot about the ways in which people reason about social software." Show it.

17.

On second thought, there probably are people digging more deeply than Sir Bruce. Still, the numbers just aren't forthcoming, not from LL nor form anyone else.

18.

By the way, in comment #5 on http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/03/second-life-posts-weekly-uniques/ , I pointed out an equation used to guestimate the number of SL players (excluding people that are browsing). The equation has plenty of flaws, but it's better than nothing.

19.

Of course Mr. Shirky posts on ValleyWag, a site that does not allow for open comments. Even over there, it is clear there are two sets of readers. Those who gloat at the one-upmanship, pissing contest that is the thrust of Mr. Shirky's article, and those who ask the more clear-headed question of what are the adoption rates and what do they mean.

But first, let me make the point: All this wonderful sleuthing, to reach the conclusion that journalists don't understand numbers? Hmmm. I would say that 1) duh, and 2) it just doesn't matter (and never has).

The "important" numbers go something like this:

2+ million accounts, most are less than three months old
~7% of which are ALTs
~10% of which are used to log in at least weekly, after three months

There is something strange about this misplaced diatribe, since the "damned good" investigative reporting never unearths the "real" numbers or engages with what they mean. Instead the goal seems to be an attack on media coverage which is deemed out of proportion.

Sincerely,
Jeff McNeill

20.

@Mark, I mean in the MSM -- all the reporters I quoted wrongly claiming that SL had 1M+ users are from the traditional press. As I said in VW, the blogosphere is getting this right.

And numbers _are_ forthcoming form LL, but their function is camoflage, not illumination. I don't get out of bed early to write posts about private companies not publishing their numbers -- not enough days in the year for that. But what LL is doing is different -- they have created phoney transparency, with numbers that are visible, evocative, and meaningless. That is a different kind of danger than simple opacity, as people don't even know what they don't know, while thinking they know something they don't.

As for chumps, read this, from today, and grep for 'million people':
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16355252/

Alan Sipress was a chump for writing this. I know the word is insulting, but I can't really think of a more accurate one.

21.

@Jeff, the story isn't that the journalists aren't understanding the numbers, it's that LL is not correcting the errors.

It may be that LL adopted Residents as an internal metric with no devious purpose involved, but the first time a reporter reported Resident as 'user' and LL didn't correct them or clarify the metrics on their site, they became a bad actor.

22.

No, I'm saying the numbers you want aren't forthcoming from LL. Of course they put out numbers that make them look good.

Sipress could certainly have added a line about concurrency or something, but you have no idea how difficult it is to get that kind of thing into an article, especially when you don't have an accurate number from the company. That's what the fact-checkers you referenced in your post do: they make sure reporters aren't conjecturing about the figures. The 2 million is obviously wildly inaccurate in terms of regular users and Sipress could have tried to qualify it (and perhaps he did try, we don't know). That doesn't make him a chump.

23.

@Mark, I just can't agree. I've written for the mainstream press, and I know the difference between agreeing to some inflection and presenting a lie.

We have *no idea* how many users there are in Second Life, ever or frequently. Anyone using the Residents figure as an indicator of anything real has been had, or has decided they don't care about telling their readers anything real. Either outcome is a bad one, and a journalist who lets either happen deserves criticism.

24.

I think Second Life is a great thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask hard questions of Linden. SL is not going to pop if we prod it, Lindens are not going to run home and cry.

I think that Linden is disingenuous in many things that they put out. The ‘Residents’ figure and the fact that it seems to go un-corrected when mis-quoted is probably the prime example of this.

I think that in the long run that’s bad for all of us.

Why? Well journalists only hype things up for one reason – so they can tear them down. This sudden rush of luv is going hurt someone soon and I don’t want it to be Linden or the rest of the Virtual World industry, but I’d start to put padding down your shorts and tin hats on right about now if I were you.

One thing to keep in mind is that numbers are not easy. There is the Penguins and Puffins thread just below this that touches on it and there have been some good discussions here of late as to what we might count as a ‘resident’. But I remember, waaay back when MUD-DEV (a moment of referent silence please) had long discussions about what the best way to count users is – this one is going to run.

So I don’t think that Linden are alone in the hype-game. I also think that most journalists are doing a terrible job of reporting, if that it I hold them to the standards of ‘real’ journalism. Virtual World stuff is more like reading entertainment ‘news’.

I don't want to be or come over as wholly negative or not constructive in this, it just take virtual worlds terribly seriously, t'is all.

Then again, really we should all aspire to the PR standards set by Project Entropia, then everything would be just fine.

25.

Jeff McNeill says:

The "important" numbers go something like this:

2+ million accounts, most are less than three months old
~7% of which are ALTs
~10% of which are used to log in at least weekly, after three months

How do you arrive at either of these latter numbers? As far as I know there is no way (outside of peering into LL's database) the number of alts -- but it's generally taken to be much higher than 7%!

Your 10% number is specious as well: since as you say most of the ~2M accounts are less than 3 months old, there is no way to say how many of them will be logging in weekly after three months.

And anyway, when it comes right down to brass tacks, you left out what is by far the most important number:

~1.8% of the 2M are actual paying accounts -- about 36,000 according to the SL economics site.

People keep shying away from this number under the bizarre assumption that some vague notion of "popularity" (still undefined, but never mind) is more important to a commercial company than is the number of paying customers. If this is so, should we also be counting as important all the people who visit World of Warcraft's website or who glance at it in the store before putting it back on ths shelf? Is that (very large) number more important than the number who assign their value to the product by paying for it? Perhaps in a world where companies do not need to consider making payroll via revenue or investment, but that's a world I don't believe exists.

For perspective, the number of paying accounts on Second Life is about 0.5% of the paying accounts on WoW; perhaps 18% of the paying accounts on EVE Online, and something less than the paying users on Puzzle Pirates. Each of these virtual worlds could easily and truthfully claim more than 2M accounts created, but they don't, primarily because the number is ludicrous and meaningless. Continuing to tout it only plays into the unfortunate combination of dissembling and gullibility that Clay is talking about.

26.

Mike:

The paying users figure is not a good indicator, as it is very easy to be a resident of SL without paying a monthly tier. "Premium membership" doesn't do much for you at all these days, and many people are choosing to forgo that and just pay rent to someone else. LL is not making their money from the premium accounts, it would seem, but from island fees (which you don't have to be a premium member for) and these days the sale of L$ (both transaction fees and direct sales).

27.

Wow, SL blogosphere has been posting about this over and over and over again. Take this post, last December, when we questioned the 100K milestone, pointing out it would be better to call it "100 dormant alts".

http://www.dragonscoveherald.com/blog/index.php?p=1065

More recently, we've had Raph, estimate around 100K regular users today (finally, a year later), and that number is endorsed by the people at Anshe Chung Studios. So from where I sit Clay is a year late and a dollar short.

But hey, I can tell you what genius study he might come up with next. Maybe Clay could take a look at the $600,000 "spent" figure, which, as we have reported does no such thing, but records something closer to dollars changing hands...

http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/11/linden_lab_boas.html

How is it changing hands? Well, it could be dancer's tip jars, but in an informal investigation we did we came up with around 80% of it being generated by gambing -- money changing hands between the gamblers and the house (slot machines etc). Even this wasn't news to a lot of people as reported in Clickable Culture: http://www.secretlair.com/index.php?/clickableculture/entry/second_life_transactions_per_day_stats_rigged/

But back to the "residents" issue. So Clay comes along and states what people all through the SL blogosphere have been stating for months (at least for a year) and he looks like a genius to Dan at least, which suggest to me that although I love Dan, he's fallen into reading exclusively from the TN eggheadinfosphere. And then to top it all off, Clay selectively culls a quote saying the fake numbers don't matter, and of course the quote is from an idiot SL blogger who is a legendary sycophant.

Now, despite the obvious weakness of the "residents" numbers, I agree totally with Mark and Cory that Clay's post was not constructive in the least. We actually *do* have some idea what the meaningful numbers might be and we have discussed those as well, including an article that talks about the growth in land purchased.

