Clay Shirky has written a terrific piece on media naivete about the Second Life phenomenon. Sample:
The prize bit of PReporting so far, though, has to be Elizabeth Corcoran’s piece for Forbes called A Walk on the Virtual Side, where she claimed that Second Life had recently passed “a million unique customers.”
This is three lies in four words. There isn’t one million of anything human inhabiting Second Life. There is no one-to-one correlation between Residents and users. And whatever Residents does measure, it has nothing to do with paying customers. The number of paid accounts is in the tens of thousands, not the millions (and remember, if you’re playing along at home, there can be more than one account per person. Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, how many logged into St. Ides?)
Despite the credulity of the Fourth Estate (Classic Edition), there are enough questions being asked in the weblogs covering Second Life that the usefulness is going to drain out of the ‘Resident™ doesn’t mean resident’ trick over the next few months. We’re going to see three things happen as a result.
The first thing that’s going to happen, or rather not happen, is that the regular press isn’t going go back over this story looking for real figures. As much as they’ve written about the virtual economy and the next net, the press hasn’t really covered Second Life as business story or tech story so much as a trend story. The sine qua non of trend stories is that a trend is fast-growing. The Residents figure was never really part of the story, it just provided permission to write about about how crazy it is that all the kids these days are getting avatars. By the time any given writer was pitching that story to their editors, any skepticism about the basic proposition had already been smothered…
I wonder if Linden Labs (proprietors of Second Life) regard me as a ‘resident’ of their virtual land. I signed up for an account a while back (mainly because serious people like Bill Thompson and Charlie Nesson seemed to think it was interesting). But after signing up I examined the kinds of avatars available and rather lost the will to second live (as it were). I have my hands full living my first life; to add a second seems like a step too far.
Shirky’s piece is good on Second Life, but even better on the deficiencies of journalism.