Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's the content, stupid!

Adam Reuters had two very good interviews recently with Philip Rosedale and Mitch Kapor. For once, Philip and Mitch showed that they understand what the problems are with LL's handling of SL, that they understand how users feel about it, and that they take responsibility for it. But enough praise for LL.

Philip made some comments in his interview about the reasons that SL has such a low retention among people who try SL. In his comments he takes responsibility for all the technical reasons but he also puts part of the responsibility on the shoulders of the residents themselves, for the content that they create in SL. And that's fair enough.

We are in a vicious circle of content that was developed by early adopters for early adopters. SL has attracted many people from the edges of society: skilled creators, role players, extropians, disabled people, griefers. Even the more casual, mainstream, users of SL still need a certain sense of adventure and exploration in order to enjoy and appreciate SL. In any case, you need to spend a lot of time in-world until you you gain skills, form social connections, and discover your interests.

That doesn't fit the majority of people, who are interested in more passive forms of entertainment, are not explorers in spirit, and want to spend time in-world only rarely and for very specific occasions. Very few people are interested in being creative with a 3D digital medium or scripts, and very few people come in-world specifically to hang out and meet people at random. As SL will grow and expand, most people will come in-world for classes, conferences, work meetings, entertainment events, special interest events. They will be occasional users, following the same patterns that users have on the Internet now. And more people will be augmentists rather than immersionists.

This type of use can be created almost only by RL organizations like professional institutions, social associations, entertainment companies, educational institutions, and so on. I am looking forward to IEEE and ACM using this medium for their members, with conferences and especially with smaller scale events. The day will come when AA will hold meetings in-world. Then there are the obvious musical concerts, but with large audiences.

Now, back to Philip's division of responsibilities, many such organizations are reluctant to enter virtual worlds because of the technical limitations, such as the limited sim capacities. That is LL's responsibility. As for content, it is true that organizations are put off even more than individuals by what they see now as the main uses of SL. It is the vicious circle I mentioned in the beginning, where the existing content is an obstacle for the growth of content from RL organizations coming into SL.

What should we do? We are who we are, and we, the early adopters, are not responsible for creating the content that will bring in the mass adoption. We can and should create the content that appeals to us. At best though, we should be understanding, tolerant, and even encouraging of the RL organizations that come into SL without catering to our own taste. Too many such organizations have tried just that and failed, when quite possibly they should have tried to find their own way, bringing their own users into SL, even if those users do not fit in with us and even if their influx risks to change the character of SL.

I think it is the only way that virtual worlds will become as ubiquitous as the Internet now. That is the vision that LL has for SL and we do agree with that, even if the ubiquitous metaverse will have a very different flavor compared to the early-adopters' metaverse.


Lem Skall said...

What timing! Only hours later after I posted this entry, Reuters reported that most people would rather be augmentists than immersionists. Honestly, I didn't know about that study and I was only expressing my gut feeling.

And my apologies to Adam Reuters for initially mis-attributing his interviews to Eric Reuters.

Lem Skall said...

There must be a virus going around, or it's just my awareness that is raised right now for related stories, but here is one and another one, all published within a day.