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

So what I'm saying is that (i) of course the "residents" number is meaningless (so what Clay is saying here is old news in spite of his selecting quote culling), (ii) that doesn't mean the bad numbers are ok, or harmless, and the Lindens whould be taken to task for it, (iii) there are other problematic numbers that he doesn't address (like dollars spent), and (iv) there are meaningful numbers that suggest SL is doing quite well thank you.

None of this is to give a pass to the mainstream media either for its constant hyping of the SL macktistics, but the blogosphere has been bitching about the mainstream media on that too. Trust me, we have.

In sum, LL should have dumped the junk numbers a long time ago, but we've all been *saying* they were junk forever, and they should stick with the meaningful numbers, which are not insane but suggest a nice healthy business model thank you. So please enough with the Shirkey fluffing. It's unseemly, and being unseemly is *my* job.

/rant

28.

No, I don't call myself a demographer, or a statistician. Other people call me that, but other people call me a lot of things, not all of which are printable. :)

I keep a lot of numbers that Linden Lab publishes, and try to make something useful out of them, but one of them appears to be just plain wrong, and really the available figures don't include and can't be used to derive the sorts of numbers we're all really interested in, except in the most suggestive ways.

I chart them, and look for interesting or potentially useful trends. The signup rate for the last 14 days averages 17,705 per day, for example. I can't tell how many of those log in. One percent? One hundred percent? I can't tell you. It would be irresponsible to hazard a guess.

For me - in the absence of hard data - I find it more interesting what the press says about these numbers, whether they foolishly take them at face value, or whether they read malicious intent into them. That and the effect that those interpretations have on figures such as the signup rates is particularly fascinating, especially because it appears to run counter to what I would have believed the effects to be.

In my experience - journalists and reporters have asked me about the numbers before - nobody's interested in that. They want numbers that can be turned into hype or into a train-wreck. In the extremely few instances where one was genuinely interested in the actual figures (so far as we know or can approximate them) they were overridden by their editors who apparently thought the big round numbers sound better.

29.

@Uri: Thanks, Uri. You demonstrate my point adroitly.

30.

What Uri said.

And frankly, Cory O. shouldn't be thanking just the inner circle, but the outer circle too who have been standing up to Clay. Clay's got some sort of agenda here, that seems to go beyond sour grapes or obsessive digging or even good, legitimate and needed journalism to something very ideological. I'm still trying to figure out what it is.

There's no two million; there's not even any one million. We've been saying that. The figure of 36,000 plus actual land owners, and the people they support to do various things which now is estimated to something like 120,000 (it was 100,000 quite some time ago) -- these are the numbers we go with and comment extensively on and have ways of backing.

Sign-ups and try-mes may or may not be back -- as some of us were mere try-mes in the dbase for a year before *we* came back.

But Clay pounding on this is what is now the thing people should be looking at. Why? If there isn't a million right now, well, there will be soon enough at the growing rate. And if it is only 100,000, why don't they count? And why can't some of the many other ways we've offered to assess the meaning and significance be accessed in a more serious way?

Where was this kind of scrutiny on WoW's 7 million? Didn't they expel numerous farmers and bots and alts?

I'm still tending to believe that Second Life's biggest crime here isn't having a bogus 2 million; it's not being a game.

31.

Mike S.> People keep shying away from this number under the bizarre assumption that some vague notion of "popularity" (still undefined, but never mind) is more important to a commercial company than is the number of paying customers. <

Focussing on the subscription numbers would be a hefty distortion in the other direction. SL is not primarily in the business of selling subscriptions, 70% of its income comes from selling virtual land.

If the only people in SL were the 36K subscribers, I doubt they would be selling anything like as much land. I’d argue that the big spenders buy land partly to accommodate the non-subscribers. So non-subscriber numbers are an important part of the business analysis. Trouble is, we don’t know how much of the non-subscriber number is significant. Not the 2 million for sure.

The hundred thousand who spend a least a few L$ in a month are likely significant to those buying land for commercial purposes. Even tougher to get a handle on are the people buying land for social purposes. The two or subscribers that are a core of a large group of non-subscribing friends and relations. How you would estimate the size of that beats me.

All the hype about making money in SL, is downplaying the portion of people who go there to spend money. I believe there are an awful lot “idle rich” in SL. When you can buy an acre of land for $100, and a fine yacht for $10, a lot of people can aspire to an upper class lifestyle they don’t have in their everyday world. But, as we all know, that works best if there is an “average to poor” mass we can be richer than. I think a unknown chunk of the non-subscribing masses performs that social function.

Focussing on paying subscribers would be a distortion in the other direction. Like only counting upper middle class and higher in the US population. And it would underestimate Linden’s potentials for land sales, which is their main business income.

Postscript. A few people have made some similar points while I have been writing, and cooking my dinner. But the emphasis on the social function of non-subscribers is I think still worth making.

32.

@Urizenus, you say "In sum, LL should have dumped the junk numbers a long time ago, but we've all been *saying* they were junk forever..."

We haven't *all* been saying that -- reporters at, inter alia, Business Week, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, and CNN have been saying quite the opposite.

You have in mind, I think, a model where, so long as the people who care deeply about virtual worlds know that the numbers are junk, then nothing more needs to be said.

I am working on a different model, where the press telling the _casual_ reader that there are two million people using Second Life is the problem. I've never claimed that other people aren't calling out the same manipulation by the Lindens -- the more the merrier in that department -- but I am saying that whatever has happened in the SL blogosphere to this point simply hasn't worked, because the bogus numbers are still very much in circulation. Whatever message it is you think you sent to the Lindens looks like it was never delivered.

33.

Geez. If reporters can't read - well... the numbers demonstrate superflous knowledge. Sure, maybe LL could call the accounts something else (like...umm... accounts), but it is just a little too convenient to beat on LL for 'not correcting the numbers'.

It should be much easier to beat on the journalists who have screwed up. Clay has done this. Do I like the style? No. Is Clay saying it as it is? Mostly. Is Clay pointing out that the blogosphere has been more accurate than the mainstream, thus giving credit where credit is due instead of saying that the blogosphere has been ineffective?

Next up, SecondLife has WMD. 2 million accounts want no taxes. Film at 11. Spread the news and wait for the retractions.

34.

"Anyone using the Residents figure as an indicator of anything real has been had, or has decided they don't care about telling their readers anything real."

That's total bullshit, and it's anything but helpful.

Also, the message has definitely been delivered to the Lindens, by me in person, among many other people. That doesn't mean they've taken it to heart. In fact, though, it's largely down to our persistence on this issue that they now release as many numbers as they do. You can call us chumps, but journalists have contributed greatly to the fact that we have access to half the demographic and economic data on SL that's now out there. LL didn't just volunteer it, you know. But I suppose that's immaterial, since when you started posting about this you couldn't even be bothered to drill down into the SL Web site to find the numbers that *were* there. Two weeks ago you were baying about only having a "last 60 days" login number. Yet Linden Lab has been reporting 7-, 14-, 30- and 60-day numbers *for months*. By your own logic, then, you clearly don't care about telling your readers anything real. Or were you just had? Or maybe lazy? Whatever it is, it's gotta be better than being a chump.

Anyway, this is all Dan's fault. "Dirty little secret"? Give the tinfoil hat back to Prokofy, Hunter! If I ever catch you in New York again I'm going to personally not buy you a drink. For a minute, anyway ;-]

35.

I read the article and noted two things.

First, after reading the article, I personally got a sense that someone who made some claims a decade ago got burned and is now so skeptical about even the possibility there might *actually* be an "Immanent Shift in the Way We Live®" that it's effectively impossible for him to conceive of it now. That may not be the case, but that's what I took away.

Second, that popping the hype balloon (which so many of us had previously discussed, as noted) seemed somehow to vindicate that position, and as such, seemed somehow personal. That bothered me. Again, that may not be the case, but after reading it that's the impression I had.

