Wednesday, March 23, 2011
A World That Dares Not Speak Its Name?
Location: New York Times Web Site
image courtesy of the Language Lab site
My departmental chair sent me this story about the use of the Virtual Globe Theater in a class at Bryn Mawr. I read it with great interest, seeing in it the sort of nuanced story about virtual worlds that too rarely appears in mainstream media outlets.
Not once, despite the clear image of the Second Life client on the screen of a laptop, was the Linden Lab product mentioned by the reporter.
I have an idea that, as noted in an earlier post here, that the name "Second Life" is so tainted by sensational stories from a few years ago, or tainted by the "once was big" reputation among technologists, that the brand name simply got dropped. As Hamlet Au noted for the Language Lab project, its site does not mention Second Life on its first pages. The video they provide flashes the name "Second Life" on screen for a brief instant, when the woman demonstrating how to get started downloads the client. The product name also appears on the Language Lab FAQ page about job opportunities. It is refreshing to see that SL knowledge is a prerequisite for a job.
There's no mystery here for me: the Second Life brand-name is toxic enough, but the product good enough, to create this discomfort. How can Rod Humble rebrand his product? If Linden Lab had taken a different route with the enterprise version and licensed it under a different name and with a lower price than they did, they might have achieved more uptake.
Language Lab students do not need a larger world than English City and the cluster of other restricted-access sims, the Language Lab sim, to attend classes. The other "LL" in this story might have taken a different route to offering its product to just such potential customers. Doing so under a different name ("NewWorld," "Metaverse," "MatrixLand," even the old standard "Linden World") would have helped make many projects like Language Lab's viable. We might be talking about hundreds of thousands more regular users in various SL shards.
Part of me is proud to see increasing evidence that the use of virtual worlds can go "mainstream," as we all hoped in the glory-days of hyperbole and utopianism before 2009. Part of me is sad, however, that when I do say "Second Life," in any group of colleagues, the grins come out still, because every negative (and usually exaggerated) stereotype about slave-girls of Gor, virtual sex, and more from 2007-8 rushes to mind. Now that CNN plans to close its bureau there, the last of the big-media holdouts is gone.
What next? That is Linden Lab's decision.