In the entire Web 2.0 space, there may be no medium more hyped in the past year than Second Life, which provides us with a glimpse of what the 3D-Web of the future may be like. You've read about Second Life everywhere – from the Wall Street Journal to BusinessWeek to Wired. Back in January, I did some exploring of my own in Second Life in my Word-of-Mouth Wisdom interview series and reporting on the news that Second Life had open-sourced it's previously proprietary browser.
But recently Second Life is taking a beating. Check out these recent articles in Time and Wired. Even though many corporations have rushed in to grab their own virtual real estate, it turns out that not that many people are there to shop. They are primarily there to gamble and have sex, and this shouldn't be surprising. Many of the first businesses on the Internet were about gambling and sex. It's the early-adopter syndrome in a medium that let's you hide your real identity and pretend to be someone else.
To be clear, I am bullish on the 3D-Web long-term. There is no doubt that as virtual reality becomes more real and accessible to the masses, as opposed to the clunky and odd experience of Second Life today, virtual shopping will take off. When Internet Explorer and Firefox embed 3D-Web browsers into their 2D-browsers, that may mark the tipping point. I am also confident that this is going to take many years – at least as counted in "Internet time". In other words, I'm talking about 3-5 years.
The 3D-Web will provide a more tactile experience than today's Web, and online shopping will blossom. Our company has shown the potential of a more tactile experience – customer reviews allow peers to "touch and feel" a product sold online, and sales significantly increase with a corresponding reduction in returns (as customers expectations are set by each other, the element of negative surprise is reduced). Feel free to ask us about our over 20 case studies to learn more.
Until then, I'll be watching Second Life to see how it evolves. But I don't expect much in the near-term, to be frank. Once a medium is hyped to the extreme and then has a counterbalancing crash in popularity, it takes years to recover. I'm not sure that Second Life will get a second life – the word of mouth is already too negative and the community is tainted. But there will be many 3D-Web efforts to follow…
TechCrunch reports that ICANN's CEO, Paul Twomey, keynotes at a conference with the message that virtual worlds are the future of global commerce. William Gibson, one of my favorite authors and the inventor of the word and concept of "cyberspace", would be proud.