Monday, March 26, 2007

Second Life reaches 5 million residents

Second Life reaches 5 million residents and a $1.65 million per day economy but its growth rate has slowed from a doubling every two months in both residents and economic activity. The chart below shows the population and economic trends since January 2006.

What is so exciting about Second Life that has attracted 5 million residents? Other statistics not reflected here would probably show more interesting patterns about the medium's usage such as an increase in time spent in-world, a growth in community-specific groups and an increase in corporate presence as more entities set up virtual offices including Coldwell Banker.

Web 3.D is about Community, Community, Community.
The richness of a virtual world platform like Second Life suggests why it is so successful. The Internet was a tremendous step forward as people with shared interests were able to find each other via usenet and email lists, mainly having 1:many relationships. Web 3.D virtual worlds allow special interest interactions to be much deeper and more intimate in a robust audio-visual and 1:1 way instead of a 2D text-based 1:many way.

In addition to more intimate interaction, virtual worlds offer more agency. One example is that people can fully govern how their appearance is presented. Interestingly, so far, instead of exploring more aspects of identity and representation, the vast majority of avatars appear in a great homogeneity of youth and beauty, making explicit the strong force of perceived appearance ideals in the physical world culture and recreating this in virtual reality. Then as art imitates life imitates art, the avatorial aesthetic cycled back out of a Second Life gallery into the physical world in a “13 Most Beautiful Avatars” exhibit at New York’s Rhizome gallery.

The interesting focus for Second Life now is not how many residents are there but the large variety of inventive things that they may be doing.