A Guide to Writing About Second Life

August 24, 2007 at 2:56 pm | Posted in Analyst biz, virtual worlds | 2 Comments

Being a research analyst, I read a lot of news. And since I cover just a few small areas of the galaxy we call IT, I often read views on the same topic over and over and over … . So with that in mind (and tongue planted firmly in cheek) I have decided to offer my assistance to journalists writing about Second Life.

So, what’s an intrepid journalist to do? You’re hip and feel an obligation to cover Second Life. You already wrote the “Second Life 101” article back in 2006 – the one that breathlessly described what Second Life is, how fast it’s growing, it’s not just for geeks (there are actually women there!), how some big name brands have a presence there, and a smattering of funny and intriguing parallels to the real world.

But now every news source has written the “101” article, from the Economist (the “Living a Second Life” special report) to the Billings Gazette (serving the Montana and Wyoming region; “Virtual world attracts ‘residents’ who meet, spend real money”). And yet your readers are still hungry to hear more.

So, what do you write? Possible angles for your “Second Life 201” article include:

The positive, glowing update

Lots of new stuff to say: the new population statistics are impressive, there are lots more consumer brand sites to talk about, the first virtual millionaire has been coined, and maybe some readers didn’t catch your first story. Pick and choose from the following positive points to make your case that Second Life is still a neat new thing:

    • The stats show it’s very popular and growing. 5.2 million unique users for June. A big analyst firm said that in four years 80% of heavy internet users will be engaged in virtual worlds
    • Many of the largest, most respected companies have a major presence in Second Life
    • People can make real money and provide real value and services
    • It’s pioneering – we’re exploring a new world and, in turn, you can’t even say what the value will be down the line. But it’s exciting to be a part of its evolution
    • At the beginning of the Internet people said it was {full of smut, overhyped, useless, etc.} and it evolved over time into something very useful. Same here.
    • Like all media it just mirrors ourselves. Sure, there’s smut, rudeness, cliquishness but there are also communities for people with health problems and music and art. Just like real life.
    • What do you do there? Well, what do you do in life!
    • Just get involved. It’s so new that you can’t really grasp what it’s about until you’ve been a part of it

The negative, cynical slam

C’mon – you know you want to. If you can dish out the dirt on an overhyped technology maybe you can beat those other hacks to Second Life’s inevitable fall from the hype. And you’ll come out looking practical, skeptical, and immune to trends. Pick and choose from the following negative points to make your case that Second Life is not as great as it first seemed:

  • It’s not catching on. Poke holes in the figures – it’s easy and fun! Resident figures include multiple avatars per person, many users are not relevant to American or European business needs, number of abandoned avatars (85% per Wired, 90% per InformationWeek) is very high, the numbers are not useful since the number of retired accounts is not given each month and they do not show active users which runs about 10% of the “total population” stat Linden Labs prominently publishes. [note: for a good summary of all the places to get Second Life user stats, see Social Signal]
  • Tsk tsk about the financial stats. They show that sales are stagnant ($609,000 US in June down from >$700,000 in February, March, and April)
  • Interview or quote Clay Shirky. He writes that “fewer than 200,000 people have given Second Life even a cumulative work week of their time, over the history of the platform.”
  • Be practical – we’re talking real money to have a presence there and what kind of return do you expect to get? When asked, representatives from some large corporations that have Second Life presences admit they are there because of hype and don’t get much out of it

The unique angle

A case study of a virtual entrepreneur or company that just created a presence is always nice (a local angle is nice if you can get it). Or one specific cultural topic such as virtual sex or the virtual economy.

The deep thought piece

Start with a funny thing that’s just happened in Second Life and then get philosophical.

  • Why do we laugh at spending money on virtual goods when we don’t laugh at spending money on non-functional luxury goods?
  • How much of “you” is your virtual representation?
  • Could you overcome handicaps or even death in virtual space?
  • What is the role of government and law in virtual worlds?
  • Should one build a society to be “fun”? Or profitable? Self-actualizing? How do you balance these?
  • How do cultural institutions like marraige translate to virtual worlds?

In closing, my snarky tone is just for fun and is not trying to diminish the value or motives behind the stories I read on Second Life. The typical audience for these stories is not someone who has already read a dozen other stories just like it. And if everything could only be written once by one person, I wouldn’t have a lot to write about either! I’m simply noting how the stories have moved from “101” to “201” level and that the “201” versions seem to be more negative even though either type of article can be written by just selecting which things to say. I do wish reporters would provide a more complete picture (most stories are heavily positive or negative instead of a more critical balancing of the two) or technical depth (impact of standards, possible alternatives).

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  1. […] Second Life Community Convention: I’ll Bet It Was Great August 27, 2007 at 10:01 am | In Analyst biz, virtual worlds | I posted earlier about the different types of articles one sees in the media about Second Life. […]

  2. […] 11, 2009 at 8:54 am | In BurtonGroupCatalyst09, virtual worlds | No Comments Back in 2007 I wrote A Guide to Writing About Second Life, a tounge-in-cheek how-to guide to lazy journalists that want to write a story about Second Life […]


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