Thursday, January 7, 2010

Virtual worlds are not what they seem

After a couple of fairly intensive years I've become a rather irregular visitor to Second Life. I generally go there to meet someone or do something specific and I seldom spend time generally sightseeing as I did at first. All too often I visit old haunts only to find them completely empty. The crowds have quite simply moved on elsewhere because I can see that there are more people in SL today than there ever were in the hyped days of 2006.

One of the best SL blogs, New World Notes, effectively answers the common criticism that SL is a wasteland in a post entitled The crowded empty paradox. The users are there as a look at the in-world SL map will clearly show. The problem is that most users have created urban environments on their sims with large buildings, shopping malls, conference centres, castles and so on without a population to inhabit them. These buildings are simply impressive illusions of population. The users are not necessarily in the built up areas as we would expect in the "real world". In SL the presence of buildings is no indication of activity and since avatars do not need buildings at all some of the most popular gathering places in SL are open, rural environments.

Many companies built impressive corporate offices in SL with massive futuristic glass palaces that could never hope to be filled. Even if there were hundreds of avatars to fill these sims the server capacity of each sim only permits gatherings of around 40 avatars before serious lag sets in.

The moral of the story? There's plenty happening in SL but don't think it's happening where all the impressive buildings are. Maybe empty sims should be deleted after a while to reduce the feeling of desolation. It's the same story on the net in general where there are millions of dead or near-dead web sites that haven't had a visitor for months. The difference is that when you visit a web site you have no idea if you're alone or have company. In SL you can see who's there, or not.

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