One of the sure signs that something is important is when opinion on it keeps ping-ponging back and forth, between those who say it’s irrelevant and those who say it’s the best thing since cheese in a spray can. And if there’s anything that draws that kind of polarized commentary, it’s Second Life. This week alone, we had a story about IBM’s embrace of the virtual world, and Darren Barefoot’s hilarious send-up, Getafirstlife.com. And now the BBC is planning its own Second Life for kids.

Meanwhile, Clay Shirky teamed up with Valleywag to pore over Second Life stats and conclude that the whole thing is overhyped, and there was a recent announcement that Second Life was going to open-source the software interface to the game. And virtual millionairess Anshe Chung claimed copyright infringement after being attacked by giant flying penises.


Is Second Life a joke? Yes, in a way. Not only is it weird to be flying around in a blocky universe (let alone the penises), but it’s a little goofy that people try to promote the business aspects of the virtual world while sporting avatar names like ePredator Potato — the name of IBM’s Second Life evangelist. And yet, there is clearly something there. No doubt many people thought the idea of uploading videos was a joke too, or using the Internet as a phone.

Ethan Kaplan is right, there are still issues with Second Life (Webomatic has had some too), including lag and other problems. And Valleywag’s informant is correct that the financial side is closer to a pyramid scheme than a real business. But those issues will be fixed — if not by Second Life, then by someone else.

I came across a post that made some good points on (where else) Second Life Insider. Everyone likes to talk about how Second Life is dumb because, well… it’s virtual, instead of real. So if you talk to someone on the phone, is that real? Of course it is. How about if you message them using MSN? So why isn’t chatting with them while flying around in a video game just as real?


There have been several reports — which Mike Arrington of TechCrunch summarizes here — that Google might be looking at turning Google Earth into some kind of virtual world a la Second Life.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

7 Responses to “Second Life: virtually a real business”
  1. Good post – virtual reality is a compelling and seductive idea, and I definitely agree with you that eventually the technology will make it possible. But things change so fast in the tech world, that I wouldn’t put any bets on Linden Labs being the one to pull it off. I’m thinking a game company would have a better shot at it.

  2. You might be right, Jason.

  3. […] Additional reading: Ballpark, The Guardian, Mathew Ingram […]

  4. It seems to me that Second Life is the place where people are just figuring out what to do with what’s sort of a social MMO. I think when there are fun/challenging tasks to complete (World of Warcraft-style) that might be tied into pure gaming, or education, or budiness-related activities, things will get really interesting. Second Life is doing a little of this now, but I think we’re just at the beginning.

  5. […] Additional reading: Ballpark, The Guardian, Mathew Ingram, […]

  6. I’m noticing a huge gap between the informed and uninformed. And while people spend lots of time talking about SL hype or unhype and all that, there are armies of people doing real work, completely in line with the same fundamentals and ideals that are embraced with democratization and low barriers to entry of blogging, podcasting, and vlogging. Are people who are getting paid $20,000 USD gazing at the converstion rate of the Linden exchange? Maybe, but they are getting work done. And why are we seeing this trend of strawman closed-mindedness. It’s been well documented that some Serious Stuff is being done in SL, yet someone goes to a mind numbing casino on accident and WELP THERE IT IS, SL IN A NUTSHELL. It’s boggling. Seriously.

    And Valleywag of all things, needs to figure out if they want to be a real tabloid or some respected tech pub, cuz right now, they are screwing up both counts.

  7. A fair point, Eric. And for the record, I would agree about Valleywag. Not sure what it wants to be when it grows up :-)

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