Consequently, while much of what was written was old news to many of us, I had a mixed reaction to the piece. On the one hand, I was glad to see the numbers being scrutinized by someone with a large enough audience to *maybe* get some attention. But on the other hand, the motivation I perceived as being behind the piece left a bitter taste in my mouth. And beyond that, the reaction from people who I believe should have known this all along has been pretty distasteful as well. By all means, hold LL and MSM accountable. I'm one of those who has been pointing out these very same things on any number of marketing blogs, so I have no problem with that. However, I agree with Mark in that the way it's being handled now by those inside the greater community is unfortunate. I have no idea from where the animosity I sense is coming, and I'm not sure I care to know.

"an informal investigation we did we came up with around 80% of it being generated by gambing -- money changing hands between the gamblers and the house (slot machines etc)."

No surprise to me, but it's good to hear I was on the right track when I made that comment over on CC.

36.

FYI: Here's what Sipress said about SL's users:

"In Second Life, where nearly 2 million people have signed up to create their own characters and socialize with other digital beings, the virtual economy is booming, with total transactions in November reaching the equivalent of $20 million... Last month, people converted about $3 million at the Lindex currency market."

Emphasis mine.

Didn't we just decide, a couple posts ago, that what Linden is calling, "Residents" actually, in fact, equates to "sign-ups?" Not "users" or "accounts" or "citizens" or "regular loggers-on," but people who had, as Sipress said, simply, "Signed up?"

So... "2 million people signed up." If that means they checked, "I accept" on the click-wrap and started the download, I think Sipress makes a true statement.

The rest of his article is pretty interesting and talks about (rather than penises); IP rights, virtual real estate law, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, copybot, 3D mapping as it applies to VR, a bit of RMT history, and has a quote from U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner's visit to SL where he spoke about "the eventual emergence of an international law of virtual worlds."

I've read a bunch on SL, too. And, yeah... there's a lot of chump-stain out there. But this? This is a decent article for the non-grognards out there. It touches on a bunch of points that we regularly get hot-and-heavy about here, and does so in a way that isn't creepy-stupid.

Just my 3-cents.

37.

I just wrote a much longer, more emotionally charged comment that I'm going to sit on over night and see if I still want to post. But here's the image I have in my mind right now:

Dan and Clay are at some conference giving a talk called "Why Second Life Sucks" (Dan's wearing his World of Warcraft baseball hat and Clay is wearing an "I'm blogging this" t-shirt, or something like that), and as they describe what SL is, what it aspires to be, and what the current bottlenecks are, 80% of the people in the room think, "Oh my god, that sounds like the most interesting thing ever. As soon as they fix the interface and make it easy to find things I'll have to go try that out," and the other 20% log in from their laptops and start making avatars.

38.

@Jeffrey:

After the download completes, so does the conference but the three per cent of those who managed to download and got through making an avatar without giving up in frustration boredom finally venture out of the green line to be accosted by a ginat furry fox with breasts and an enormous penis.

Now, finally, they can see what Second Life is all about.

39.

It really is surprising that despite having MORE information and being pointed repeatedly to the economics stats page he ignored in the first round of his articles, Clay Shirky is now backsliding and acting as if he doesn't have this information again. Huh?

And Ren, you really have no excuse, either. How can you be writing a blog at this late date in the 3rd thread on this discussion, saying this:

"What is the definition of Resident?
How many paid accounts are there?

If we are going to take all this virtual stuff seriously then is it not important enough for us to get actual facts like this and not work on things issued by PR firms. As SL is advertised as somewhere to do business, is there no requirement under US law for facts to be given to the market? If not, why not? "

Resident is defined as sign-ups. I've mentioned this repeatedly on several threads and other blogs. I've referenced the Lindens' own statements saying that it is not a number including incomplete sign-ups (mess-ups) or those under discipline/expelled. Is this a real number? No. But they explain their definition very clearly, so all subjective associations with the word "resident" have to be dropped. They are not people who live there. They are only people who sign up.

Next, if the 30-60 day numbers don't work for you, and Tateru claims (without a whole lot of evidence) that they are busted, well, why would they mean that much ANYWAY? They strike me as really a poor source of knowledge given the velocity of churn, the huge amount of press coverage, and the enormous growth.

And Ren, I personally have stated over and over again that the paid accounts are: 36,000. More by now. Those numbers are on the economic statistics page. I don't see any reason to question those numbers. That figure has increased from 6,000 to 36,000 as I've written on my blog now in about 3 threads over and over again.

What more does it take? There aren't the 2 million or the 1 million. There is the 100,000. Cut off the foam, then, and look at that figure. It's a figure 10 times what it was a year ago -- probably more. Can't that tell you anything?

And I'm going to ask once again, since you've granted yourself the ability to keep trotting out indignant questions that have already long since been answered, where were you when these sorts of facile numbers were given out about WoW or Eve Online?

Can you point me to the hard-hitting, narrowed-eye cynical reporting that you did when Eve said it reached 100,000 online -- including my non-used account?

Can you show me how you dissected the figures for WoW?

And I say all this not as a person who AT ALL buys the 2 million fakery and has worked hard to supply the public, both on my own blog and on the Herald, more real numbers based on land ownership and rentals figures.

I say it as a person who suspects something is "up" when this much zeal converges on a topic -- Clay doesn't like the press gulping down whole fake numbers like 2 million; well, I don't like his refusal to take the real numbers people like me ARE giving him, as small as they are, and contemplate what they mean. It's absurd. It means that he's not acting in good faith on this.

I've never seen such emotional and tendentious posts on this supposedly dry and academic review. "For the Win" we're told in the first thread. "Help out Shirkky" we're told in the next as if there is some national emergency where all hands must come on deck. Now we're treated to a gushing fanboyz' "damn good" yet again about Shirky though he is just recycling his same rhetorical points now without any new insights.

Really, what's up with this?

40.

As SL is advertised as somewhere to do business, is there no requirement under US law for facts to be given to the market? If not, why not? "

This sounds pretty preposterous. Aren't you in the U.S. yourself, Ren? What agency or power could *force* companies to give "facts"...as determined by whom? It's a free market and companies are free agents to write any tripe they like. A whole array of forces then battles that in the form of consumer groups, community associations, the media, Congressional oversight, etc.

What facts did LL not give? They put out a figure of the total number of people who signed up. .They called such persons misleadingly "residents". Well, it's their game, they can call them tuna fish if they want to.

We've all come forward and explained this -- after all, we were the ones debunking this on blogs ages ago ourselves.

The round of criticism then prompted people to point the critics to the Lindens' own economic statistics page where it has a number that some of us fought long and hard (a year!) to be published (it was considered "proprietary").

In meeting after meeting, in lobbying group after lobbying group, in email after email, I was the one constantly, over and over again, asking the Lindens to come clean with us and tell us HOW MANY PREMIUM ACCOUNTS. Long before Clay Shirky got on this -- YEARS ago -- I recognized this as the only valid number -- everything else was subject to flaming out. Of course, there is a small but hugely vocal minority that never got land since beta and live in sandboxes and constantly bark about how "you don't need land to have fun" and imagine that all basic accounts coming in like them will also want to learn to build and script (they don't). But other than this tiny figure, most people who come in and stay beyond the four hours or 30 days are on land, one way or another. So that's the figure to watch.

It's because I and other land owners kept hammering on this inworld that you even see this figure of 36,000 FINALLY on the statistics page. We LONG AGO were fighting the phonyness of the front-page statistics.

And for this, I got slammed as wearing a tinfoil hat? Hell no.

41.

Premium accounts are not the only thing that matters - if you honestly think so you need a reality check.

42.

This isn't a discussion about your mom not being able to justify a recurring fee on her credit card for $9.95 each month, just a thought, it's a different discussion. It's not about the relative worth as citizens of basics or premiums.

It's about how to cut through the fog of play -- the 2 million trymes and sign-ups that led nowhere and don't retain. The only way to cut through this is to look at some other metric to try to examine growth and well-being.

And there, only premiums matter for the purposes of finding REAL NUMBERS. They show who really shows up and keeps logging on because they have property. Few people will let a bill keep recurring for $9.95 each month if they aren't logging on.

