The war of words about “Second Life”

When the “Second Life” hypefest was underway last year (and this), I decided to get an account and see what all the fuss was about. Not much, I concluded. I haven’t been back, but I’m still considered one of the 8 million “Total Residents” cited on the home page.

Moreover, in an age when time is the new currency, the appeal of plays like this is extremely limited. Really, folks, who has the time to live a second life when there isn’t even enough time to live the first?

Time and again, I was asked if I thought people should build a store, buy an island or otherwise get involved. You can guess the advice I offered.

Now, the site is the subject of scrutiny by the mainstream press and that has raised the ire of some online observers.

A Forbes article called “Sex, Pranks, and Reality” is described as “spectacularly incorrect” by Wagner James Au of GigaOM and an avid Second Lifer (“As someone who worked for Linden Lab, consults on and is writing a book about Second Life, I have an obvious personal and professional interest in the topic.”). He also wrote that the Forbes article was “the latest example of a larger trend: if 2006 was the year of inaccurate, over-hyped Second Life coverage, 2007 is the year of equally inaccurate counter-spin.”

The latest hit for Second Life is an article from the LATimes, where Alana Semuels writes what many believe — that the only real business value Second Life offers is the publicity that comes with launching something.

Four years after Second Life debuted, some marketers are second-guessing the money and time they’ve put into it.

“There’s not a compelling reason to stay,” said Brian McGuinness, vice president of Aloft, a brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. that is closing its Second Life shop and donating its virtual land to the nonprofit social-networking group TakingITGlobal.

…sites of many of the companies remaining in Second Life are empty. During a recent in-world visit, Best Buy Co.‘s Geek Squad Island was devoid of visitors and the virtual staff that was supposed to be online.

The schedule of events on Sun Microsystems Inc.‘s site was blank, and the green landscape of Dell Island was deserted. Signs posted on the window of the empty American Apparel store said it had closed up shop.

Second Life is a unique fantasy community inhabited by all sorts of people — kind of like the First Life world. The “sex and weirdos” label probably isn’t fair, although being “approached” by sexy avatars is apparently a common occurrence. It is what it is, and I’m sticking to my original gut feel — that Second Life and other fantasy role playing sites are just that. They’re not the “next big thing,” and I think media companies should give a lot of thought about it before getting involved.

In an age of limited resources, those dollars would be better spent building databases of local knowledge and information to serve the local First Life community.

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