Have you been watching the Second Life and Virtual World backlash lately? I find it all a little funny. You have Disney scooping up Club Penguin for lots of millions, newly-formed agencies cutting major Brand gigs and deals with some of the largest advertising networks, and the number of participants who are aware of Virtual Worlds (or even have their own Avatars) seems to be climbing too.
Maybe it's not as hot as it was a couple of months ago. Maybe the PR play has dulled because all of the "firsts" in Virtual Worlds have been gobbled up by the mainstream media. Maybe it's because some of the major players - who got some early skin in the Virtual World game - have done all they could and abandoned their Second Life for a variety of reasons (the primary one I've noticed is how much work a virtual environment is to maintain - from pure staffing to dealing with the always-on nature of no time zones).
In the latest episode of the Podcast, Jaffe Juice (episode #101), Joseph Jaffe (author of Life After The 30-Second Spot and Join The Conversation) blamed it on us - Marketers - stating that had we put Second Life front and center in a Superbowl spot, the masses would have seen it and checked it out.
I think there is a clear blame on why virtual worlds and, more specifically, Second Life is failing to meet expectations. My finger is pointed (which rarely happens) directly at technology.
Technology is to blame for the lack of Second Life lustre.
And, worse, it's technology at every level. Let's say you get through the download process, sign-up and make it through Orientation Island, it is still a very small percent of computers that have the speed - from CPU performance to graphic card - to truly have a superior Second Life experience. Just sniffing around the software that Second Life is built on uncovers a gaming platform that was, probably, not intended for this use and in dire need of upgrades to the point that some have said it can never truly develop unless it is totally scratched and started over.
So if the Internet connection, the hardware and the overall usability remain this complex, it can never be adopted by the masses. Just look at online social networks. It took many iterations from Friendster, MySpace to Facebook to create a compelling, fun and, most importantly, easy-to-use environment (and there are still plenty of complaints floating around).
I believe strongly in Virtual Worlds. After having spent some significant time in Second Life, I do believe it to be one of the main ways we will "surf" the Web in the coming years, but we're just not there yet. And, like all great things, it will just take some more time. The first telephone, phonograph player, radio, TV, personal computer, mobile phone were all not perfect.
I'd rather wait on seeing masses adopt Virtual Worlds or hop into Second Life until the experience is as simple (and engaging) as popping open a Web browser.
As off as you might think this Blog posting may be, take a look at Webkinz. I believe a huge part of its success is based on the fact that it works on nearly every computer from a minimum requirements stand-point, and is as advanced as the mass population comes to expect from a current Web experience.
If you wondering where to put the blame on why Second Life has not taken off like YouTube or Facebook, look no further than the technology.