Challenges to Using Second Life on K Street

In my day job, I spend quite a bit of time educating non-profit groups, lobbyists, etc. about why they should be interested in virtual worlds. Generally, the discussion goes something like this:

K Streeter: “So I’ve heard about this Second Life thing and read about it and my boss is interested in it. What can I tell him it will do for us?”

MetaPundit: “Well, it’s an experimental way to enhance what you’re already doing to promote your issues online and offline and get on the bleeding edge of online political advocacy. In ROI terms, you can engage your existing supporters in a new way and possibly attract media exposure and new supporters by separating yourself from the thousands of web campaigns that get launched every day in DC.”

K Streeter: “Uh huh. So it’s just a bunch of people with wings trying to have cybersex with each other, right?”


What I’ve found to be the key hurdle in getting potential clients really interested in Second Life is getting them to download the viewer and actually explore the Grid a bit. In this sense, something Philip Rosedale said a couple of years back still rings true today:

“The majority of people doesn’t (sic) get through the first 4 hour learning curve; but once they’re through, they basically never leave.”

I’ve seen this happen on multiple occassions. While the four hours period Rosedale mentioned has been diminished somewhat thanks to improvements in the registration process and the Orientation Island experience, I think it’s definitely still a significant factor in the 20+ million downloads vs. 600K active accounts discrepancy. If I were to assign a term to the phenomenon, I would call it “getting past ‘cool!'”

On the one hand, the steep learning curve of SL serves as a kind of self-filtering mechanism, keeping out the casual users and rewarding those who really want to engage with the platform. On the other hand, platforms like Facebook and MySpace are succeeding as political engagement tools precisely because they are so easy to use. Where does Second Life fit in then as a platform for enabling political change?

I’ve got some ideas on this front, but I’ll save them for the next posting. In the meantime, I’d love for anyone with some thoughts on this to discuss them in the comments.


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