So the Second Life avatar known as Anshe Chung — whose real-world equivalent is known as Ailin Graef — has issued a press release saying she has become the virtual world’s first millionaire, after accumulating property and other assets (custom avatar design, etc.) that are allegedly worth a million dollars, if they were converted from Linden dollars into real U.S. money. Valleywag is skeptical, to say the least.
As Valleywag editor Nick Denton put it in an earlier skeptical post, “Let’s be generous, and assume that the net worth estimate isn’t an outright lie; nevertheless, if Chung’s owner ever decided to liquidate those assets, their speculative value would evaporate. They have as much value as a large holding in a mafia-pumped penny stock.” He then goes on to criticize the gullible media for believing such tales.
Of course, Nick — a former journalist with the Financial Times — must be aware that such credulity is hardly confined to reporting about virtual worlds. As more than one person has noted, reporting about rich celebrities such as Donald Trump is equally filled with hot air and credulous reporting, even from usually reliable sources such as Forbes magazine. All kinds of vague numbers are floated around about Trump’s net worth, which is almost certainly orders of magnitude smaller than he says it is.
The fact that liquidating all those assets in Second Life would demolish their alleged value is no less true when it comes to the net worth of Larry Page or Sergey Brin, for that matter. They couldn’t sell more than a fraction of the stock that makes up their net worth without cratering the share price. Of course, they can borrow against those holdings — something that, for now at least, Ms. Chung (or Graef) cannot do. More articles about her virtual empire here, and here.