Second Life: we’ve all heard about it, many of us think it’s pretty cool, and we can see applications for future service delivery. But are the users there yet? Is anyone, other than librarians, looking for library services in Second Life?
My feeling is: probably not. I went to a forum called Generation MySpace on Monday (more on that later), and in one lightbulb moment, I scrawled across the page in big, scratchy letters: “Second Life – hype far exceeds usage”. This really resonated with me, because I’ve been thinking for a long time that setting up library services in Second Life right now is a tad preemptive. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be exploring Second Life… Far from it. I think we should be actively playing in Second Life, so that we’re ready when (and if) there is a real demand (or at least a clear indication of potential demand) for library services within this space. But from what I can tell (and I admit, this is an outsider’s perspective, as I’m not a Second Lifer myself), it just doesn’t seem like the users are there yet.
Apparently, 90% of Second Life’s reported 6 million+ accounts have been abandoned. Indeed, I’ve read one article that estimates the number of active users is something like 320 000 – in fact, less than 320 000 (NB data from early 2007). Yup, that’s still an impressive statistic. Yup, usage is on the increase. And, yup, our users might be there one day… but…
In the future, will the average person inhabit virtual worlds as a matter of course, as part of their day-to-day business? Possibly. But IMO, I just don’t think that Second Life is going to be the next big thing. Big? Maybe. But not the next big thing. (What is? Mobile phones, but that’s a separate post altogether.)
When shiny, exciting new things hit my radar, I usually latch onto them pretty quickly. I am a true digital native, and a self confessed nerd. I work, study, play, pay my bills, plan my life etc online. For me to say “nope, this technology is not where we should be right now” takes a fair bit of thought, because it’s in my nature to want to try every new tech tool that comes along. Some technologies I see the value of and just don’t take them up myself because I can’t see a need for me to use them, but I get that they are useful for other people, or, more to the point, that they’ve got viable service delivery applications.
But with Second Life, I just don’t think the potential is there, in terms of it being a space to deliver our services, or even, really, to promote them. Not yet anyway. Not because the technology is lacking or it can’t be harnessed to deliver the kinds of services libraries deliver in other ways now. But just because I think there are surer bets – services our users are actually looking for – that we should be exploring right now.
Peter Binkley said in one sentence what I’ve been trying to articulate through this long, rambling post:
I’m not persuaded that this is the best use of our time: libraries have so many challenges and opportunities these days in the online world, and the resources to act on so few of them.
For now, I’m putting my energy elsewhere. But I’m glad that there are other librarians out there, trying out service models in Second Life. And who knows? One day, when I find some spare time, I might join them…
But for now, this virtual librarian is not gonna get a second life (hey, I’m still trying to find a first one!).