From there, a significant number of us have independent come to the same conclusion: 100,000 or so real people really logging on, because those 36,000 sustain others on their land as renters or club-goers or shoppers.

43.

Prok,
Amusingly, I thanked Mark thinking I was looking at the first (second?) Clay thread that had an scary amount of emotion thrown in on both sides and then noticed that we were on thread three. Teaches me to log in early the day after Christmas when I'm still trying to finish opening all the presents that Uri sent me.

c

44.

Cory, you didn't get the goldfish we sent along?

45.

I sent cheese, Cory. Hope it made it past the killer watermelon. :-)

46.

Where does one get all this swag? I want a goldfish. And cheese. And a killer watermelon.

And I want a tinfoil hat. All I got for Christmas was my two front teeth (+3 to s**t eating grinning).

47.

In this week's Time, which focused on social software, the "Second Life has 2 million users" meme was repeated over, and over, and over.

Whether or not "that number has any meaning" (wow, did anyone use the same logic during the 2000 Florida recount?) you have the most popular newsmagazine in America publishing this number as fact.

48.

Mike Sellers wrote:

For perspective, the number of paying accounts on Second Life is about 0.5% of the paying accounts on WoW; perhaps 18% of the paying accounts on EVE Online, and something less than the paying users on Puzzle Pirates. Each of these virtual worlds could easily and truthfully claim more than 2M accounts created, but they don't, primarily because the number is ludicrous and meaningless.

Just to be fair here, Three Rings/Puzzle Pirates made a big deal out of hitting 2M accounts created. They had it on their front page for awhile and issued a press release, etc. Linden isn't the only one who trumpets registered users as something particularly meaningful.

Scott wrote:

Whether or not "that number has any meaning" (wow, did anyone use the same logic during the 2000 Florida recount?) you have the most popular newsmagazine in America publishing this number as fact.

Don't worry Scott. Not only does that number not have any meaning (except in situations when it does), but the fact that Time would publish it is, in and of itself, final proof that the number does matter, except when it doesn't matter or when the number has a meaning it shouldn't have.

--matt

49.

Visiting the 'Second Life' World: Virtual Hype?

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6682433

NPR has been as guilty as anyone in over-hyping SL, but I heard this story on the radio a couple of days ago and it seems they have taken off the blinders (at least partially).

If the main issue is Linden fudging, or even outright lying, about their numbers, I really think only mass media has the resources to put that message out and make changes.

If, however, the problem is the media not doing any research on those numbers, I think this NPR story is starting to address that.

A couple of quick quotes from the article:

"The community's creators say the site has more than 1.8 million members, but that overstates the reality. In fact, many members who come to try out the game leave, never to return again."

"Mark Glaser the editor of PBS's online blog Media Shift, says that at any given hour, there are usually less than 20,000 people inside Second Life."

Of course, this link isn't a direct transcript, so if you don't listen to the story you will miss the story of the judge who gave a speech and had to contest with giant purple bears and bricks falling from the sky, or Ben Folds promoting the BMG store to a grand total of 25 people.

Maybe not the last breath for SL, but it does seem like some in the press have begun wearing their shades so the "future" of SL doesn't seem so damn birght.

~iao

50.

Who's going to puncture the dirty little secret that Terra Nova has mad virtual world envy?

51.

@Prokofy, you say "And there, only premiums matter for the purposes of finding REAL NUMBERS. They show who really shows up and keeps logging on because they have property."

Note that these numbers may be real for your interest, which is primarily economic, but isn't for mine, which is primarily demographic. Since you can have more than one account per user (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I can't find any data on accounts per person) even paid accounts does not answer questions about actual people.

52.

Clay you are overly concerned with popularity rather than quality.

For example, Only a very select few people (relative to the world at large) read your blog, this blog, and other leading edge, insightful discourses on what is happening in virtual world technology.

Does that make them irrelevant? Does it mean they're going to go away tomorrow? Of course not. They are extremely relevant, extremely compelling, and are likely only to get more so.

Second Life is very much like that. It was compelling at 100,000 users (we had precisely the same conversations then as you are having now) and it will be compelling at 10,000,000 users.

My suggestion, if you don't like the numbers the press are quoting, is to put your hand over that part and skip it.

I think you'll find that the articles are just as interesting and provoking as they were with the number.

53.

Clay says:

"@Urizenus...You have in mind, I think, a model where, so long as the people who care deeply about virtual worlds know that the numbers are junk, then nothing more needs to be said."

Clay, that is so breathtakingly ignorant that I've..I've lost my breath. You are saying this to a guy who has been screaming about the media fluffing the Lindens and the hyperventilating of the Linden Mac-numbers for a year. I even referred to the SL Reuter's bureau, in print, as being "the Reuters Corporate Press Release Recycling Bureau" (but then Adam Reuters bought me lunch so I had to be nice). So no, my model says nothing about giving media a pass (until they buy me lunch).

My model says this: people on Terra Nova should listen to someone besides Clay Shirkey, because he has contributed nothing to this discussion.

54.

Random comment about exponential growth:

Be very careful about extrapolating past trends into the future.

Just because SL had 10K users (200K "residents") a year ago, and 100K users (2M "residents") now, doesn't mean that it'll have 1M users (20M "residents") a year from now.

You need to look at the underlying reason WHY SL has had such growth, and that's because it's done a very good job of attracting the attention of the mainstream media in the US/Europe. Time, NPR, WSJ, BBC, etc. are talking about SL and driving newbies into the VW to try it out.

And what happens in a year or two if (or when?) mass media decides that some other tech gadget is more interesting? SL's newbie hose dries up and they have to start spending a LOT more on advertising to make up for the relatively free promotion they're getting from the media.

For futher reading, I suggest Richard Bartle's book, particularly the sections on the media's and researcher's interests in LambaMoo(?) and his comments about AOL, AOL's sponsored text MUDs, and the newbie hose, and how AOL's sponsored text MUDs had problems after AOL stopped hosing them down with newbies.

While history isn't guaranteed to repeat itself, always bear in mind that it often does. Those people that don't realize this buy tulips, dot-com shares, and web 2.0 shares.

55.

I wasted ten valueable seconds of my life on this sensless bullshirt. You owe me.

56.

Mike Rozak > You need to look at the underlying reason WHY SL has had such growth, and that's because it's done a very good job of attracting the attention of the mainstream media in the US/Europe. Time, NPR, WSJ, BBC, etc. are talking about SL and driving newbies into the VW to try it out.

This is where the analysis gets so totally mixed for me and some of the assumptions behind the most dismissive criticism get revealed. Yes, SL has attracted the attention of these news sources, which has led to further growth, but it's done so by providing an open platform for people to finally take control over the content, purpose, and function of a shared gamespace *and* own and monetize what they do there: a virtual world as a creative, communication, and commerce technology. People and companies are moving in to develop, use, and colonize this space (and contribute to the technology and supporting applications that will enhance the user experience), and that's what's attracting the media attention. SL has not grown because it's somehow magically gotten the press to write about it. They're writing about it for a serious reason, and a reason that looks a lot like history repeating itself: early days of potentially exponential growth of a graphical realtime web that's bigger than just SL, although SL is currently leading the way.

Look, you've got a booming video game industry out there, and a young simulation or metaverse industry really, when you fan it out wide, and as of yet this industry has been so incredibly closed when it comes to accepting and distributing the creative contributions of its user base, empowering people to do whatever the heck they want, and converging with other media. SL is like a little hole at the bottom of an overfull tub that wants to drain (which is part of the problem: since it's lonely it's conspicuous and it doesn't drain the right way for everyone). Nothing about the growth of this situation is even close to flattening out, though we'll certainly see the growth of other systems that let people do SL-like things, and we'll see how they all keep up and play out.

Invest in tulips.

57.

I agree with Jerry.

Let's go back... way back... back before there were "millions" of anything. If, as Clay says in #2 article, "The sine qua non of trend stories is that a trend is fast-growing. The Residents figure was never really part of the story, it just provided permission to write about about how crazy it is that all the kids these days are getting avatars," then there should have been no "permission" before we had big, fat, stupid, incorrect numbers. Right?

