What Does It Matter That Second Life Is Vacant?

by Erica Driver.

I'm doing a lot of research on using virtual worlds for work these days and have been spending some time in Second Life. One of the characteristics I notice is that there seems to be a dearth of people (avatars) around. Does it matter? Well, it depends what your expectations are. If you think of Second Life as "sort of like the Web," where you can teleport alone (surf the Web) from island to island (Web site to Web site) then it shouldn't matter that most islands you'll visit are devoid of human presence. Think about audio and Web conferencing tools: an audio or Web conference is "vacant" until one or more of the expected parties join in, and we consider that perfectly acceptable. But if this is your expectation, it may freak you out more than a little bit if you see an avatar fly by you unexpectedly or an unknown avatar suddenly materializes next to you and addresses you via the chat window.

  • It matters if you are using it to socialize, explore, and interact with people. In fact it matters a lot. You will likely find that Second Life feels like an abandoned fantasy wasteland. Even when you visit islands put up by companies to communicate with customers, you'll usually find that no one is around. To get information you typically wander around a virtual hall reading posters and watching videos. One way to find and interact with other people in Second Life is to join business-related groups or attend events.
  • It doesn't matter if you are using it for meetings and collaboration. Just meet your party in the designated spot in Second Life and do what you always do: introduce yourselves, talk, gesture, chat via IM. If the space you are meeting in supports upload and sharing of presentations and word processing documents, even better. Keep in mind, though, that support for office documents is a custom-created capability in Second Life today, unlike alternative virtual world technology like Qwaq Forum.

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re: What Does It Matter That Second Life Is Vacant?

Erica, I think it does matter––a lot––particularly if SL is going to improve both the business and non-business real worlds. Read a bit of Jane Jacobs "Death and Life of Great American Cities." City planners razed neighborhoods and built vertical housing with aesthetically-pleasing, open spaces. This transformed messy, vibrant, safe streets into sterile, vacant, dangerous sidewalks and parks, and housing developments with almost zero sense of community.In her 1961 book, Jacobs said people are attracted to people and energy and the rich unpredictability that diversity brings to life. Right now, the Second Life you describe feels like an over-planned, sterile place. We need lively, well-peopled, diverse places where good folks and good ideas can bump into each other and great stuff can emerge. Not just in the real world, but the virtual world as well.Mark