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Wiz Nordberg

SmartCompany /

Maybe they’re visiting another version of Second Life; the media’s negative reporting doesn’t seem to be based on the virtual world I know.

Meet the press

A year ago, BusinessWeek magazine published the memorable cover-story ‘My Virtual Life’. Like lemmings, corporations swarmed into Second Life, creating useless, unvisited, boring destinations for which there was no possible return on investment save for a good press release.

Last week, Wired published How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life by Frank Rose. In a similar fashion, everybody is now saying “I told you so.”

How unfortunate it is for Australians that the window into emerging trends in the US is through such reactionary, uninformed journalism. If the people in the US who are ‘on the ground’ where it is happening can’t understand what is going on, how are we here, across the vast ocean, to ever get it right?

In his Wired article, Frank Rose says: “Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn’t much to do.” He goes on to describe the uninhabited wastelands created by companies such as Coca-Cola and IBM.

Wait, maybe Frank is totally right! Maybe Frank is using a completely different product to me that happens to also be called Second Life! That must be it, since I have no idea how to explain the differences between what Frank is seeing and what we are doing in Second Life every day.

In the past five days, I have been to four crowded sessions at the Blogher conference. I have been in a crowded theatre watching a virtual talk show called Tonight Live. I sat with 60 other avatars listening to D. Harlan Wilson talk about his new book Dr Identity. I was in a crowded tent listening to notable religious experts at a UC Berkeley event talk about how Second Life is enhancing their ability to practice their faith and engage believers in new and unprecedented ways. And those are just the highlights.

I also went to a well-attended virtual hockey game and a few personal get-togethers, meetings and spent some time on the trade-show floor. I met new people and did some networking. I have been among thousand-strong audiences at these major gatherings and events, all engaged, all intensely participating. Often there are too many people to even walk around. It’s a far cry from the deserted wasteland of Wired’s Second Life.

The problem is not with Wired’s facts. Their facts are right. Brands are wasting their money in Second Life. The problem is with Wired’s conclusion.

Instead of pointing the finger of blame directly at the over-zealous brand marketers who don’t know what they are doing, Wired concludes that the Second Life software, concept, and environment are to blame. What’s worse, this is coming from Wired magazine, which was one of the icons of insightful new-tech journalism years ago! What happened?

Imagine for example that you tried to find 1000 ineffective, unvisited websites. I bet it’s easy. I bet you could fill an entire special issue of Wired talking about websites that don’t work. Companies that invest, and nobody comes. Hey, I have a few websites I could add to the list. Then, after describing all the failures, the conclusion would be that the web is ineffective, and the technology is incapable of solving problems. That is exactly the kind of article Wired has handed down to us.

If you really want to understand what is going on, and why brands are failing in Second Life, read Chris Carella’s excellent post about why people are using the wrong metrics, and wrong ideas in trying to take advantage of what Second Life has to offer.

It describes the short-sighted ways that people measure their success, and how ‘destination strategies’ are only one tiny and usually ineffective way to achieve brand presence and utility out of Second Life. Ironically, Chris works for Electric Sheep, the same company whose CEO (Sisley Verbeck) was quoted often in the Wired article. I think Frank should have talked to Chris instead of Sisley.

Or wait. Maybe Wired should have tried my version of Second Life instead of the one they were using, then he would have asked the right questions instead of the wrong ones.

To read more Wiz Nordberg blogs, click here.

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