It seems everyone is jumping on the Second Life bandwagon. In the past few weeks, Wired and C-Net set up offices there, joining the BBC, who rented an Island to host a concert, and Reuters, who recently set up an in world news agency dedicated to covering events there.
Even Presidential hopefuls, if you can call would be candidates that two years before the next US presidential race, are giving interviews on Second Life and posting the resulting video footage on YouTube.
With all the hype it’s getting at the moment, it’s no surprise that Second Life has gone from around 850,000 registered users to 1.192 million in a couple of weeks. I was one of them…
So what did I see? Well, my first experiences seem to follow those of many other observers: it’s very much like the offline world accept you access it via a computer which, for many of us, is how we access the offline world much of the time anyway.
Within a few minutes of joining I’d managed to give my Avatar, Robinek Hunchke, some clothing and changed aspects of his facial appearance to more closely match my own. After a couple more minutes, people started to walk, or fly, up to me and say hello. I suppose that’s why new users of Second Life are deposited on Orientation Island – an Island full of newbies is bound to be a friendly place. I chatted with a guy who is a first year computer science student, and wants to see if he can hone his programming skills in Second Life. I also struck up a brief conversation with a recent graduate from Warsaw who, within a minute or two of our meeting, asked me if I knew where she might find work in Second Life. I couldn’t help but chuckle – Polish immigration to the UK being such a big news story at the moment.
Parting ways with the other newbies, I flew off towards some buildings in the distance and – entirely by chance – found myself the lone punter in a virtual strip club on a Friday evening.
Would I go back – not to the strip club, I mean to Second Life itself? Perhaps if I was bored, or suddenly found myself with more (some!) free time on my hands, then yes, I suppose it could be quite a compelling way to spend time. And I’d probably go back if I could figure out how to find the lectures and workshops being run by Harvard, Stanford and Howard Rheingold in Second Life. But I don’t have the time to become a regular participant, building and creating not just a virtual environment, but a new identity and life for myself.
Online communities come in lots of different flavours. Second Life requires a significant investment of time, effort, and potentially of finances too. It also requires some pretty sophisticated infrastructure and hefty amounts of bandwidth at Linden Labs end.
Because of time constraints, I’d rather blog, bookmark and share, and ocassionally comment. Whilst these activities of seeking out content, saving it, sharing it, then wrapping some editorial around it is valuable to me and, I hope, my readers. But it’s certainly not as labour intensive or all consuming in the same way as active participation in Second Life would be.
I know I shouldn’t judge a book entirely by it’s cover, or a whole online world upon a single hour long visit, but I can definitely see how Second Life could be compelling to people who have the time and skills to make the most of it.