August 2, 2007
Second Life and the Dangers of the Expectations of Immediate Profitability

For those of you who have been following discussions here at the Convergence Culture Consortium for some time, you know that we've been thinking about Second Life in one way or another for a while. In fact, folks throughout MIT have been. Our recent conference Media in Transition 5 took place in Second Life, for instance. And then there was the three-way Second Life between Henry Jenkins, Beth Coleman, and Clay Shirky. Clay brings up some of the questions about the validity of Second Life that have been raised more broadly in the press recently, while the CMSers look at the use of Second Life through all the "overhype."

Be sure to read this piece from Paul Hemp at Harvard. Paul has spoken at our internal retreat here before and is a very keen thinker in this space.

My take on the Second Life situation, by the way, is the same as that from this piece earlier this week. Sometimes, putting too much emphasis on an emerging space or product causes people to much too quickly declare it as a failure if it is not immediately able to be monetized, such as people are now doing with Second Life.

But I fear they are missing the point if they think that the reason brands and media companies should be interested in virtual worlds is that it should make it immediately profitable. The problem is our culture which thinks about turning profits the next quarter instead of exploring new spaces that the public would be heading.

In response to Hemp's post, commenter Arnold Hirshon writes:

This cost of business line of reasoning was extended to another bit of ridiculous thinking back in the early days of the web when it was common to hear business people say "I just don't know how you can make money off of the web." Those people did not understand that the web was not a product to sell, but rather an infrastructure and enabling technology.

I'm not trying to advocate declaring Second Life as being anywhere near as important a transformation as the Web more generally, but I think the point is well-taken: trying to look for immediate profitability is awfully short-sighted.

See this post from back in October, for instance, about how these problems surface in journalism, and this post about the same problems in the soap opera industry. As I wrote in the piece earlier this week, "The problem is that the reaction to new possibilities are either to slow down to a halt debating on how to get the metric down and monetize them to an easy quantity, or else to try and capitalize on them without understanding the cultural implications for fans/consumers."



Thanks for pointing out the HBR piece. Breath of fresh air compared to the crap that's been on the net lately.


Good to hear from you again, Csven. Guess we'll see how it all plays out in the coming months...