Thursday, August 17, 2006

LL Dialog with Users becoming a monolog?

And finally in todays stories...

I was a bit disappointed to hear that Linden Labs is closing their much abused user forums. While a big supporter of the concept behind Second Life, I have to admit that I don't find the system much more stimulating than Cable TV (of which I am not a subscriber). For a long time I was a frequent contributor to the user forums, but the kook politics, political correctness, counter-culture fascism and as it is often called "drahma" (there really is an "h" in there somewhere) rather wore me down.

I look forward to a day when going into SL is not such a "self referential" experience. I can remember when the main topic of many ICQ conversations were about what was new in ICQ, and while I blog, with today being an exception, I'm usually not interested in blogging about blogging.

But I'd like to think that the "Second Life Community" of which I am voluntarily not a part might some day be more interesting to people of my age and I think that almost certainly means that we might want to trade e-mail messages, instant messages that don't require a graphics supercomputer, and so on. Being a member of an online community shouldn't cause people to say "I'm all worn out after a long SL session last night." While "we" don't think of SL as a game, many of its users use it that way, wearing themselves out in the "playing" of it, having to be in the same "place" at the same "time" as your friends to get a word with them, worrying if your "look" is right for the moment, etc.

I've had some good "chats" in Second Life, but they don't happen every time I get on, or even most of the time. the building interface, while intended to be easier than the old professional 3D tools has always been frustrating for me. I got the hang of Truespace, Maya and a couple others quickly enough, but my SL creations never line up right, and I'm a stickler about everything lining up right, not just close which is the orientation of the SL method. Were it not for that fact, I'd probably spend hours in SL just building and not worry about using it for anything else.

Somehow I think the replacement of the forums with a company blog, as yet to be fully defined, is a step backwards from the original small community days. I remember being asked my opinion on what SL should be called, there were some really crazy alternatives. Looking back on the recent forum posts and the new blog entries, it looks like a lot of changes are afoot, without the discussions that took place just two years ago. The size of the community now too big a drag on the decision process I guess.

I don't know if anyone has done a study on community size. But it seems clear to me there is a limit to how big they can be and still work. You can call all Myspace users a community but they are not. Rather they are a mirror of real world communities, with kids from the same high school or geographical area tending to communicate more. Similarly, if it is not a geographical association, there has to be some common interest that binds the communications together and if the group is large, there have to be some "opinion leaders" (for lack of a better term) who's names you recognize that are doing most of the talking.

As in todays discussion (the last for a long time I hope) of the long tail of the blogosphere, there have to be some SL users who wonder "why am I here and who would miss me if I weren't?". If there are no answers at hand, and no alternative uses of your time in the interface it is only a matter of time before the enthusiasm burns itself out. At what point does SL reach a steady state, and is it economically viable at that point? I still don't see it as a replacement for IM, e-mail or phone calls, and as a replacement for actually going out and meeting people I question its value.

But then, in Snow-crash, people "goggled-in" while riding in a car or waiting for an appointment. 3D-VR took the place of books, music, TV, and just about everything else. SL has a long way to go before it has achieved that, except with all the time it takes, for many of its users they simply don't have time for any of those other things. It's not quite the same. The Internet should help us do more, not sap our energy so that we do less.

But maybe the blog approach won't squash all discussion. We'll see. LL has been wrong before and corrected their mistakes later. This might be one of those times. I've never been wrong of course. Oh no, not me.

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