The L.A. Times has a good piece covering some of the fading interest in some parts of the Second Life grid. While the article focuses on why advertisers are rethinking an investment in an online, syntehtic world presence, one line should catch the eye of any urban designer, virtual or otherwise:
Another problem for some is that Second Life doesn’t have enough active residents.
In its rush to make Second Life a free-market paradise, it seems the master planners of this virtual forgot a basic tenant of urban form–people like to be around people. And while there are an number of issues related to population density at scale–crime, congestion, pollution, etc–there are also benefits. Front row seats at the Super Bowl would loose its joy if you were the only person in the stadium. Too many people in the park and its crowded, but not enough and it can feel kind of dull.
Second Life has made land a commodity and accelerated that trend by offering lots and lots of private islands without the spatial benefit of adjacency to anything but empty space.. The result–there’s not enough people to generate the sort of critical mass that makes a city feel like a city. As it is, Second Life has turned into an episode of the Twilight Zone where a few survivors wander an wide-open, windy and empty urban landscape.
So, while SL dreams of becoming a megamall filled with commerce, it’s really a frontier town, where land is cheap and loners live out their hard bitten lives in solitude.