OK. Well, in 2002 the NYT covered the opening of SL. Time Magazine gave it a "Best Invention" award. In 2003 USA Today, Time, the NYT, Slate.com (which also covered how The Sims Online comparatively flopped) and Wired all wrote about SL. In October of 03, PC Magazine gave SL an "Editors' Pick" for best product of the year.

In 2004... Wired, USA Today (which on 6/3/04 reported "around 10,000 active players... which could be the precursor of the 2 million virus), the Boston Herald, again with the NYT, Red Herring, Law.com and the New Republic, all ran stories about SL. In none of these cases was the main point high-levels of user adoption or population. The angles range from "Look, real money!" to, "Look! No killing!" to "Look! Education!" to "Look! Architecture."

On to 2005... The list is really, really friggin' long at this point. Check it out yourself at:

http://secondlife.com/news/archive/?year=2005

There are 94 stories listed for 2005 there. In official, PR terms... that's a crap load. Seriously, though, there's a word for getting free (earned) media rather than spending money on advertising. That word?

Smart.

If you browse through most of the stories, you'll find some consistent themes: build anything, be your own boss, create stuff; sex and getting caught; is this for real?; look at the weirdos; making money in virtual worlds; education. You'll also find a bunch of articles that don't fit easily; the stuff about teaching kids with Aspergers better social skills (MSNBC). The Cory Doctorow book signing. The London memorial after the terrorist attacks. The Tringo story. The launch of the Lindex.

Almost none of these mention number of users... except to compare them unfavorably to WoW "and other similar online games."

If you go to the 2006 press page, you'll find links to 357 stories. 275 of them before SL hit the "1 million residents" mark on 10/22/06.

So... I don't buy that the press is only feeding off the "2 million" number. Or the "1 million" number. Or any number. There has been too much good press for SL since the beginning, and too much good press that has nothing to do with numbers.

Yes again yes again yes. People (all of us) should do a better job at fact checking. And yes yes yes we'd like better numbers on SL. But if the point is that SL only gets press because of the bogus numbers? Nope.

58.

The term "[3d] graphical realtime web" bothers me because it's been tried before (VRML, for example) and hasn't produced any particularly compelling web-like reasons for existance. For example, I easily understand/understood web sites being used as store fronts, but the 3D stores in SL seem kind of pointless... which is why using the word, "web", bothers me, because much/most of what works on the web (Amazon, E-bay, company web-sites, yellow pags, google, encyclopedias, etc.) WON'T work in 3d virtual worlds.

However, the term "young simulation or metaverse industry" makes sense to me. I've been posting for years that a number of companies are really on the path to creating an operating system for virtual worlds, and those operating systems are valuable (and viable). Game-development toolkits, like Havok, are just the start. Multiverse, the Hero Engine, and Big World go a step further towards a virtual-world OS.

Having said that, I don't see SL (specifically) as heading in an OS direction, which I would applaud. I see it as a potential OS that's being used for virtual real-estate speculation, a chat room, and a lego-like toy where small applications (objects) can be created, all on proprietary servers. If SL were to allow 3rd parties to host their own indepdendent servers, SL would be more valuable because it would become more of an OS.

As it is, the "application" side of SL that is actually being sold to customers (real-estate speculation, chat room, and virtual legos) doesn't seem compelling to me, as well as 98% of the people that try SL.

So yes, IMHO, the media has it right in noticing the potential "metaverse" that is hinted at by SL, but SL is a poor example of what (I think) the metaverse will end up looking like.

And I also think that the 2M number, virtual real-estate speculation, and general bizarreness of SL are a much larger reason for the media's attention to SL.

59.

Andy Havens wrote: "I don't buy that the press is only feeding off the "2 million" number. Or the "1 million" number."

Last night I was listening to a delayed broadcast from NPR (I'm in Austrlia) and unexpectedly heard about SL.

A month ago, ABC news (Australian Broadcasting Corp) had a blurb on the prime-time news, fed from the BBC.

A year ago, when SL had 10K users, and was exactly the same product/culture, I didn't hear squat on the main-stream media. I suspect 2M has a lot to do with it.

60.

Note that these numbers may be real for your interest, which is primarily economic, but isn't for mine, which is primarily demographic. Since you can have more than one account per user (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I can't find any data on accounts per person) even paid accounts does not answer questions about actual people.

Clay, you're still not hearing it. I don't cite these numbers because they merely fit my interest in a particular sector of business in SL.

You asked for paid subscriptions? Here's your number: 36,000. That ALSO happens to be the land-owners number. Get it? The two are coterminous. People take out a paid subscription when they are ready to do something more than just fly around to clubs or goof off in public sandboxes.

And as everyone keeps trying to explain, this is a world, not a game, where people moneterize their time on line, or they consume the user-created content of others. It's a different model. Therefore the numbers to look at aren't the absolute look-see or "tryme virus" numbers that you've cited. For example I could say that 1,000 people clicked on a link in Google to a website, but if all they did is glance at in and move on, they're of little meaning, except as perhaps a form of advertising where they might follow up later. It's only if they then click through the pages, go to several other pages and stay on it for a bit and do something -- read, click and buy, whatever -- that they become more useful as numbers.

The alts, as Philip has repeated many times, are something like 20 percent. However, people are not going to tend to take out lots of paid subscriptions to make alts -- the alts would tend to be on the basic, free subs.

And again, land ownership is merely the figure to show how many users there are, including longer-term householders and also developers of various kinds, from amateur to professional, from land to scripting, who are who are willing to pay for a subscription.

And as I keep saying, each one of those landowners sustains some coefficient of others beyond them. Given that the real numbers are likely to be 100,000 (some even say 200,000) now of those really lasting beyond 60 days, the number might be 1 to 2.7 or 1 to 3 or something.

Andy Havens is spot on here -- the coverage always focused on the nature of SL as something different than the usual MMORG closed-society game and focused on SL's potential as an open-society world.

At what point did there creep in this fascination with showing bigger numbers, and LL's tendency to fudge and mislead about them?

About the time that marketers and media planners, worried about lagging dinosaur media ad sales, began to feverishly turn to SL as a panacea for reaching lots of "eyeballs".

There are no 2 million eyeballs to reach. In fact, there are 40 to reach, soaking wet, on a good day, for one event. The myth of the millions is only purveyed for one purpose -- not to show revenue, not to show viral growth, but to show what media planners could potentially get out of SL.

The marketing agencies had to be sold on SL to be able to then sell their big-business clients. The marketing groups *needed* to believe that there were 2 million; the old print media dinosaurs needed to believe that too -- everyone wants a new place to sell junk to people while they are tied up for 8 hours a stretch away from television, magazines, and billboards in RL.

So games, worlds, myspaces seem to be "it".

But...they aren't.

Not only are there no two million; you can't reach these eyeballs with anything except a self-replicating grief ball -- the only media-planner who has succeeded in Second Life is Plastic Duck.

The only mass media in SL is the drop-down blue screen used for emergencies, like "We are under a grid-wide attack."

The niches, the communities, the groups -- these are all going to have to be accessed more slowly. As Jerry aptly put it, it has nowhere to drain yet except a thousand little pools and eddies that are each self-contained.

They are reaching each other through a thin-skeined network of blogs, groups, clubs, etc. and certain things become memes and become viral, and people are constantly questing to figure out HOW.

61.

@Mike: The media feeds on a number of things, Clay's comment on numbers notwithstanding. One of those things is itself. So when one major daily picks up a story, it is more likely that another will, yes. And when the 1 million mark got hit -- on 10/22 -- that did fuel a number of MSM stories, many of which got the 1 million, and then the 2 million number very wrong, and also fed the echo-chamber effect.

Before that, though, as I pointed out, there were hundreds of stories (275 pre "1 million" in '06 and 94 in '05) about SL out there... and those are just the ones listed on Linden's media page. Many of those are MSM sources, as I mentioned. You've got an NPR story on 2/5/05, BBC News on 10/27/05 and ABC News on 8/9/05. The same three sources you site... filed more than a year ago. You've got WSJ on 3/3/05. NYT on 8/3/05. Fox News on 10/24/05. Business Week on 11/22/05. Fortune Magazine on 11/28/05.

