Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

An important confession

Friends, colleagues, compatriots – I have a very important confession to make. One that I hope will not cause you to think any less of me as a person, or as a public relations professional. This is something that has plagued me for months, and despite my best intentions, I could not resolve it. I feel it only fair to all of you that i come clean in a public forum.

I do not understand Second Life.

I know what you’re thinking: “Ryan, you work for a major interactive shop, one that actually develops online 3D worlds and games. You write about how PR people need to get out of the dark ages and adapt to the new media, and let’s face it – you’re a bit of a geek.”

All of these things are true, and make it that much harder for me to admit that the phenomenon that is second life is completely and utterly over my head. I don’t understand the appeal, I don’t understand the culture, and I certainly don’t understand how my PR 2.0 folder in my newsfeeds has 100+ mentions of Second Life and some new brand that is jumping on the bandwagon every time I check it.

I’ve tried to understand. I’ve tried to take the time to explore a new world, and a new culture. but even after taking the initiation course, learning how to pick up a ball and how to fly, after having inane conversations with strangers who dress their avatars like black faeries, after witnessing naked skydiving… I had to pause and come to terms with the fact that I just don’t get it.

Maybe it’s the fact that I barely have time for my First Life, but I can’t see myself spending whatever free time I have online, flying around a computer game. Don’t get me wrong, I like video games, but usually, games have a point. Second LIfe has no narrative that I can see, no goal. Perhaps it’s just my primal alpha-male instincts, but I don’t get why I would play this when I can’t kill anything.

I likewise do not understand the economy that has been developed around this world. People are paying hundreds of thousands of actual dollars for virtual property. I would love to call these people idiots, but they are now worth more than I ever will be, because they virtually developed this virtual property and people bought residences for their online dolls to live in. This virtually floors me.

So, while the cold, calculating marketing grad in me sees that there is a critical mass of people – about the population of a small city now, with about $60,000 USD in transactions every day – I just have a lot of trouble believing that Second Life is the future of public relations and marketing. But then, that’s probably what the PR people that I make fun of today were saying about blogs a couple of years ago.

Our CEO was recently interviewed for a local tech news story on Second Life, despite my assurances to the reporter that none of us used Second Life, nor did we build anything for it. When he was asked what the appeal was, he said, on camera, “Well, I guess it’s a good environment for people with no social skills to meet people in a different forum.”

As PR guy, I of course buried my head in my hand when he said that, but after spending time with it, I’m not sure that he’s wrong. I buy chat rooms and forums – I can see people spending their lunch hour or before-bed time talking to their online friends, but it seems like the only reason that we marketing types have clung to Second Life as much as we do is because it finally presents a way to monetize that interaction. That said, will metaverse marketing ever be able to speak to a large enough sample size to be worthwhile, or is the burst of ad agencies and PR firms plunging into the SL phenomenon just a grab at headlines from reporters who are hungry to write about Second Life.

I, of all people, buy fully into the value of games and experiential worlds as valuable ways to interact with your publics. However, while I can see someone spending 20 minutes playing American Dad vs. Family Guy Kung Fu or Deadwood Poker, Second LIfe is far from being a “casual game.” It is analogous to to World of Warcraft, but it lacks the battle aspect and character leveling that make massive multiplayer online games so addictive. To me, Second Life is just a chatroom with gadgets and while I can see the value in having avatars wear your brand of sneakers, I can’t see it being as huge as we seem to want it to be, and I feel sort of bad for the agencies that are investing as much as they are in Second Life practices, because I think they’re putting a whole lot of eggs into a tiny little basket. Perhaps I’m techno-xenophobic, but I have trouble seeing why people are talking about Second Life as if we just invented the written word.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll spend some more time playing with it, maybe I’ll buy some clothes from the SL American Apparel Store, or maybe even rent out a swingin’ bachelor pad for when I meet a hot avatar at a Second Life club. Maybe then, I’ll get it.

Until then, I’ll be content living my First Life. I hope that my New PR comrades will allow me to continue being a PR guy, even in light of this damning admission.

6 Comments

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  1. KageSeraph

    Neal Stephenson nailed why a place like SL matters to PR people, and in a way, so did you. You mentioned that you barely have time for your first life, so why spend time on #2? Of course, not everyone is like you, and apparently there are now some 11,000 concurrent people in SL. To borrow from Stephenson, they are (in global terms) the affluent elite with disposable time and money. Money that they’d love to throw at your company if your company doesn’t blow its PR and market AT them.

    So as far as “getting” SL, I think you’re much closer than you think. Sure, on some level SL is just text chat with fun new widgets. But then, a Porsche is just a horse-drawn carriage with fun new widgets, right?

  2. Good points – and I know as a marketer, I can’t use my own lens as my sole way of seeing the world. I think most of my confusion is less to do with the concept of metaverse marketing, and more to do with the amount of attention it’s getting. It’s significant, yes, but something tells me we’re just replanting the crowd that spent time on IRC and chat rooms into a 3D world. At the least, I don’t think it will be nearly as significant a change as I think some want it to be.

    That said, I do appreciate comments on posts like this – to give me some of the perspective of those who do enjoy it or who have had business successes at it. I haven’t closed my mind to it just yet.

    Naked parachuting, however…

  3. And if you don’t get SL, then tell me what the heck Weblo’s appeal is!

  4. I remember seeing this months ago, but I had completely forgotten about it. Makes me want to get into the business of selling nothing for hundreds of dollars.

  5. Aloha

    I am the Community Manager at Weblo.com and I stumbled across your site and this post 🙂

    The idea behind Weblo is that it’s part game, part social networking site. It’s a game involving buying, selling, collecting and increasing your ranking. Everything you own can be turned into a website that you drive more traffic to, increasing your share of the ad revenue and thus increasing its sale price (if you decide to sell that is!).

    Think of it like Monopoly with the social element done through Myspace-like websites. In the press people are saying Weblo is like “Monopoly meets Ebay.” I think that is a good comparison. You can build your website like any other website and pull in ad revenue, focus on flipping properties or do a little of both. So basically, a lot of what you and others are already doing online can be done on Weblo.com, but this time you get to share in the wealth as Weblo will give you a percentage of the ad revenue. Even a basic member (which is free) can build a fan site for their favourite celebrity or their next door neighbour and by making the site popular through content and its ranking, can earn 10% of all ad revenue. Weblo supplies the ads as well, so it’s pretty easy to get started.

    Let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

    Cheers!

  6. […] The same thing goes, I think, for Second Life. As fascinating as I think it is, I still don’t see the short term value that I think is being really overstated by zealous PR people. That said, not much is being said (or at least I’m not seeing it) about how things like Second Life are going to change our lives in the long term – and it was definitely not something I was considering when I wrote about it last. […]