Mastering The Hype Cycle

How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time

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Will Second Life make it up the Slope?

December 19th, 2008 by Jackie Fenn · 3 Comments

We typically use the hype cycle to track technologies at the “class of products” level rather than at the level of individual products and vendors – so you’ll see “cloud computing” on a Gartner hype cycle rather than “Amazon S3”. Sometimes a single vendor becomes so synonymous with a new capability that coming up with a generic description feels like an unnatural act: most people identify with “YouTube” more than “consumer-generated media”, and “Twitter” remains more recognizable than “microblogging”, even as the capability becomes embedded in other social networking tools. Second Life is a similar case – many who have never heard of virtual worlds suddenly understand the concept when it is explained as “like Second Life”. Many virtual worlds now exist that target various age groups and geographies, but it has been Second Life that made the covers of the major business publications.

Which leads to the question – when a single company or Web site becomes synonymous with a new capability, is the company itself more likely to be subject to the hype cycle effect? Certainly the earlier inflated levels of hype and expectations around Second Life have contributed to a Trough of Disillusionment for virtual worlds in general. Press coverage morphed from cover stories on Virtual World, Real Money  to laments about Second Life’s Real World Problems. Google Trends shows a clear waning of interest in searches for “Second Life” since its peak in the first half of 2007. Google has announced it is shutting down its own virtual world, Lively.

Our expectation is that Second Life’s high profile means that it will continue to track – in fact define – the overall virtual worlds hype cycle for the next couple of years. Beyond that timeframe, it is open season. The precedents are mixed. Although the Palm Pilot was the device that launched PDAs out of a premature Trough (triggered by the poor quality of the Apple Newton’s handwriting recognition), and although Palm is still hanging in with the Treo, it definitely no longer dominates the category. On the other hand, AOL’s AIM has maintained its leadership position in the US for many years even as others have entered the market.

The uncertain benefits of virtual worlds for a business audience mean that a prolonged Trough is likely as companies explore the real value proposition.  Second Life itself will emerge from the Trough, based on its hard-won experience of what does and doesn’t work in virtual worlds. According to my colleague Steve Prentice, who has been watching the vendors closely:

“The challenge for Linden is to refocus their energies on meeting the needs of an enterprise audience without completely alienating their existing long standing residents.  This will not be an easy path to tread, but the signs are that the new CEO Mark Kingdon understands the requirements and is working hard to reposition Second Life as a platform rather than a destination. The recent collaboration with Rivers Run Red who is offering its Immersive Workspace is a strong move in the right direction, but they need a broader range of enterprise focused applications to convince skeptical business leaders that the old days are behind them and flying body parts are a thing of the past in Second Life.”

However, Second Life hasn’t achieved enough market penetration across a broad enough demographic (including enterprises) to be assured of remaining the defining force that will drive virtual worlds up the Slope of Enlightenment. It may be able to redesign and reinvent itself, but others will also be able to learn from Second Life’s lessons. Our advice to technology adopters in Mastering the Hype Cycle, where we featured Second Life as an example of evaluating capabilities independently of specific products, still holds:

“So, while Second Life may or may not maintain its dominance among virtual worlds, companies that became residents of Second Life to test various uses and benefits have actually been learning not just about this one product but about the broader lessons associated with the virtual worlds.”

Tags: Technology Hype Cycles

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kyle G // Dec 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Great article. I hope the Lindens are able to stay a leader as Second Life to me offers the richest platform for user created content.

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  • 3 Chaz Maz // Apr 9, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Second Life: Land of the WEAK home of the BROKEN

    First of all, I have been there, have done that. Had clubs, owned land, made friends, money, and fell in love. Second life on the surface, especially for the newbie and Entrepreneur/artist is a fun and cool place to make some friends, and make some money. It is looked at as a supercharged chat room, a video game. But the nature of its name is where the insidiousness is. As much of a second life (SL) as it might be, in order to operate you still have to use your Real Life (RL) abilities. You do not follow a different thought and emotional pattern when in SL. You can only use what you know in RL. But kidding yourself is one of the appeals of SL. You eventually get lost in it.
    At first it is new and exciting. Like a new video game. Learning the functions that move your avatar around, visiting places and socializing with the natives. You are perfect, and you can fly. No sickness, no need for money (well not as much) and people don’t have bad breath and, as a “normal”, “intelligent” person, it is an interesting place to explore and learn. But it eventually becomes one of three things. 1. Boring, like a video game you have played over and over. 2. An environment to explore your creative ability to design and sell things. Or, 3 it consumes your psyche.
    The first two are what they are; the third is the meat and potatoes of SL. This is the one that is more consistent. Do you really think the folks at Linden Labs are spending their free time on SL.? No, they are spending the money they are making in RL (SL is a business so it is RL for them) on RL things.
    There comes a saturation point where you walk away or get sucked in. I will say this for the last time and it does not apply to you newbie’s, or the smart ones that are making money off the lonely. It is a place to hide from reality. It is a place where weak, lost souls go to escape from the depth and breadth of life. I will allow some latitude for you shut-ins. Some people have nothing else but the four walls of the room they are in. SL can provide a form of “human” entertainment that they otherwise would not be able to get. But, that just causes the shut-in to let go of their emotional self being even more. This is a hard pill to swallow, no one wants to take a good look at them selves and most do not. But the covert nature of SL allows you to cut loose. Sort of the absolute power corrupts absolutely theory. People that stay too long get lost in it. And yes, justifying all the way, that it is just a game. For the predator, and a predator is weak by nature, it is a place to be free of thought and persecution. To dominate the weak that makes SL their home. And, it is a place for the weak to not be judged, a place that they can feel and accept that who they are is ok, even if it is with the few. Some people can handle the trials and tribulations of life, some can’t and they end up in SL. You start to see a symbiotic circle of relationships in SL. For the people designing objects to sell, they may not interact totally and directly with the person/s and, their sales may come from across the board. The newbie that is playing the “game” to the obsessed, but, the obsessed is a long term customer. Theses business individuals usually get in, add new product, convert their lindens to dollars or pounds and get out.