And even in these pieces we're going after for getting the number wrong... If you write a 500 - 1,000 word piece and fong up an important number... does the rest of the piece immediately go into the rubbish bin?

Before I get jumped on... I will say, for the umpteenth time, I am not arguing for bad numbers. Just for some context. If I write a story on a restaurant and say that "X number of people have eaten there," and then review the food, the service and the atmosphere... but get the "X" wrong... is my experiential take on the other stuff immediately suspect?

Now I know... what I'm saying falls into the "one of three" categories that Clay has set up. The "oh, the numbers don't matter" camp. But I'm not saying that. The numbers do matter.

But the argument of the day seems to be that the "bad number" is especially bad because it has fooled the press into giving Linden spectacularly more good spank than it deserves, and, thus, is fooling people into trying something that doesn't deserve it. That logic chain is faulty, I believe.

The press was good before the numbers were bad. The people came -- to whatever extent they have -- before the press jumped all over the bad numbers. The bad numbers are bad, but are nowhere near as big a deal as is being made out at this point. Because, in the context of the other reasons that SL is a compelling story, the aggregate volume of users isn't the most interesting part of the tale.

Now... whether the other things that make SL a compelling press piece will, in fact, propel it into eventual and continued success... that's a fine topic, and more along the lines of what we often discuss around these parts.

62.

Andy , the press was wrong and misleading before the numbers were bad. The people came because of " ownership " , " rights " and so on.
All and any press' " statements " about SL , not only the numbers, are bad, wrong and misleading.
I mean, those " statements " who counts : those meant to attract investors and subscribers . All the messages having a relevance and a reasoning importance in order to determine a potential investor / subscriber to put his cash into LL/SL,
all those messages , in the media and not only ( you can count the LL/SL's official site, EULA, ToS, conferences ) are misleading . At the best pace , some of these messages are just highly debatable in regard to the RL laws , meanings and common sense.

63.

Andy Havens wrote:

"But the argument of the day seems to be that the "bad number" is especially bad because it has fooled the press into giving Linden spectacularly more good spank than it deserves, and, thus, is fooling people into trying something that doesn't deserve it. That logic chain is faulty, I believe."

I don't think the question is whether or not LL "deserves" it, in terms of the quality of SL. I tihnk the question is whether or not the media has been fooled into thinking that SL is much more important in the grand scheme of things than it really is, or that its impact is much greater than it really is.

64.

These threads make for interesting quotes. Declaratives such as

- "much/most of what works on the web (Amazon, E-bay, company web-sites, yellow pags, google, encyclopedias, etc.) WON'T work in 3d virtual worlds."

and completely overreaching comments like

- "All and any press' "statements" about SL , not only the numbers, are bad, wrong and misleading."

From where does the willingness to make such statements come? How objective are people willing to make unqualified comments of this nature? I mean, I live in a three-dimensional world, and Amazon, eBay, the 2D web, yellow pages and even old leather-bound copies of encyclopedias work just fine. And the reason I jumped into SL a couple years ago was because of a WSJ report that wasn't "bad, wrong and misleading". If it had been, I'd not have continued using SL.

65.

Matt Mihaly wrote:

"I'm sure Bush supporters find it distasteful when people gleefully (but rightly) point out the numerous lies that emanate from the White House. Linden engages in the same kind of behavior. Why shouldn't they be called to task for it?"

The problem with statements like the above is they do nothing to tell you about whether or not the Bush White House actually lied. They do everything to tell you about the speaker's prejudices and political affiliation. That's the problem with modern political discussions--they're religious, they're not actually intellectually honest and their primary purpose is to reaffirm the already existing biases of each side. Looking over the comments here I see a lot of heat and a lot of passion and not much light.

I mean, be honest: did LL really do anything wrong? Did they "lie"? Of course not. They're free to define "registered users" or whatever their metric is in any manner they see fit. There's a long and rich tradition of MMOG's inflating their user base to make themselves look more attractive. LL undoubtly spun out hype and exaggeration to a gullible press, but so what? What company doesn't do that? In fact, I would fire any PR guy who didn't try to do that.

The real fault here is with a mainstream media whose eyes tend to glaze over whenever anything scientific or technical comes up. It's ironic given the earlier Bush mention, but what this episode most closely resembles in a historical context is the famous debunking, by bloggers, of the 60 Minutes Bush ANG story.

66.

"I tihnk the question is whether or not the media has been fooled into thinking that SL is much more important in the grand scheme of things than it really is, or that its impact is much greater than it really is."

That seems poorly worded to me. As Andy has shown, the media has long been reporting on other things besides the numbers. And as this is a discussion predicated on the accuracy of numbers, your questions automatically link importance "in the grand scheme of things" to them. The same is true in regards to suggesting that SL's impact is tied to its numbers. I consider that a mistake.

The question here has nothing to do, imo, to either SL's importance or its impact. The importance of an idea is not related to how many consumers jump onto one implementation of that idea, or how frenzied the media is in its reporting. Plenty of good ideas go under the radar, get little reporting and are actively fought by corporations who don't want a good idea to enter the marketplace unless they control it (one of my favorite examples is the SawStop - http://www.inc.com/magazine/20050701/disruptor-gass.html ).

The only question here, really, is whether Linden Lab has been less than forthcoming in ensuring that accurate information about user adoption is being presented to the press. I think we all agree they've been lacking. Big surprise. They're just like most every other company in the world. The secondary question is whether the media has been diligent in its efforts to get the story (re: numbers) correct. Again, I think we all agree that they - just like Clay - neglected to dig down deep enough to get a good handle on something approaching the actual numbers.

So those questions are answered afaic.

The real issue now isn't the numbers, it's how many of the vocal members of the videogame community are responding to something that to them (and some users) looks like a game, but doesn't seem to fit in. Thus on many gamer sites that I visit SL frequently gets bashed for using outdated physics (true, but it's not really that big a deal in SL unlike in many games, especially FPS's), gets bashed for graphics quality (because gamers now expect normalmapped models and photoreal imagery), and is laughed at because some people in SL prefer creating "dollhouses" instead of pretending to be warrior killing machines carrying around a BFG or some other typically fantasy roleplaying character as part of some clan. Where these people make fun of the alllll the sex (which is itself overhyped by the anti-SL community), they find time to mod their games with naked versions of the female characters (crackwhore model, anyone?).

This is more than numbers. This is, from where I sit, a cultural rift not only between the users (hardcore gamer-types vs everyday people) but the developers (game gods setting the rules vs .... well ... everyday people who set their own rules in a virtual space without very many).

67.

@lewy, who said: "I tihnk the question is whether or not the media has been fooled into thinking that SL is much more important in the grand scheme of things than it really is, or that its impact is much greater than it really is."

Well, we ain't gonna solve that one. I remember wishing a hit man would bump off OJ Simpson during the "Trial of the Millenium" just to get the g***amn thing off the TV. There were millions and millions of man-hours of work put into covering that waste of time... for what?

The press loves T&A. The press loves "man bites dog." The press loves "pretty pretty, shiny shiny." The press loves fires, car chases, drunk famous guys yelling at cops, escaped zoo animals, miracle diets, disproved miracle diets, health scares, scary micro-scams, kids doing weird things to their bodies, dance crazes, and anything smacking of "We'll just have to wait and see..."

Why does the press love this crap? Because we, collectively, do. If it didn't sell papers, eyeballs and ads, it wouldn't do so well. The numbers go up, so the crap marches on. If the press is partly covering SL because it has a "Wow. Goofy/fun/sexy/shiny," angle, well, guess what? That may also account for some of the popularity of the product.

But I'll continue to point out that there are stories in the NYT, WSJ, etc. that talk about education, Aspergers, virtual economics, IP law, etc. Not just floating genitalia.

