You may have heard of Second Life which is getting quite a bit of media attention. However, before you dismiss this as just another online game that will consume your computing resources and bandwidth you may want to take a closer look. Although it has many of the characteristics of a Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) it isn't a game at all in the traditional sense. With Second Life there is no "objective" to achieve nor are there winners and losers. In what may be a hallmark of the blending of the real and virtual world, Second Life creator Linden Lab is now being sued in real life by one of its residents over a disallowed real estate (or is it virtual estate?) transaction.
Second Life has media coverage, "blue chip" investors in the software creator - Linden Lab, major investment in the community by its residents (including such firms as Cisco and Sony) and residents earning a real-life living by building and selling assets within Second Life. A Business Week article outlines some of the commercial activities taking place in Second Life.
This past Friday I attended a special event put on by the Information Systems Resource Center (ISRC) at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. Professors Dennis Adams, Blake Ives and Michael Parks gave a brief demonstration of Second Life and led a discussion about its implications. Second Life very appropriately describes itself as "Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents." It is a virtual world where you as represented by your avatar interact with other people, buy or build assets, conduct business, worship, and go to school.
The professors presented some very thought provoking scenarios. The virtual reality of Second Life presents some interesting opportunities for training, emergency response simulation, market research, product design and employee recruiting among others. Some of these are already being done within Second Life. CNN reports that more than 60 schools have setup themselves up in Second Life to explore how it can be used to promote learning. Not being confined by a "game objective" creates a wealth of yet un-imagined possibilities.
Many MMORPG's have grown quickly peak and then rapidly decline as the popularity wanes. Second life is still in the growth phase with over 1.3 million members up from about 165,000 only 8 months ago. The question is will it peak and decline or continue to evolve and continue. That is, what is its stickiness?
Professor Adams pointed out a major factor that could enhance its stickiness. Namely, its lack of purpose or objective allows it to evolve on its own as determined by its residents. I previously mentioned some possible uses of Second Life but the there is no telling at this point where it could go. Additionally, since it is "entirely built and owned by its residents" or crowdsourced, the growth and investment is directly controlled by the users (residents). This crowd effect will determine its evolution and what features wither or prosper. These are significant factors that other MMORPG's don't have.
Although Second Life is very impressive and has tremendous potential it isn't ready for the mainstream - yet. Issues with computing power and player interface are current limiting factors but these will no doubt be reduced with the continual growth in processing power. Professor Parks and I had an interesting discussion about how once processing power was a limiting factor in the use of word processing - you couldn't wait for the latest PC release so your word processor or spreadsheet program would run faster. Now for most general purpose programs processing power is no longer a consideration - adequate power is a given. We could see a similar situation with Second Life, that is, a processing power limitation in the early stages that is soon eliminated. Other issues such as the interface will be more difficult but not insurmountable.
Will Second Life stick around - only time will tell. However, it bears watching as it could be the next new breakthrough in the use of IT. Do you have a Second Life?