Like Moses to the Promised Land….

Today’s Wired Magazine online notes “How Madison Avenue is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life.” The summary is: “Big Brands are spending a lot of money, and no one is visiting their sites.”

I think the reality is a bit different.

Open letter to Mitch Kapor and the folks at SL: You risk being like Moses to the promise land. In the bible, Moses does some wonderful things, but, after offending G-d a few times, he is allowed to view the promised land, but is unable to enter.

Fast forward several thousand years, and Lotus has some wonderful software that is difficult to use, but is getting adoption. Along comes Bill Gates and Microsoft, and actually leads the people to the promised land of office productivity. (Say what you want about office, almost everyone uses it now). Not sure what it was that made office easier for people that Lotus 1-2-3. Perhaps the entire package of spreadsheet, word processor and other tools bundled together. Maybe it was that plus the OS. Maybe bad behavior. Regardless,  Where is Lotus today? Exactly.

(Disclosure, as a former Microsoft employee, I own MSFT in my retirement accounts).

Fast forward a few more years, and here are 3-d immersive role playing environments. There’s a huge amount of potential there. People want to be able to meet others in collaborative spaces, play games, take on personas, and have fun. 9 Million of those folks have tried World of Warcraft – but in WOW there is treasure to be won, missions to be accomplished, goals to be achieved. In Second Life there is … just being. Ok, there are some cool places to visit, online concerts to attend, and occasionally interesting games to see and interact with a few times. There are some innovative places, like “Better World Island” that allow causes to create spaces that make an impact. So much potential. Unfortunately, that potential is wrapped up in scripting and 3-d object creation that is, frankly, daunting for most people. Yes, lots of enthusiasts are creating stuff in SL, but when we say “lots” it is “lots less” than people who have Live Journals, TypePad or Blogger blogs, or MySpace or Facebook pages.

What’s next? Someone will come along and “Microsoft” Second Life out of existence. I think there’s a huge opportunity for someone to make a different tool that is easy enough that the ‘rest of us’ can use it to create, explore, play and most likely, work.

If Mitch and company aren’t careful, they will be left, like Moses, looking at the 3-d landscape of milk and honey, but unable to enter that promised land of future profits.

What will make Linden Labs into Aaron and allow them passage to the promised land? Scale the number of people that can be in one place at one time (and overcome the social issues that will result when 300 avatars crowd a concert venue for 200).
Make it REALLY REALLY easy to create items, and script them. Easy like making a MySpace page. It may be ugly but it works easy.

Finally, find a more compelling reason for people to join and pay. I’ve been a free member since 2005, but I’ve never felt a reason to own a ‘home’ in SL. I drop by, check out cool stuff (or not) and leave. If I had to pay to do that I wouldn’t. What is going to make this interesting enough for me to visit regularly?

Once we get over these issues, then we can tackle where the marketers should put the virtual coke machines and what kind of Virtual Car my avatar likes to drive.

Howard Greenstein is Ono Nino in Second Life. Please don’t attack him with flying body parts.

UPDATE: After seeing Saul Hansell at a dinner tonight, I looked at the BITS section of the NY Times and found his analysis of SL, “Marketers Twittering But Not About Second Life.

UPDATE 2: OK, I’m totally wrong. According to this Newsweek article, Gartner says:
By 2011, four of every five people who use the Internet will actively
participate in Second Life or some similar medium, according to Gartner
Research, which recently did a study looking at the investment
potential of virtual worlds. If Gartner is to be believed (and it is
one of the most respected research firms in the field) this means 1.6
billion—out of a total 2 billion Internet users—will have found new
lives online.
Ok, by 2011 I hope they’ve worked out the “this is too hard” factor and the scale factor. The article also references CyWorld, which is huge in Asia, but no one I know in my US early adopter crowd hangs out there.