I'm a hardcore gamer AND a creative, everyday person. I take offense at both the terms "men-in-tights" and "dollhouse pleasures." I have no idea why on earth someone who enjoys playing WoW would crap on someone who plays SL and vice-versa. Then again, I have no idea why soccer fans and American Football fans can't allow each other their unique pleasures.

It's personal taste. Right? And for the love of Mike, in the case of MMO's and VW's there is enough in common that we can compare many of their functions and features [in context... in context...].

68.

csven, something objective for you :
the numbers and the " ownership " and the labels-as "residents", " property "- and many other abusive LL terms , including EULA and ToS , are just that : virtual. Them are not defined by the USA laws . This is why Bragg's case lasts for so long. This is why you can earn money and make income and the tax-man can't do anything about it.
So, to me it sound very objective : LL is financially exploiting the lack of laws and the grey area of laws. How objective does this sound to you : LL knew very well what's going on in SL about teens and sex-offenders , but waited til the enforcement came ? SL may be enjoyable for a lot of players , i have no problem with this. But i have a big problem with how LL is ruling and rolling their business : until now, no official authority ( like a Court ) told me anything accurate and objective about my legal and economical relationship with LL; instead, i'm agressed with a ton of misleading and twisted BS starting with the press and ending with the ambiguous EULA/ToS.
csven,enjoy SL, i'm glad for you. But me, when my money and work and creations and time are involved, in a commercial relationship with LL via SL , i need objective numbers , statements , a real accountability and a legal EULA/ToS.
Until now , i dont hawe any of these. Dont tell me : " nobody forced you to subscribe " . Nobody forced me to buy Enron stocks either. They only misleaded me. Wich is bad and wrong.

69.

lewy, be honest : did LL really do anything wrong ? What about EULA/ToS 's provisions ?
"... we reserve the right to cancel your account 2 minutes after you gave us $ 1 k ; we keept the money, ofcourse ".
"....we reserve the right to change the terms of EULA/ToS after you gave us your money and your work, including the IP rights ".

As long as until now , no lawyer is able to tell me how legal such terms are , and actually not even what EULA/ToS are ( contracts ? leisures ? ),
these are misleading statements, right ? LL paid lawyers to write the EULA/ToS the way they did. Is it wrong ? Bad ? Oh, for you is " ofcourse not ! " .

70.

Amarilla, may I then suggest that instead of subjectively making a claim like "All and any press' "statements" about SL , not only the numbers, are bad, wrong and misleading", you instead say something like "I didn't find any dependable information in the press or elsewhere on which I could depend". As it stands, your comments now sound extraordinarily personal to me, and I do not now believe you can be objective in any assessment of the situation.

Regards.

71.

csven wrote:

"That seems poorly worded to me. As Andy has shown, the media has long been reporting on other things besides the numbers. And as this is a discussion predicated on the accuracy of numbers, your questions automatically link importance "in the grand scheme of things" to them. The same is true in regards to suggesting that SL's impact is tied to its numbers. I consider that a mistake."

"This is more than numbers. This is, from where I sit, a cultural rift not only between the users (hardcore gamer-types vs everyday people) but the developers (game gods setting the rules vs .... well ... everyday people who set their own rules in a virtual space without very many)."

But that rift is not something that the mainstream media is concerned with. And the latest batch of media stories about SL harp on the 2,000,000 number over and over. In fact, I would argue that what created the latest batch of media stories in the first place is the fact that SL "reached" the 2,000,000 number. And in terms of influence and impact that is the only metric which the mainstream media is going to understand: the number of paying customers.

I would also argue that SL's impact is going to be tied primarly to its customer base. SL doesn't at heart offer anything new that hasn't been seen before in MUD's, MOO's, etc. WoW is the perfect example. It's essentially EQ polished to a fine glow, but aside from its craftsmanship it's not really remarkable. What is remarkable are its subscription numbers.

Regarding the Saw Stop:

Actually, the Saw Stop has more problems than simply corporate resistance. Damp wood and some other materials can cause the safety device to fire by mistake, and at the point restarting the machine isn't a question of just resetting the safety. Instead the entire mechanism, including the saw blade, must be replaced--an expensive proposition. So far as ideas go: is the Saw Stop influential? If it simply vanishes without a trace than I'd argue that the answer is no.

72.

@lewy, who said: "the latest batch of media stories about SL harp on the 2,000,000 number over and over."

Well, the "latest batch" is only a very recent batch, since the "2 million" mark only got hit on 12/14. That's 2 weeks of stories. Not much time for anyone, press or public, to assess a product's overall place in the Grand Scheme of Things.

And the cnet.com story that reported "the number" did so in fine context:

"Of course, the 2 million figure does not correspond to actual numbers of users. And since it's free to join Second Life--users pay for premium accounts if they want to own "land"--many people have signed up in recent weeks and months to try it out but not continued to play... No one knows how many Second Life users there are. Estimates range from 200,000 to 600,000... [which ]numbers pale in comparison to the more than 7 million people who pay $15 a month to play World of Warcraft."

A BBC story on 12/15 states:

"Second Life's San Francisco based creators, Linden Lab, boast that their world has over 1.5 million residents." Which we agree is wrong (but low wrong), and goes on... "That number may seem small in comparison to World of Warcraft's seven million players, but there is one very big difference between the two - Second Life is not a game... Because Second Lifers can actually own the virtual goods they create, the world enjoys a booming virtual economy... As a result a number of virtual entrepreneurs have been making a living through their online activities."

Which points out -- yet again -- one major difference between SL and most MMOs.

You say: "SL doesn't at heart offer anything new that hasn't been seen before in MUD's, MOO's, etc." I disagree. You can't model physics in text MUDs and MOOs. You can't experience synesthesia. You can't involve any sense excpet the imagination brought about through reading. Now, as the wikimaster of www.playbywiki.com, I am in no way downplaying the power and glory of text adventuring; love it, will continue to do it. But to say that VRs and fully 3D environments don't offer "more" opportunities for interaction, development and play than text-based systems... well, we'll just have to disagree.

SL may not be (probably won't be... my current root is for Areae, which I know nothing about... ;-) ) the final VW platform. And I do not make the argument that a 3D VW is a good substitute for a 2D Web or text. But it is different, and it is, for some applications, "better." So we -- and the press - should be examining it as such, not just counting heads.

73.

What csven said, excellent summary.

74.

Andy Havens wrote:

"As a result a number of virtual entrepreneurs have been making a living through their online activities."

Which points out -- yet again -- one major difference between SL and most MMOs."

Actually I would say that there are many more individuals making a living off of gold farming in WoW, Lineage II, FFXI, etc. than there are in SL. Some estimates put the number of people working in the farming industry in the hundreds of thousands.

As for the 3D aspect, if all you want is physics modeling there's WoW, or perhaps There which if I recall correctly predates SL by a few years. I think this goes back to the schism referenced in the posts here. If you're a game, or a savvy computer user with some experience in IRC, etc., SL and games like it seem like a logical progression rather than something revolutionary.

75.

@lewy - What part of "I think we all agree they've {LL} been lacking" is not understood by those, like you, who continue to pound away at Linden Lab's evasiveness when people - most notably bloggers like myself - have been calling LL on the numbers and other things for quite some time now?

And what part of "I think we all agree that they {the press} - just like Clay - neglected to dig down deep enough to get a good handle on something approaching the actual numbers" doesn't convey that we all (with some possible exceptions) agree that MSM hasn't been especially good at getting the whole story out lately?

I've posted comments on more marketing blogs than I care to recall, correcting them when they quote those numbers. Has the now-bloodthirsty TN community gone to the bother of doing that in order to set the record straight? Not posts on your own blogs, not comments here on TN, but actively going to those blogs that perpetuate the myth and attempting to set the record straight? I suspect not but feel free to correct me.

