In January 2007 Ton Zilstra published some worthwhile reads from his research and insight into Second Life. My paraphrased snippets are below. You can find the original articles here:
Early 2006 there were roughly a hundred thousand registered accounts with SL. Now, a year later 2,8 million are registered, with the first million reached last September, and the second million last month. The influx of newly registered accounts is indication of the hype. Not that all those registered accounts represent actual returning users. Estimates are that there are between 200 and 400 thousand of those.
The value of the in-world transactions between SL residents rose from about 300 thousand US$ per 24 hours in August to 1,2 million US$ now. (as always the porn and gambling industry have been paving the way in this new medium)
Immersion is a powerful feature of 3D worlds, where attention and engagement are concerned. There are no up front goals, rules, and that the environment is not meant to have a certain form. Residents create the landscape themselves, and after creation can keep on altering it. Their own appearance, and each and every object. The internal economy is based on that ability to manipulate everything.
Most of Second Life seems to be replicated from our regular surroundings, but then in a well kempt and suburban form. The really interesting uses I’ve encountered however are those that try to build on the unique possibilities a virtual world provides. Only then does SL realize its possibility as a new medium.
- Simulation and virtual action learning, like the Heart Murmur Sim, or the tsunami-simulation by NOAA.
- Prototyping, like quickly creating sketches for 3D animation, or having customers judge form and color of different products (Philips), or even put their own products together (Nike), or as an architect guide your clients through the first designs of their new home.
- Visualization of complex data structures for third parties (like the NOAA weathermaps)
- New experiences, like 2nDisability which allows users to really experience different disabilities. (different visual impairments and neurological afflictions available at the moment), or roleplaying games in a fitting environment (recreating historical situation, or for training purposes)
- Immersion in encounters. A funny thing I notice is that I look avatars in the eye during conversations. Even though the other will not notice that at all, it does change my involvement in the moment. I am more involved, less easily distracted as with regular IM or phone conferences. In certain situations that can be very helpful, like at the island for cancer patient support groups, or when trying to involve more people in the on-line version of a conference.
- The possibility to build things that are not possible in the real world. For instance as an expression of art (like the Arts Department of Texas University presence in SL)
Newly registered users are confronted with a confusing learning path, and the hurdles of quickly integrating into SL society as a resident are big. People dipping in their toes just to see what the fuss is all about are easily deterred, never to return. Entering SL is to a large extent still too much of a culture shock.