Second Life or real life for media companies?

Dan Pacheco seems to be spending a lot of time worrying about Second Life. And Reuters, of course, has set up shop there. I want to be as progressive and forward thinking as the next guy, but is this really good use of scarce new media resources? I mean, what’s the future of Second Life? Sure, it’s a popular web site and it might get you a little more brand exposure, but will it really lead to more traffic and greater participation on your web site? OK, greater participation with your brand, maybe (and only maybe), but segregated from where you really need to aggregate audience as a basic fundamental business model.

And Second Life is a product with no guarantee of survival (as popular as it is today). What if it’s just a fad, or the technology gets so fundamentally broken as to be useless, or a competitor disrupts and swamps SL? Doesn’t all that proprietary investment in SL goes down the bit drain? Risk is inherent in business, and especially in web business, but it needs to be risk that makes sense.

Second Life is not likely to become a platform or transcend the web in any way that bodes well for long-term ROI.

Building a media property on Second Life just feels more like playing than pursuing a business strategy. Now if you could get Second Life users to do something creative and organic with your content and brand for you, with little work, energy, investment on your part, now you might be on to something. But making it a focus of development? I can’t see it right now. I can think of a lot better things to do with my business time.

There are so many things for digital media companies to do and mobile is crying out for attention — I’d deal with those priorities before wasting mental energy on SL.

Tell me if I’m wrong. I’m not a Second Life user, so maybe I’m missing something. Maybe someday I’ll get an SL account, get involved and retract everything I just said, but for now, consider me skeptical of the business or audience development value.

UPDATE: Flying home tonight I thought just a bit more about this post. First, I think I should make this clear: I have nothing against SL. If I had more time, as a hobby, I could see myself really getting into it. It is the kind of thing that can interest me. Second, I’m not sure I’ve been clear enough about looking at this as a business decision and how to manage resources. That’s the main point I’m trying to get at. I think experimentation is good and necessary, but it needs to be smart, balanced experimentation with clear objectives. Third, I can’t believe SL will ever be more than a niche vertical. I can’t believe that for most media comanies it will ever grow enough virtual audience to generate direct revenue. But again, I’m open to evidence that I’m wrong.

(Disclosure: I used to work with Dan.)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged by . Bookmark the permalink.

13 thoughts on “Second Life or real life for media companies?

  1. “Sure, it’s a popular web site and it might get you a little more brand exposure, but will it really lead to more traffic and greater participation on your web site?” – umm – it’s *not* a website. It’s a virtual world.

    Much of SecondLife has been overhyped by press releases. If you’re not a user, you should probably check it out; most of your points are dead on (imho), but perhaps you can eek out more by using it. Free download, get in, poke around, visit the corporate areas and write down your thoughts. I don’t expect your opinions to change; you’ve echoed some of my own sentiments in here. But having another person’s eyes on it probably wouldn’t hurt, either. Especially to balance the press releases.

  2. >Now if you could get Second Life users to do something creative and organic with your content and brand for you, with little work, energy, investment on your part, now you might be on to something.

    Gosh, that sounds like such a *life-affirming* and *community-friendly* *cough* concept there, Howard.

    I work for an indigenous media company, Second Life Herald ( I think I earned $13.60 US this week! But then, I had no big rollout expenses! I also have a critical blog at

  3. …and the graphics are terrible. I feel like I took a step back into video games of the 1990s when I saw Second Life. Pukerama.

    Why should people have to network via such virtual personas? Takes chat room names to a new freaky level. But then, a lot of people meet though multi-player video games: world of warcraft, diablo, age of empires, etc.

    It’s just a new culture of people, people who are both vitual and real. And I don’t think they’re going away, ever.

    Though I do hope graphics for Second Life gets way better. yuck.

    For all those husbands and wives out there who met on Second Life, I still don’t apologize.

  4. Hello. Just a few clarifications/comments from the person you keep talking about in this blog entry :-)

    1. I’m not “worried” about Second Life. I’m investigating an opportunity. Allegedly Bakersfield ranks 14 in U.S. cities with people who use Second Life so there may be something there.

    2. This is an incredibly inexpensive project that has not taken away from current resources in any way. It’s largely been accomplished by me and a product manager on my team playing around in the evenings and weekends. We have tons of other stuff going on in the “serious” department, as usual. I get into some of that here.

    3. Experimenting with new technologies is healthy and ultimately profitable, which explains why successful companies like Google reserve 20% of the time of their developers solely for personal experimentation. We should be doing more of that in the newspaper industry. It should be encouraged, not discouraged.

    4. Thanks to the Second Life land rush, we’re already in a position where we could sell the land we purchased at a profit. So in the worst case scenario, if there’s nothing there, there are plenty of other people who already want to buy our virtual land. It’s like R&D that pays off even if you fail. (And seriously — we’re not talking about big bucks here).

    I’m completely comfortable with doing new things that people question and even ridicule at the beginning. That happened with The Northwest Voice and, which are two products that ultimately took off and helped inspire a whole new industry movement for citizen media and social networking. Other didn’t, so we shut them down.

    Will virtual worlds be in the success or failure category? I have no idea, but what I do know is that we all need to keep reaching and stretching in order to find new ways to engage and grow our local audience, and that’s what we’re doing in Second Life.

