Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale is learning, the hard way, how a charm offensive can turn, well, offensive. The man behind virtual world Second Life may have staged BusinessWeek's glowing visions of the future and Newsweek's virtual wet kiss, but now comes the backlash. Following Wired's recent expose on fleeting marketers, Time's Kristina Dell takes a crack at taking out Second Life.
Dell is hardly a stealthy assassin. She telegraphs her strikes. We already know that Second Life's user base is highly inflated (8.7 million registered users, but only 600,000 are considered active). We know that Second Life has been hyped to hell and back and hasn't lived up to advertisers' expectations (American Apparel and Starwood Hotels have pulled out entirely). And we know it's facing a slew of legal troubles (FBI crackdown on gambling, the German police are investigating a child pornography ring, and there's continued talk of levying taxes on virtual sales).
But the deadliest mine buried in the Time article is the fact that Linden Lab, itself, is trying to find some way to instill control over its world. "The dilemma for Linden Lab," writes Dell, "is how to rein in its creation without alienating hard-core users." The griefers — people who smeared John Edward's campaign headquarters with feces or launched a flying penis assault on virtual land baron Anshe Chung — are making the environment inhospitable to new users, who provide a valuable audience, and advertisers, who rent space in Second Life to reach them. (Linden Lab makes its money by charging as much as $1,675 a month for a plot of land.) But any effort to thrust laws and regulations upon the populace defeats the entire premise that Second Life is built upon — it's a world where you can be anyone and do anything, or vice versa.
Time's writer ultimately disappoints. Dell ends playing with her prey, like cat with mouse, but she doesn't go in for the kill. We're glad, however, to assist. There's no way for Second Life to meet its promises to both users and advertisers. Linden Lab CEO Rosedale's campaign to win back the press has stalled and failed.