If Second Life hasn’t taken enough of a beating in the press lately, today’s Wall Street Journal weighs in with a particularly devastating article about a typical Second Life player.
Entitled “Is This Man Cheating On His Wife?” the article*, by Alexandra Alter examines the truly sad life of one Ric Hoogenstraat, a 53 year-old Arizona resident who is employed as a $14 an hour call-center operator.
The article focuses on the havoc his Second Life obsession is having on his relationship with his real-world wife Sue. Because whereas in real life Mr. Hoogenstraat is an aging hippie who suffers from diabetes and chronic joblessness, in Second Life he is a muscular young entrepreneur with a fortune of some 1.5 million Linden (SL’s virtual currency) and a hot young Second Life wife. (Mr. Hoogenstraat’s SL avatar married a female avatar in a ceremony that was attended by several dozen other avatars. Really.)
One telling statistic of the article is that even LindenLabs, SL’s owner, admits that the number of “active users" is closer to 450,000. (Another is that Mr. Hoogenstraat is able to “employ” a virtual security guard for one of his virtual malls. Which means that someone is logging on to SL to pretend to be a mall security guard.)
But after reading the article, and the pathetic picture it paints of Second Life players, all I could think is how I’d hate to be on the other end of the phone when the CMOs of Coke, Reebok and countless other companies that have been duped into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Second Life, get a hold of it.
That said, I don’t mean to dismiss Second Life totally. The technology itself holds much potential. Businesses are already using SL to interview candidates and hold virtual job fairs, but one real payday will come when someone adopts the technology for business meetings.
To wit: I have a lawyer friend who is often on all day conference calls. Video conferencing isn’t a great option because everyone can see you squirming and yawning. But if he was able to attend these meetings as a voice-enabled avatar, and if every time he spoke there was a little label under him that said “Joe Smith, Dewey Bilkum & Howe” it would be a drastic quality-of-life improvement for him. For those of us in the ad biz, we’d be able to virtually present concepts to clients, who would see them in real time on their screen rather than cheating and peeking at them ahead on time from the PDFs we’ve posted on the extranet.
*The Wall Street Journal is a pay site, but I was able to access the entire article on their site. Not sure why, but hopefully it will work for everyone else.