Linden Lab has always refused to spend a nickel on advertising Second Life. The only coverage our virtual world receives is when someone decides, on their own, to give it a media mention. About three years ago, SL received a flood of curious newcomers when it was featured in an episode of CSI.
In the last couple of weeks, history has repeated itself. A documentary called "Life 2.0" aired on the Oprah channel, and our newcomer areas have been flooded ever since.
In one respect, that's good. I'm always glad to show new people our wonderful virtual world. But I have a few objections.
First, the documentary itself focused on the negative aspects of social relationships in SL. Yes, SL has been a factor in the breakup of more than one RL marriage. Yes, people create personas in SL that are completely unlike their RL selves, and sometimes back that up with the most towering lies about their real lives, too. People do get addicted to SL and spend too much time in world, to the detriment of their Real Lives. But that is far from the whole of SL or its residents. SL has been the starting point for deeply committed RL relationships, too.
But let's assume for a moment that the documentary DID present an accurate picture of SL. If you venture into this den of iniquity, you're risking your sanity, your marriage, and your entire life. If that's so, it doesn't say much for the intelligence of the hordes of newcomers now thronging our gates for a look around. Hey, people, didn't you listen to your TV? Don't you know this is dangerous? What in the world possessed you? Run for your lives! They are like little kids; you tell them, "don't stick your finger in the light socket" and five minutes later you have a howling kid and a blown circuit breaker.
This same failure to pay attention is apparent in a lot of the new residents I'm seeing. They ignore signs, they don't listen to mentors. They certainly didn't take time to do any significant research about SL either on the official website or on any of the other Second Life-related sites or blogs out there, because they ask me "uh, how do you play this game?"
Oh well, never mind. The retention rate of SL has always been poor. Most people come, stay an hour or two, and then log off and never return. I'm seeing about the same proportion of good new residents as always...people who look around in wonder and delight, and obviously "get" SL. They are the ones who will stay, they are the citizens of the future, the pioneers who will lead the way as virtual realities become more and more a part of all our lives.
Linden Lab could do worse...but it could do better, too. A little actual advertising, aimed at this segment of the population, could do a lot for the concurrency numbers. I mean, if negative publicity generates this sort of interest, imagine what positive publicity could do?