    Most newspapers and “mainstream media” are content to operate within their comfort zone, which gets them so caught up in operational stuff that they fail to catch new audience trends that they have to scurry after too late. We don’t do that at The Bakersfield Californian, and this is just one example of that.

    Plus, we love serving virtual margaritas to visitors from our virtual tiki bar.

    -Dan Pacheco

  5. 1. 14th in a niche market, um .. must be huge.

    2. The way you describe it, it does sound like it takes away from current resources.

    3. I said experimentation is healthy. No disagreement there. I also said it needs to make sense. What what successful innovations has Google launched since starting with organic search? AdSense — stole that idea. Google Video — not terribly innovative, and they had to buy YouTube. Froggle == failure. Gmail — great, but not a lot of users, relatively speaking. It’s not like Google has a real great track record with in-house innovation. They’ve bought there best stuff.

    4. On this land rush, how many FTE’s do you think you can fund?

    I can’t see how SL is helping you grow local audience … still don’t see it. To quote a famous person, “how are you measuring success?” What are your metrics for this? When you say Bako is 14th, what are the actual numbers? Are you even able to measure how many visitors to virtual Bako you’re getting? How many of them wind up on or Care to be transparent? Actual numbers might help convince the real world that the virtual world has something to offer.

  6. Those are all questions that can only be answered through experimentation when it comes to Second Life. That’s the whole point.

    In a more mature realm like the Web, you have more data to work with. In a new paradigm like virtual worlds, you start with hunches and you learn by doing. What you learn is more important than what you produce at that stage. I think it’s also worth noting that this is really about virtual worlds in general, of which Second Life is only one. Think of all the different platforms newspapers used before the Web emerged as the best one (AT&T Interchange and eWorld being just two examples). You have to start somewhere in any new medium.

    From the limited data available from Linden Labs, we think Second Life has somewhere between 300-1,000 users in Bakersfield, but the service is growing at 28% month to month and that rate is increasing, so there could be more. Given that Bakersfield’s ranking is higher than San Francisco’s, that’s an indication that if Second Life were to become a force to be reckoned with, Bakersfield will be at the epicenter (or not — I don’t pretend to know the future).

    The current number of users isn’t that important in my opinion. I expect that we’ll have more success getting locals into our area of Second Life through targeted promotions (for example, bands doing virtual shows that are promoted through Bakotopia and

    I can answer the FTE question right now — zero, since as I already said this is an evening/weekend project, completely driven from the bottom up. This is not a “product”. It’s a research experiment that may or may not develop into something more (which is how we started Bakotopia, which did become a product and is now on the verge of selling advertising online and in print like a more mature business).

  7. I would buy the “it’s a small audience now” argument if SL or even virtual worlds in general had an obvious path toward wider acceptance, but your 28 percent growth rate isn’t sustainable. The vast majority of people don’t have time for it. Even blogs, as big as they are, are still a niche medium and some wags are predicting blogs peak within the next year. Virtual worlds are magnitudes times smaller in acceptance.

    Also, 300 to a 1,000 … pretty wide range to say that growth along the lines of 28 percent is an even accurate number. And I suspect that 28 percent growth rate you cite is for SL overall, not Bako. What’s the Bako growth rate?

    What’s the endgame, Dan? With Bakotopia, you had a clear strategy, even though that strategy changed as you listened to your audience, but at least you began with the end in mind. You had a specific goal. So far, I’m not hearing that from you on this, which is what makes it sound like spaghetti strategy. Also, with Bakotopia you had a much bigger audience universe to begin with, and it overlayed nicely with the core’s DMA. With SL you are dealing with a niche inside a niche inside a niche. Seems like a pretty tiny universe. And with that in mind, are you actually suggesting spending marketing dollars to grow SL audience? And on a supposed “weekend, side project”?

  8. Actually we heard exactly the same kind of skepticism about Bakotopia back when it was in experimental mode, and the Voice, and SMS. And going back to my former haunts,, Digital Ink,, AOL Hometown, and a bunch of other initiatives I’ve been behind or involved in. They always start this way, but I know it’s difficult for people to see that, or for some executives to accept that sometimes you have to throw darts.

    I think it’s also important for people who study our product development processes to understand that for any one successful initiative that grows legs, there are 2 or 3 that don’t and get morphed or killed. That’s a necessary component of experimentation and research & development. Sometimes you have to kick-start something so you have any data to inform a strategy, and this is one of those cases.

    So I guess you’ll just have to wait and see what we learn just like everyone else, including us. Because as I’ve said all morning, that IS the point.

  9. Cool, Dan. Good discussion. And I hope you understand, I’m not trying to be disparaging at all … just asking questions, trying to understand, trying to get it. You, as well as anybody, know how much I believe in experimentation. I just don’t get this one. I totally got Bakotopia the first time I saw the site. Absolutely the right thing to do.

    But, hey, have fun with it!

  10. Howard, maybe if your house were on Second Life it would sell quicker…

    Ok, Ok, bad joke…

    I think both you and Dan have good points. I won’t pretend to have a grand opinion other than the people who are investing their time in Second Life, I wonder what kind of demographic they represent…

    Could be scary.

Leave a Reply