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Second Life bubble burst

20 July 2009

Jianggan Li

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Jianggan Li, Assistant Editor of FutureGov blogs on why Second Life failed as a citizen outreach tool in Asia.

I confess that I have never signed up on Second Life. Well, I had not even been to the web site until this morning.

Jianggan Li/ Photo credit: FutureGov

This might sound odd because it has been branded as “the future” or “the next big thing”, well, since long time ago.

But have you?

Maldives, an Asian country, was the first to open an ‘embassy’ on Second Life, followed by Sweden and subsequently a few other countries including the Philippines.

When Maldives Embassy in the virtual world first made news in 2007, there was such huge media buzz about how governments in Asia could leverage this great tool.

At that time, I had a quick check with some friends around me, and found nobody was using Second Line, nor did any of them know anyone personally who was using it.

And these friends were all computer literate, income earning and socially adept internet-addicts – they fit exactly with the profile of Second Life users that researchers indicated.

Maldives was the first to open an ‘embassy’ on Second Life, followed by Sweden and the Philippines

That was also when the latest demographic statistics of active users by country were revealed. Back then the top 10 countries with biggest numbers of active users were all in Europe and America, with the tenth being Italy, where 1.93 per cent of the actives users resided.

All the other countries in the world, including the whole of Asia, shared 15 per cent of the active users.

The company claimed to have 11 million users but didn’t give the number of active users together with the above numbers.

Fortunately around the same time comScore, a UK-based market research firm, estimated the number of active users to be around 1.3 million, which corresponded well with the 10 per cent pattern (meaning 10 per cent of total registered users of a social media web site are active).

And 1.93 per cent of 1.3 million makes 25 thousand. That means among the 137 million internet users in China at that time, 0.018 per cent were on Second Life, at most. Even in Singapore, where 2.4 million residents were online, only around one per cent were on Second Life, again, at most.

Market research firms have not bothered to come out with new reports on Second Life's user demographics 

China had 47 million bloggers that year, according to official data; and in Singapore, Windows Live Space, a blogging site, alone had more than 340 thousand users.

So the numbers of Asian Second Life users were totally insignificant.

Those statistics are still ‘the latest’ by now. A few recent questions on Second Life’s official site about user demographics were all left unanswered and market research firms have not bothered to come out with new reports (let me know if you have seen one).

I did another check with my friends this morning, still nobody is using Second Life, nor does any of them know anyone personally who is using it. They are still computer literate, income earning and socially adept – and most of them are now Facebook-addicts.

Therefore it’s pretty clear that Second Life was not, and still is not a meaningful tool for Asian governments to reach out to their citizens – simply because the number of people using it doesn’t justify the investment. And the same group of people could probably be reached through other means such as forums, Facebook & blogs.

Asian governments realised that long time ago – agencies which have established presence on Second Life are those in charge of trade or tourism promotion, i.e. those which have their targeted audiences in Europe and the Americas – where most Second Life users reside.

Of course Second Life could still be a good tool for governments to conduct staff training and event simulation, but the bubble of it as citizen outreach tool for Asian governments has burst. Now I could sense similar bubbles being built.

Source : FutureGov

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