It wasn't all that long ago that Second Life -- a virtual, online world populated by user-created avatars -- was being hyped as a revolutionary concept in terms of how humans, media and businesses interact.
And it was ... until it wasn't.
Developed by Linden Lab, Second Life launched in 2003.It was a massively creative undertaking that even had its own economy and currency.Virtual goods were openly bought, sold and traded. Everything from real estate to sexual favors could be bought with "Linden Bucks." Amazon, American Apparel (APP), Sears (SHLD), Dell (DELL)and Reebok were among the real world retailers that opened virtual stores. Politicians, including presidential candidate John Edwards, set up campaign headquarters there. Former Speaker of the House (and current GOP candidate) Newt Gingrich delivered a speech there. Wired magazine and CNN built their own media enclave "islands." The news service Reuters created a Second Life bureau. PBS sponsored classical music concerts. Colleges set up virtual campuses and churches brought religion to cyberspace. Second Life is still around, with an estimated 1 million monthly visitors, but it never quite lived up to its media-fueled expectations and, today, rarely warrants a media mention. What went wrong? Simply put, the biggest threat facing any online service: People became bored with it. Second Life proved as mundane as everyday life. The virtual world also proved to share some real-world issues as in 2008, amid the global financial crisis, Second Life had a meltdown of its own and was forced to ban nearly all its virtual banks. Before the ban, the MIT-affiliated magazine Technology Review reported that one virtual-bank meltdown could have cost virtual "residents" nearly $700,000 in real money losses. In recent years, the media, once quick to hype Second Life, was equally quick to tear it down. After Reuters closed its bureau in 2008, its displaced bureau chief, Eric Krangel, shared his thoughts on why the buzz died with Business Insider:
"It's hard to say what, if anything, Linden Lab can do to make Second Life appeal to a general audience. The very things that most appeal to Second Life's hardcore enthusiasts are either boring or creepy for most people: Spending hundreds of hours of effort to make insignificant amounts of money selling virtual clothes, experimenting with changing your gender or species, getting into random conversations with strangers from around the world, or having pseudo-nonymous sex (and let's not kid ourselves, sex is a huge draw into Second Life). As part of walking my 'beat,' I'd get invited by sources to virtual nightclubs, where I'd right-click the dance floor to send my avatar gyrating as I sat at home at my computer. It was about as fun as watching paint dry."