For the infinite realm of possibilities that exist in the digital landscape, the conversations have been infinitely small. I really don’t understand it. I jokingly said when I was speaking at Stanford’s MediaX that Second Life was the equivalent of AOL to the Internet back in 1996. Then, most people thought AOL and the Internet were one and the same. Consider where AOL is today.
At my firm Swivel Media, we probably get 10 inquiries a week wanting to talk about the work that we’ve done in virtual worlds, with a heavy focus on Second Life. The reality, of course, is that we used the Linden Lab platform without having inclusion in the mystical world of Second Life. At that time, Second Life had about 35,000 residents. By the time we were gone they were very slowly eclipsing the 100,000 resident mark.
Today, of course, there are many agencies trying to back track and explain how and why they got their clients to cough up a lot of money to stake a claim in a land where nobody is essentially home. The marketers who thought it was important to be there first now have to explain to their execs why they need to stay there—and continue to spend more money on up-keep of the project—until people do show up.
The digital space should be strategized just like the physical space. What does that mean? Unless you’re a property that was well ahead of the curve and offers one hell of a compelling proposition, the rules haven’t changed despite all the hype. Second Life will not be Web 3.0. Will the Internet head in a 3-D direction? Absolutely, but it won’t be relegated to the walls of Linden’s platform even when they open source the code. Granted, Linden Lab came out of the gate with a fantastic vision, but what matters is where you finish the race that matters – not where you start. Talk to AOL about that one.
Having a strategy that plants a flag in one metaverse is the equivalent of opening one retail location in the physical space and expecting it to do the sales of 10,000 stores. Yes, the digital space does tear down the geographic barriers that exist in the physical space, but that doesn’t mean that the three C’s of convenience, control and choice aren’t going to rule the digital dynamic as well.
This Web 3.0 will go through the same maturation process as Web 2.0. The behemoths will grow, and then people will feel like they have lost touch by trying to be everything to everyone instead of catering to a more niche audience. It is the equivalent of what is happening to MySpace right now. Gamers with a MySpace account may go back to MySpace once in a while, but they are more likely to frequent a site that presses their passion points with a louder tap, like The Great Games Experiment.
For now, I’ll sit back and listen to people claim they know everything and watch history repeat itself again and again and again. What’s the right play? That’s for another day. Today, let me live in the mystery for a little while longer – that’s where I feel most comfortable.
Erik Hauser is creative director/founder of San Francisco-based marketing firm Swivel Media and founder of IXMA, the International Experiential Marketing Association. He also moderates the Experiential Marketing Forum.