I usually check the newsfeeds of Google News for my news highlights of the day (I rarely watch TV anymore, and I check the newspapers maybe 2 or 3 times a week, max). So imagine my surprise when, on a whim, I searched Google News today for “Second Life 15th anniversary”, just to see what coverage there was of last week’s event:
Zip. Nada. Zilch. Not a single mention of Second Life’s 15th anniversary in any of the current news media sources that Google News indexes! (I got the same results on “Second Life 15th birthday”.)
So I sat down and thought about what this might mean. Why is it that something that was a (relatively) big deal in virtual world news got so little mainstream press coverage, despite (I assume) the best efforts of Linden Lab to do PR and get the word out?
Tie into that the current difficulties that High Fidelity, Sinespace, Sansar, and other firms are having in attracting people to their social VR/virtual world platforms, and I have a theory. Hear me out.
Could it be that the virtual worlds community is so (relatively) small and insular, that it has developed into its own echo chamber? According to Wikipedia:
The echo chamber effect occurs online due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. However, individuals who participate in echo chambers often do so because they feel more confident that their opinions will be more readily accepted by others in the echo chamber.
When we talk about virtual worlds, are we pretty much only talking to—and listening to—each other? A closed community that is not listening to the outside world, perhaps thinking that it is more important than it really is? (I have noticed that I have tended to run into exactly the same people on every virtual world platform I have visited over the past 11 years.) Do we tend to stick to our own blogs and discussion groups (hello, Plurk!), and therefore become resistant to messages coming in from the outside? Are the metaverse companies (and their current customers) convincing themselves that virtual world platforms are a more vital and necessary service than the rest of the population believes? Maybe.
It might explain why Second Life never really broke through to the next level, even though it has pretty much kept 500,000-600,000 active user accounts over the past decade or so, despite the addition of thousands of new accounts each and every month.
And, even more ominously, it might just explain why the other, newer virtual world platforms are having some trouble breaking into the marketplace. What if that pool of less than a million people is the entire potential audience that virtual worlds—all virtual worlds—can attract? In other words, is there a hard upper limit in public interest in virtual worlds? Are all these metaverse companies fighting each other over a pie that is never going to get any bigger?
And if that is true, then what happens when most of those people are already happily settled in Second Life, prefer life in their own isolated little world with its echo chamber, and don’t feel the need to venture out any further?
What do you think of these ideas? Sound off in the comments…