Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Second Life hype returns: The mainstream media takes notice

My colleague David Ramel has posted an amusing, side-by-side comparison of fresh Newsweek and Wired coverage of Second Life. Newsweek is apparently the gushing newbie, while Wired has a long-overdue reality check:
Fun factor

Newsweek: "The power of Second Life lies in its utility for the gamut of human activities. It's a potent medium for socializing -- it provides people with a way to express, explore and experiment with identity, vent their frustrations, reveal alter egos."

Wired: "Then there's the question of what people do when they get there. Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn't much to do."

Marketing value

Newsweek: "More than 45 multinational companies, including the likes of American Apparel, IBM, General Motors and Dell are beginning to use the medium for customer service, sales and marketing."

Wired: "Companies say, 'It's an experiment'" but what are they learning?' Tobaccowala asks. 'Basically, they're learning how to create an avatar and walk around in Second Life.' Which is fine if that's what you want to do. Just don't expect to sell a lot of Coke."
You get the idea.

It's interesting that just as many members of the business/computer press corps are taking a more critical look at the virtual world, a new crop of mainstream media outlets are finally discovering Second Life -- and turning back the clock to the hype-filled days of 2006. For instance, last Saturday, my hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, had a front-page article about the city government working with Emerson College (and one of the Harvard instructors from the Cyberone course) to set up a virtual version of parts of Boston, such as City Hall and the Hatch Shell. That's an interesting story, but I was somewhat disappointed to see the Globe propagating the misleading population figures (e.g., "Captivated by the promotional possibilities and the potential for providing services in Second Life's cyberscape of some 8 million digital people ...") and failing to note the tepid results of various corporate forays into Second Life.

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