Aug 10, 2007

Second Life Takes Another Major Hit

Poor Jaffe.

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.


Unknown said...

I agree with the comments that the potential of the technology and this kind of medium for business applications is substantial. PA Consulting recently did a business seminar in SL with almost 100 participants from all over the world, 4 panelists from 4 global locations, slides, videos, Q&A, at least as good as a real conference if not better, and saving tons of carbon emissions in the meantime. I have no idea why the WSJ is focusing on such an irrelevant aspect of SL.

RFB said...

And yet to hear the Verdinos or the Jaffes of the world talk, this is the future - and any business not on SL is somehow getting left in the dust.

While the article paints a sad picture using a drastic example of old telemarketer hippie guy, the average SL user is, I'm sure, disgusted that the marketers are moving in on what they thought would be their little utopia.

Alan Wolk said...

@Claus: Welcome to The Toad Stool. I'll check out your link. But as for why the WSJ is focusing on this-- I think it's pretty obvious: as marketers follow each other like lemmings over the cliff to set up shop on SL, pubs like Wired and the WSJ are going to start looking at who is on there and what they're paying for.
Granted it's an easy story and somewhat sensationalist, but there's also the human interest factor and the fact that this sort of addiction is growing. I mean it's pretty amazing that the guy would just sit there and ignore his wife right in front of the reporter. So in that sense it was a pretty fascinating story.

@JP: I suspect the average SL player is more baffled than disgusted as to the presence of marketers in SL. It must seem as unlikely to them as it does to us.

RFB said...

Holy crap - just read that article. What a mess. Wonder how representative of SL this is. And do successful people become losers on SL, just to see how the other half lives?

StevenGroves said...

Read the WSJ article and as an advocate of SL, all I can say is that it takes all kinds of people to make all kinds of worlds.

This guy is seriously addicted; addictions take all kinds of forms and this is his - I know others who are also afflicted, but it cannot be a generalization of the typical SL citizen - these kind of caricatures rarely are.

I see it again (Wired did it too) as an example of the print media (WSJ in this case) sensationalizing this guys plight to make an obtuse point.

Anonymous said...

First, I am sure that this is not the average user.

Anyway, I totally agree with you when you talk about the potential of the technology.

However, while some like WSJ or WIRE are spending their time to look into superficial and momentary issues, others (more visionary) like IBM are looking into the future planing to spend their resources to have a better use for these virtual worlds :

Anonymous said...

Jetpacks - I'm glad *someone* is paying attention to what I say, but I don't think you've read my SL missives closely enough. I was one of the original whistle blowers who cautioned brands not to get caught up in the hype. Jaffe hated me for months because of that - maybe he still does. :-) And btw lets not forget who caused teh hype - pubs like WSJ and Wired.

That said, I do believe that virtual worlds hold a TON of long term potential and that businesses (not all businesses, but certainly some) can benefit by experimenting with SL as a proxy for future virtual environments (whatever virtual environments the millions of kids playing in Penguin or Webkinz or Zwinky graduate to when they grow up and become the next generation of business people.) And in the present, I've certainly seen some value in using SL as a way to hold virtual events for crayon and we've done some good, mostly well received client work in there as well.

FWIW, I think WSJ could have written that same article in the early 90s, focusing on plain old dial-up internet usage.

Anonymous said...

Since we'll soon be seeing divorces over Second Life, I wonder when we'll see Linden Labs or others getting sued. Or murdered.

For that matter, if they can have sex, can they kill one another? Can an avatar die?

RFB said...


I will pay closer attention in the future. I was lumping you in with Jaffe's views based on your affiliation with the same company.

Alan Wolk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Wolk said...

Hey guys-- great comments.
Claus, Steve, Clement, Verdino- welcome to The Toad Stool.

Not sure I'm buying the "they said this about the internet too" argument.

Now clearly Mr. H in the article is an extreme example. But SL is still a game at heart. It was clear from the beginning what the potential of the internet was-- we just needed speed so that say looking up directions on Mapquest was faster than getting the road atlas down from the shelf and copying down directions.

But no one doubted that it would be possible.

There's no obvious benefit to SL other than the conferencing options we've discussed and probably a few we haven't thought of.

But to use your example Greg: a lot of people attended Crayon conferences on SL. But how many of those people actually came back on their own and started playing, visited the Reebok store, etc. SL isn't something you can really use casually. Though in the future some variation may allow just that.

But the bigger issue is that there's no small amount of hubris in the assumption that the people playing Second Life actually want to see/hear from/interact with brands from the real world when they're on there. They've created a fantasy land online. Why intrude upon it.


Anonymous said...

i really think advertising should think hard before it assumes it can just intrude into places like SL because it can. SL is escapism in its purest form. advertising is a reminder of reality. and that's boring. unless of course you happen to be a marketer of virtual codpieces ;-)

Anonymous said...

Back to the addiction thing echoing steve g’s point, is that dude’s SL fling any different than the guy who stays up playing Xbox all night and ignoring his wife.

I was a Tempest Vector God, playing hours at a time. Now look at me. I was successfully able to leave the controller behind.

Now I just blog for hours at a time.

Anonymous said...


The difference between playing an XBox and ignoring his wife vs. playing on SL and ignoring his wife is that his icon is f*cking another icon. He's cheating and he's essentially not only watching porn, but creating it. And in an odd way, participating in it. Eeeesh.

Question though: if people are willing to attend each others weddings or play beach volleyball or dance or do whatever, WHY WOULDN'T they also want to shop?? I mean, I'm starting to think it may make sense to have stores on their. But those new Reebox or the latest gadget to show off. Maybe not a "Land of Coke", but stuff they can wear of use in their virtual life?

Anonymous said...

jt - yes, of course. My point was probably not made clear enough, as I think the example of him effing the avatar is way past the point his real wife should’ve done something about it: like when it first started.

It had to have begun with time spent conversing, working up from small talk. I can tell you right now, if my wife saw me talking with a woman online for other than business purposes AND for hours on end like that, I’d be sending this message via smoke signal because my laptop would be destroyed.

That that guy's relationship online went that far is too bad, but it had to start somewhere, and someone had to allow it. Addictions start with small moves leading to bigger ones. SL, gaming, gambling, etc. If abused, anything’s bad.

His real wife reminds of the wives on Springer who stay with their men even after they’ve been abused, all because ‘he love me.’

No winners here, no matter what.

Anonymous said...


Agreed. While I felt sorry for the wife, I couldn't help how 'stupid' she's being. Sad. She's willing to go on record on a major national newspaper that her husband is virtually f*cking another woman. And she's saying that she's not going to be a monster and leave him because he's happy because the avator is him at 25.

Alan Wolk said...

@Jonathan & MTLB: More on the whole SL thing later, but to both your points: what was truly disturbing was that the reporter was clearly in the room when all this was going on: it wasn't the wife telling her what happened- she was witnessing it.

That's where the whole thing spun into Springerland for me: the fact that he had no concern the reporter was there.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Verdino

Anonymous said...


So true. And while this guy may be atypical of what's on SL, in the long run, I'm not so sure. Maybe not on Second Life, but there will soon be virual porn worlds like this.

I've had three close women friends of mine whose husbands got hooked on online porn. In virtual worlds they take part.

But the fact that the guy was willing to do all this in front of a reporter and have his name out there and his photo taken - and his wife going along with this piece and not leaving his is Springerism 101.

We'll see more of this crap.

Anonymous said...

"For a while, Mr. Hoogestraat, sitting at his computer, stares at an image of his avatar sitting at his computer."

says it all right there