Twitter vs. Second Life: A N00b Takes Another Look

Overhyped technology poster child of 2009, meet your counterpart from 2006. We're talking about Twitter -- which, by our reckoning, entered the mainstream at the beginning of this year -- and Second Life, the virtual world which went through its own hype phase in 2006 (BusinessWeek: "Virtual worlds abound in useful business applications!") before being brought roughly back to earth.

But not all hype is created equal. In a June 2009 blog entry for AdAge, PR executive Chris Abraham compared the two services, and concluded that Twitter's hype cycle is more sustainable than that of Second Life. Why?

"Twitter is light, cheap, open and permanent, whereas Second Life is heavy, expensive, closed and ephemeral. Twitter does things right where Second Life failed."

Predictably, this description fired up the critics, including Prokofy Neva (real name: Catherine Fitzpatrick), a long-time Second Life resident who is also a rapid-fire Twitter user (17,223 tweets as of this writing). While she agreed that Twitter is overhyped, she also questioned the comparisons of the two services. Twitter, she noted, is "not a place where you can build relationships and collaborate."

Abraham listened to the critics, and also took advantage of invitations to give Second Life a second chance. In another AdAge blog post published on Monday (which, incidentally, has the best headline we've seen all week), Abraham noted that the ability to hold meetings has indeed changed. In 2007, he says, meetings in the virtual space were not very compelling:

"Back in the day, I did have an incentive to visit Second Life. My client, Crayon, has an island there. Every week they would have "coffee with Crayon" and we would stand there in all of our avatar-iness and type at each other while making gestures and I didn't see why Inter-Relay Chat (IRC) wasn't a better solution if I had to type my responses, anyway."

In his most recent forays, Abraham was able to try Immersive Workspaces (see our review) and was also guided through several sims, including the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

We were curious: Had these experiences, and the addition of voice chat, changed his outlook on virtual meetings in Second Life? In an email to the Standard, Abraham responded:

"It didn't change my mind at all, really. I think it is cool and ... it has come a long way. I think SL is truly a real community with real people who are innovative and creative and fiercely loyal -- just like anywhere else such as World of Warcraft and Xbox Live and IRC and so forth. I don't have any friends on SL so I probably won't cotton to SL until I do -- cool friends that I look forward to meeting and spending time with.

Second Life is very disruptive -- as disruptive as a video game. Twitter and Facebook can exist in the background and follow me in my pocket in my Android G1 phone. With SL I need a DSL land line, a badass laptop or PC, a headset, and some time "away" with which to completely focus. I work and watch TV or listen to NPR while using Twitter and Facebook and Email and IM all at once (and that is appealing to someone with aggressive ADHD like I have) and they're not disruptive.

Second Life is an immersion/immersive experience and requires the sort of attention-grabbing experience that 1st-person video games do. I am super-impressed by Second Life, for sure, but it will take many friends, many invitation, much cajoling, and a lot of opportunity for me to get past the resource and attention-intensiveness that SL has. They're also beginning to add some cool stuff -- the ability to send and receive calls and tweets and emails and SMSs from IN WORLD so my immersion will end up possessing all of the tools that I love to keep track of in my First Life."

On Wednesday, Abraham will be interviewed in Second Life by Metanomics, a group which seeks to "facilitate discussion and insight into the serious uses of virtual worlds for enterprise, education, content development, research, and policy-making." Details of the interview are here.

Sources: Computerworld blogs, BusinessWeek, RelayForLife.org, AdAge.com, Metanomics.net, Second Thoughts blog, emails with Chris Abraham.

See also: Standard voices: 19th-century business thinking won't cut it in Second Life

E-mail Ian at ian@thestandard.com. Follow Ian on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ilamont. Standard updates and asides are available at twitter.com/the_standard and in our newsletters, and you can join our LinkedIn group.

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