Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jeff Jarvis Says Second Life is the most Overhyped, Alleged Phenom of the Century

Pew Internet & American Life Project recently concluded its third canvassing of internet leaders, activists and analysts regarding their opinions about the effect of the Internet on social, political, and economic life in the year 2020. Key findings of Part III included this:

The divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations.
The data from responders are summarized here, but perhaps more interestingly, Pew highlights several of the participant feedback in the ways of quotes, including dissenting views.

A quote from Jeff Jarvis caught my attention: American journalist Jeff Jarvis at the 2008 Wo...Image via Wikipedia
Second Life is the most overhyped alleged phenom of the century, so far. There's plenty of reality to go around; we don't need artificial versions of it.

Does Jeff really have experience regarding this Pew scenario to render such a strong opinion?

Based on Jeff's absolute statement in this prestigious report, I was determined to find out if Jeff has actually ever been in Second Life, so I did some research to gather more insight into Jeff's experience. From Jeff Jarvis himself via his blog Buzz Machine (emphasis mine):
What I need is for someone to create Second Life for Dummies and Old Farts.
Last night, I got into a good-natured head-shaking session with David Kirkpatrick of Fortune; he was pushing Second Life in a story he put up today and I was poo-poing. I think it’s overhyped, myself. At this morning’s session, John Markoff admits that he hasn’t gotten past the opening and I admit I have not either.
At Valleywag, Clay Shirky invades Second Life as the dastardly census taker to take the creators of the hype about it — and the reporters who swallow it whole — to task for trying to give us all the impression that the virtual world is bigger than it is. Personally, I’m relieved. It was beginning to appear that everybody in the real world was moving to the virtual one…. except me. I tried hard but just couldn’t get into the thing or figure it out.
There was a lot of hubbub at Davos about avatars: interviews with the players in Second Life (I wonder how many saw those sessions vs. read blog posts about the proceedings vs. read news accounts… vs. didn’t care). I remain skeptical about Second Life. I don’t need an avatar. What I put on the internet is my avatar. Our creations express us.
Jeff's Second Life experience appears to be insignificant, and largely influenced by uninformed media (ironically the kind that Jeff admonishes for acting without facts).

Although I think he's being a little hard on himself, in his own words he claims to be too old, too dumb, and possibly too lazy to figure it out yet he feels compelled? justified? qualified? to make such a bold and absolute claim.

However subtle, the worst point is possibly the most painful. Jeff claims he doesn't *need* an avatar, which led me to think he simply has no appreciation for identity as a construct. But if you read this post from Davos, he does understand the implications of identity, he just cannot make the leap toward identity as a construct, which is an important element of understanding virtual worlds. I have a post about this topic coming soon.

Jeff's conclusions and those of other outspoken internet pundits based on hearsay, opinion and superstition continues to be the highest hurdle for the future of Second Life(tm) as a platform to be considered seriously. Has Linden Lab decided to turn toward the Enterprise market in a desperate attempt to be viewed as a meaningful platform and not an "over hyped alleged phenom"? From M Linden's recent look ahead post:
While the majority of our resources are focused on our core market (content creators and consumers), we are also focused on building the business and education markets. Second Life is a powerful platform for doing business, collaborating, teaching and learning and we want to ensure we remain a vital platform for businesses and educators worldwide.

As someone immersed in corporate life and charged with moving the organization forward toward more socially-based enterprise systems, I can say that the gap between the corporate citizen's needs and Second Life as a "powerful platform for doing business" is significant.

The irony is that the challenges that the "core market" face are the very same that corporate consumers face, and I would strongly encourage the Linden Lab team to pursue some meaningful ethnographically based research on enterprise collaboration. It seems almost laughable that a large corporation that cannot see the benefit of a robust internally based social networking platform, for example, might find Second Life compelling.

Corporate-based ethnographic research would be money well spent before any Lab resources, marketing or otherwise are invested in developing what they think might be business solutions.

One last quote, from Jeff, as food for thought.
We need a frank discussion about the good, need, and risk for society of reporting. I think we also need to investigate new ways to make even the subjects of investigation part of the process of investigation, so it is clear they have the opportunity for correction and clarification earlier on - and if they forego that opportunity, they share risk. The more transparent they are, the more they mitigate that risk. To do this, we must acknowledge the public good of having watchdogs look over corporate activity, especially as governments fail to do so.

That's an interesting concept, Mr. Jarvis.

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