Conversations about Second Life

I have kept my eyes open on Second Life since Linden Lab announced the intention to release as Free Software the server too, after releasing the client.  I am fascinated by virtual worlds and SL in particular because even if there are no dragons to kill or magics to spell, it seems to be amusing to many.  Even IBM is investing millions to develop activities on SL: it’s building virtual-offices and moving employees to work there. It seems an interesting experiment for widely diffuse organizations, like IBM. But also FSFs are widely diffused 🙂

IBM’s manager, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, has published a contribution to the debate on virtual worlds.  His point is that computer-aided visualization allows people to communicate visually, therefore SL facilitates communication.  This vision is coherent with IBM’s investement, as one would notice.

Three professors have contributed some good fuel to the debate around SL.  Prof. Henry Jenkins in his blog suggests that SL is interesting for participatory culture:

What’s striking to me is not that so many people still prefer to
consume professionally generated content (it has always been thus) but
what a growing percent of people are willing to consume amateur content
and what a smaller but still significant percentage of people are
willing to generate and share content they produced themselves. Second
Life interests me as a particular model of participatory culture.

Assistant professor of Writing and New Media at MIT Beth Coleman thinks that SL should have a standard for measuring it (see  Standard Metrics of Use by statician Dmitri Williams). Coleman thinks that SL helps communicating:


[…]many of the current platforms from
text message to instant messaging to virtual worlds are designs for
simultaneous connectivity. Putting a human face to things is a lot of
what this is about, even if that human face is a codebot.

The fourth blog entry is from Clay Shirky, a consultant, writer and teacher who is Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.  He is the most skeptical of the group, and expecially regarding demographics he says:

Linden’s Residents figures are methodologically worthless. Any claim about Second Life derived from a count of Residents is not to be taken seriously

With this in mind, Shirky goes into predictions:

I predict that Second Life will remain a niche application, which is
to say an application that will be of considerable interest to a small
percentage of the people who try it. […]The logic behind this belief is simple: most people who try Second Life don’t like it.

I found this last post the most challenging. I definitely agree with him that the promises of virtual reality have yet to be kept, avatars still don’t have body language. But still, I am a believer 🙂  What do you think?  Are you a skeptical or a believer?