Lots of sizzle but where is the steak?

Clay Shirky's got a really insightful analysis of Second Life up on Valleywag. I share his skepticism of the longterm potential for SL to transform the way most of us conduct commerce or find entertainment online. After having used it a bit, I came to the conclusion that it required too much time to get started and to figure out. No doubt it appeals to some with the time and inclination (I suspect many of devotees played D&D growing up or would have had they come of age in the 80s) to explore and learn the rules and mores to get along and prosper. Once I had arrived and starting walking/flying around, I quickly realized that it would take me a long, long time to capture any potential benefit. As a father, husband, and business owner I simply don't have the time to spend or desire for a "virtual" payoff. What I do see when I read about or go to Second Life is really clever marketing and promotion. Every mention of the community is accompanied by a quotation of the number of registered users which is, to Shirky's point, a misleading figure. Nevertheless, the power of that 2MM number compels people like me to register, download the software, install it, and enter the world. For online communities that need PR and buzz to build interest and a user-base, this number is vital. People intuitively understand the concept of network effect as applied to online communities and when they hear numbers in the millions, that's enough for some to wonder if they're missing a mindblowing, amazing time. So they register, check it out, and then leave never to return. I suspect the same can and will be said of advertisers drawn to the hype like moths to a flame...

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