    The tragedy is the weak and broken. Don’t roll your eyes, In the Real World we are always conned with flashy marketing to get us to buy something or believe something in order to be more acceptable. Magic creams or potions. Don’t kid yourself; Second Life is about making money. Making money off of what? Our loneliness and our lack of self worth in the real world. HELLO, McFly!! It is called Second Life.

    It might be simple, you build a club, people come and visit or create a group, and you solicit for members. People get together and boom, you feel wanted and needed. Building your dream home in the clouds and littering your lawn with cool things like jets and swimming pools. That can make you popular. Walking in a park with your perfect Avatar girlfriend/boyfriend, no RL issues so it is a perfect relationship. That leads to good puppet sex. Mmmm nice. All this is accomplished by tugging on your weakness, your emotional frailty. Either you are not getting it in RL or are too afraid to face the truth of how to exist in RL. You can’t handle the truth and if you are a long term SL puppet, you just can’t handle life, Real Life. Don’t get me wrong, we all like to escape from time to time.

    In some places it is much darker, like I said before, predators hunting the weak. The Gorean Master and the slaves that he takes control of. This one is unusual, in that the Master has total control over the slave. The “slave” giving not only total control of their Avatar, and who can communicate to them, but also, control as to when they will or will not talk to what they can wear. Believe me this does carry over to real life. Imagine the fun of kneeling next to your Avatar Master and saying nothing. Second life being nothing more then a place to be told what to do, serving fake food and ale. You want to call it guided, or taught? Hey, what ever floats your boat? I know just a video game, right? This setup just allows the predator to get in that persons head and develop a false sense of security. Tell that to your husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. Why you are glued to the PC instead of enjoying life, REAL LIFE. And, couples also get on there too, as couples, this is a nutty one. Worked hard all week, beautiful weekend, and, you both are on a computer, every free moment, building and designing that special home, having that child you never could have. (Yes, people do play the part of the child.) I find it unhealthy when instead of developing a better real life and real relationship in RL. You take that precious time and waste it. Yes, ok… You are free to do what you want. But there are plenty of damaged people on SL. And your fantasy could be causing them to loose sense of reality, along with your lost sense of reality. Their marriages, get funky, destroyed, their children get neglected. And you get a ridiculous God complex that makes you anti social in the Real World, which just plummets yourself deeper in to SL. Cha Ching! Sweet business you got Linden People.
    You have the 50+ couple that spends every “free” moment in SL being the King and Queen. Oh, and so good to their obedient subjects. At their beckons call, at their total command. Or, the sexual perverts. Ok, my opinion….. That can now live out the fantasy of doing it with a farm animal. Or, kneeling down and being the public toilet. Sex is rampant in SL. The anonymous nature of your avatar is something too. You really do not know if the man is a woman or the woman is a man, plenty of men that are living out their desire to be a Transsexual, or a woman. Plenty of women that want to love another woman, so she hides in the body of a man. I guess what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Hey, no one is getting hurt, no aids. Nicey nice. The soul is willing but the flesh is weak. So, the wall that SL provides, allows for an easier transition to experiment. Sad part is as your getting deeper and deeper; you are getting more lost in fantasy then reality and they start to blend. Actually, you probably were lost between the two to begin with. Now you go out into the real world. Take a break; meet one of your SL friends. Break the rule, cross that line; remember SL and RL are supposed to be two different places. People meet up, some get married, the rare few. But mostly it is a letdown, disappointment, and harm to others. It is a dirty little secret. Who wants to tell people that you got into that trouble because you decided to meet your “make believe” friend?
    Lips stay sealed, people get hurt. And in the end, the only place they feel right, the only place that people understand is right back on Second Life. CHA CHING!