Monetising SL 2.0

I feel that I should download the SL 2.0 viewer, just so that I can have an opinion about it, and join in the general excitement, but I’m finding it hard to get enthusiastic about what is, after all, just a gateway to the really interesting part of Second Life, that is the content and the community. When I first signed up to SL a couple of years ago I downloaded the alpha build of the Linux client, and I was happy with that until fairly recently, when the Lab started restricting which viewers you could log in with and it stopped working. I switched to the then-current version of Snowglobe, which I have had no major complaints about.

I’ve never been entirely convinced that making the viewer more user-friendly was the key to broadening SL‘s appeal. I guess the Lab did some consumer research that told them that the viewer’s rather steep learning-curve was contributing to SL‘s woeful retention rate, and I’m sure that the new version makes it a bit easier to get through the first hour, but I would have thought that keeping people on board for months and years would depend more on the nature of the virtual world and its residents than the bells and whistles of the client software.

Though maybe I’m overstating the importance of content. The BBC are currently running a series The Virtual Revolution (which you can watch online if you live in the UK), which is taking a look at the impact on society of the growth of the internet in the last 20 years. It’s necessarily broad, and there’s been nothing terribly surprising, but it’s still interesting, particularly the discussion of how Web 2.0 has been monetised. Services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter may get their user-generated content for free, but most of it is worthless junk. That doesn’t matter though, the theory goes, because as users post, search, rate and comment on all those videos, updates and tweets, they reveal a mass of valuable data about themselves and their social networks, information that can be profitably mined for targeted advertising.

One can’t help but wonder if the Lindens have some similar plan in mind. They have certainly been talking up the social-networking aspects of SL, with their purchase of Avatars United, and Wallace Linden’s suggestion that we should all link our real identities to our avatars. If they could find out all about us and our interests, they could turn that into a revenue stream, provided they could figure out how to serve up the ads in a way that wasn’t too annoying. Perhaps the much-touted URL-on-a-prim functionality of the 2.0 viewer is part of the Lab’s plan to sneak pop-up advertising into the virtual landscape.

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