Second Life has had an amazing amount of press coverage lately, with the mainstream press proclaiming the immersive environment the greatest thing since sliced bread – like this article in the Globe and Mail, for instance, calling Second Life a Signpost For the Future.
There are a couple of good responses to the hype from a couple of the most insightful and knowledgeable commentators on social technology, Clay Shirky and danah boyd.
Clay points out that lots of people are trying Second Life, but it’s likely that not many are yet spending lots of time in the environment, or even becoming regular users.
He then goes on to note that we’ve seen all this before, in the hype a dozen or so years ago about MUDs and MOOs, and rightly points out that If, in 1993, you’d studied mailing lists, or usenet, or irc, you’d have a better grasp of online community today than if you’d spent a lot of time in LambdaMOO or Cyberion City. Ou sont les TinyMUCKs d’antan?
danah comments on Clay’s post, correctly noting that the most successful social software environments, like MySpace, are being used as complements to the physical social world, not as virtual replacements for it, and that people don’t want to socialize with lots of people they don’t know from some other context.
If you look at the rise of social tech amongst young people, it’s not about divorcing the physical to live digitally. MySpace has more to do with offline structures of sociality than it has to do with virtuality. People are modeling their offline social network; the digital is complementing (and complicating) the physical. In an environment where anyone _could_ socialize with anyone, they don’t. They socialize with the people who validate them in meatspace. The mobile is another example of this. People don’t call up anyone in the world (like is fantasized by some wrt Skype); they call up the people that they are closest with. The mobile supports pre-existing social networks, not purely virtual ones.
I think Second Life is cool, but I think these well thought out perspectives from Clay and danah are spot on.