December 13, 2006

The Second Trap

Clay Shirky on the Second Life overhype. I'm pretty partial to what he terms as "virtual reality is conceptually simple" argument. A large part of that hype I think comes not just from the simplicity, but by how easily it is for traditional marketing people to map their "real world" tactics to Second Life. To develop a web marketing campaign requires understanding of just how the web actually works. Second Life however is close enough to the real world that is very easy to just map traditional marketing tactics over. It's basically a big old baited trap for marketing people who are looking to get involved in the web, but don't quite get how it works...

Perhaps more than anything the mistake is in thinking that the value of internet is about what shows up on the computer screen. In fact the value of internet is in how it functions as massive relational database, and whatever shows up on the screen at any give time is thinest of thins skins to a couple datapoints.

What ultimately is funniest to me about Second Life though, is how closely it mirrors the cyberspace that William Gibson painted in Neuromancer when he coined that term. I was raised on that vision of the future the same way an earlier generation was promised jet packs and video phones. And when that vision actually became a technological reality, all I can do is shrug and turn back to the real future unfolding in completely unexpected directions.

Posted by Abe at December 13, 2006 01:19 AM


I'm always struck by how much SL *doesn't* resemble Gibson's cyberspace. Cyberspace is completly relational and abstract - crucially: it doesn't have a ground, it's a spatial grid with geometric forms hung along the nodes. SL (in which I've probably spent about a half hour total) is all metaphor: body, clothes, buildings, rooms, land, sky ... we've yet to occupy a 3D datascape that's as metaphor-free and abstract as Gibson's.

Yeah you probably are right, Gibson's writing in that early period was certainly abstract and relational, but for whatever reason I certainly filled it in my head with imagery of virtual streets, and humanish avatars ala second life. I did always picture the streets on a 3D not 2D plane though...

oi, interestingly enough Upgrade International is considering using SL as a meeting venue. Given that having 20+ person Skype calls is hell, we thought an avatar meeting might work. The idea was met with some scepticism and it hasn't happened yet (shrugging of shoulders prevalent), but it seems intriguing & a work-around solution for larger meetings of internationally displaced fleshmatter. Thoughts? Isn't this a real future, right now? _t

well I'd be interested to see how it goes tobias. I certainly won't argue that there is no place for environments like Second Life, and a global virtual conference sounds like as good a scenario as any (do they have 3D sound environment running there, be awesome to have a conference call where you could spatially locate the participants). But there is a huge difference between a fringe use and one the future of internet. Course there may well be both interesting tactics and subcultures born in Second Life, but unless it really develops new ways to deal with the complex database relationships that undergird the internet, it will remain a fringe space, perhaps for the better...

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