For various personal reasons I won't bore you with here, I've been spending a LOT of time in Second Life lately, mainly as an easy means to escape reality. (Don't worry, I'm feeling much better now.) I've been registered in Second Life for over a year now, but only recently have I indulged in binge behavior -- and by binge I mean logging into SL at 11pm on a Saturday and not coming up for air until 5am on a Sunday.
In the course of this binge period I noticed quite a few things about SL. Now, you've probably already reached these conclusions yourself, but bear with me, I am the newbie after all.
1. It's about the people
Every time you log in to Second Life there are chipper little updates from Linden Labs announcing this or that upgrade or improvement to the grid. Some are noticable (a recent forced update did result in smoother avatar movement, a better chat function, and a more easily-accessed search function, for me at least), some are not. These improvements are all very nice, however, the true value in Second Life is with the people. What good is a better chat function if there are no people logged on with which I can chat? I'm not just talking about my contacts list either -- I wasn't surprised to find that everyone I know has better things to do than hang about in SL for six hours early Sunday morning -- but just folks in general, to meet, chat with, interact with.
2. Where are all the people?
Which leads me to my second observation: where the heck is everybody?? Linden Labs touts SL membership as being in the millions, but I've only ever seen about 40-50K logged on at any given time. During my binge period, I met someone new almost every time I logged into SL, which is great -- that's partly why I was there -- but in subsequent visits, they were nowhere to be found. I met probably half a dozen brand-new SL members and happily showed them around, helped them out -- and never saw them come online again. So where are these millions? Is it as I suspect -- people are joining, checking it out once or twice, and never coming back?
Is that why Linden Labs won't say how many registered users are actually using SL? What is the login ratio to registered users anyway? I'm just curious. Because I do still think that Second Life has great potential as a social network; it's just not quite there yet, and all the minor upgrades and improvements Linden Labs is committed to making won't help it to tip into the mainstream -- people will.