Help me out, because I don't get it. Most of you guys, just like Clay, seem to be coming (as Prokofy(?) stated) really late to the table. If the SL blogging community has been ignored by LL - as Clay suggested - then why have we also been ignored by those among you who were apparently oblivious to our criticisms (which months ago started shifting to the monetary figures instead, which haven't been addressed to the same degree)? How is it that someone can come along, admit to not having any real user-experience with the platform, not do his own homework, but still get a bunch of geeks all riled up over a topic that's been discussed in the SL community for months and months? All it takes is what, Dan Hunter posting two entries here that sound to me like a big "I told ya so" coming from a Clay Shirky sycophant? How disappointing.

With regards to SawStop you miss my point entirely which is in the body of that article:

That's the funny thing about better mousetraps. Build one, and the other mousetrap makers will probably hate your guts. They might even try to squeeze you out of the mousetrap business altogether. Just ask the inventors of air bags, safer cigarette lighters, and automatic shutoffs for electrical appliances -- all of which encountered resistance from the status quo.
Yes, of course what one guy using his own resources (three whole weeks, a used saw and $200!) to develop is lacking in completeness; and so is the follow-on that took more money and a few more people. Surprise. Product design, research & development costs a ton of money and can take years (just like a virtual world). But as a product designer who does that sort of thing for a living (which is how I know of this case), I can say without reservation that what they *do* have is more than anything I've seen an independent take into a corporation, license to them, and have R&D continue in order to correct such issues. The point here is that quite often corporations have a vested interest in *not* seeing an idea gain traction. They have far too much invested in current tooling and machines (as well as inventory and other things) to want to see such a change... all in addition to the potential legal issues such a development represents in this case. However, if you have no touchstone to understand from where I'm coming on this particular example, feel free to read up on Dyson. He too met that kind of resistance by an entrenched, established industry unwilling - not unable - to deal with the changes his patents proposed.

The point however - and it's been made by others who aren't apparently getting through either - is that Second Life's impact was felt from the very beginning and reached places not reached by many videogames. It's a unique thing - even including MUDs and MOOs - made even more unique by Lessig's contribution. It wouldn't matter if the user base was 100 or 100,000,000 because what SL represents above all is a significant shift from developer-controlled videogame world experiences to RT user-controlled 3D virtual world experiences.

So far as ideas go: is the Saw Stop influential?

The answer is Yes, though most people wouldn't know that unless they travel in my circles. Even if SawStop dies, the idea lives on. I've seen the idea picked up by students who carry it forward in their own concepts and put those on display on any number of design forums. These are international and so the idea has spread well outside of the U.S. If it doesn't succeed in North America, watch either that idea or a variation of it get manufactured in China (assuming it isn't already) as a result of the IdeaVirus effect. Second Life is no different. It could shut down tomorrow, but its footprint is already well-established imo. Who knows, it too could resurface in Asia.

76.

lewy said "SL and games like it seem like a logical progression rather than something revolutionary."

I don't consider SL "revolutionary". I do, however, consider it a significant evolutionary step because, like many Web 2.0 technologies it puts control significantly more into the hands of users. I have in mind what I would call revolutionary, and SL isn't it.

77.

How is it that someone can come along, admit to not having any real user-experience with the platform, not do his own homework, but still get a bunch of geeks all riled up over a topic that's been discussed in the SL community for months and months?

@csven, here's how it is: first, I have been rigorous, religious even, about not criticizing the platform. My target is not SL as an experience, it's LL as a source of bogus numbers. Were I to offer any of my own perceptions of the platform, good or bad, they would be irrelevant. So I don't and won't ever offer them.

As for getting people riled up, I have a different target than simply reaching the community that cares about MMOs and virtual worlds as designers and expert practitioners. I don't want to have the SL figures either understood or ignored in the community, I want to have them understood or ignored, period.

I want to reach the reporters at Business Week and Forbes and the New York Times and, by extension, all their readers. This approach is, paradoxically, likelier to affect the rhetorical environment in which SL is discussed than the previous in-community conversations did.

78.

@Clay, which is why - should you read my take on your original post - I effectively agreed with basically everything you said in that piece (I took special exception to your videophone/good-idea-that-will-never happen comment). It's not about agreement at this point afaic, and it's not about you; it's about the people who are getting energized by someone like you, who - as I also recall you previously saying - *is* chasing a "different target". I understood that from the very beginning and it's why I found it easy to agree with you after reading that piece.

The question I ask myself now is: why are those people who should already know all these things taking such apparent pleasure in attacking Linden Lab on these issues? Why is it that they can't... or won't... see we're mostly all in agreement on the basic issues here? I believe the reason is because this has gone beyond the numbers.

I've long held LL's feet the fire (most notably over trademarks and allowing real world companies into SL) and have been a relatively vocal critic, but I take no joy in it of the kind I sense in the comments here. I may be wrong, but there's a feeling of schadenfreude on these threads that has me thinking a lot of people wish SL - and the ideas it represents - would simply go away. I criticize LL not because I want them to fold, but because I want them to improve. If I thought others here felt that way - which is what I actually expect from the people associated with Terra Nova - I wouldn't even bother to post.

79.

csven wrote:

"@lewy - What part of "I think we all agree they've {LL} been lacking" is not understood by those, like you, who continue to pound away at Linden Lab's evasiveness when people - most notably bloggers like myself - have been calling LL on the numbers and other things for quite some time now?"

You must have me confused with somebody else. Here's what I wrote:

"I mean, be honest: did LL really do anything wrong? Did they "lie"? Of course not. They're free to define "registered users" or whatever their metric is in any manner they see fit. There's a long and rich tradition of MMOG's inflating their user base to make themselves look more attractive. LL undoubtly spun out hype and exaggeration to a gullible press, but so what? What company doesn't do that? In fact, I would fire any PR guy who didn't try to do that."

On the other hand, if I were playing the role of a hypothetical investor I would have a real concern about the churn they seem to be experiencing, but that's another subject.

Regarding Stop Saw:

I think there's more to the story than mere corporate sluggishness. The inventor of Stop Saw, if I recall correctly, essentially attempted to blackmail the major power tool manufacturers into licensing the technology from him at an exorbitant rate and additionally pursued legislation which would have required Stop Saw technology to be installed on all power saws. Quibbling aside, the point is that an ordinary consumer can go out and buy a Stop Saw at this point if he wants one. But there are still the drawbacks--a false positive is going to chew up time and money replacing both the safety mechanism and the blade. Given those issues I'm not totally surprised that the Stop Saw hasn't swept the consumer market.

As to whether or not Stop Saw is influential, my gauge would be whether or not it sees widespread use in industry. By that marker so far it hasn't been.

80.

csven , if you please care to stop travelling in ( your ) circles, maybe you bother to notice that it's not about SL but about LL. You insist to make statements and comparisons between SL and WoW and There und so weiter, while the discussion is about LL.

81.

csven wrote:

"Help me out, because I don't get it. Most of you guys, just like Clay, seem to be coming (as Prokofy(?) stated) really late to the table. If the SL blogging community has been ignored by LL - as Clay suggested - then why have we also been ignored by those among you who were apparently oblivious to our criticisms (which months ago started shifting to the monetary figures instead, which haven't been addressed to the same degree)? How is it that someone can come along, admit to not having any real user-experience with the platform, not do his own homework, but still get a bunch of geeks all riled up over a topic that's been discussed in the SL community for months and months? All it takes is what, Dan Hunter posting two entries here that sound to me like a big "I told ya so" coming from a Clay Shirky sycophant? How disappointing."

Look, the issue here isn't that LL is spinning. What company doesn't spin? Frankly, I don't understand the mindset of SL subscribers who rail at LL about the subscription numbers. Do you demand accurate accounting from your cable television service? My suspicion is that the numbers make SL subscribers nervous because a lot of them are secretly afraid of an "Earth and Beyond" or "Asheron's Call 2" scenario. That would be even worse for an SL subscriber because a lot of them have laid down a lot more than just time in SL--buying land, importing textures, etc. takes money as well.

The real problem is that the media has uncritically embraced that spin, and that's actually not a new problem at all but a very old one. I would actually consider WoW to be a major news story for this field based solely on its user base. Whether or not SL is going to be a legitimately important story remains to be seen, but the coverage so far by the media has been to some extent misleading and the effect has been to cloud, rather than c