Not Enough People


The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.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:

Virtual marketers have second thoughts about Second Life – Los Angeles Times

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.

4 Responses to Not Enough People

  1. It’s both hilarious and tragic that it’s the L.A Times who posted this article. Recently I talked to an old tutor from arts school who had taken a sabbatical, including LA’s galleries in his world tour. While moving around the city, he elicited strange stares, honks, and eventually a cop who stopped him. His bizaare behaviour? Walking. Like your recent post on Debord, SL’s tendency is toward spectacle – when it’s easy to crank out primitives and virtual theme parks, it’s the biggest that attracts a crowd. The problem is these environments feel just like that – fake theme parks, McMansions – more crass egocentric sculpture than real city. Perhaps in our virtual as well as physical environments we should take cues from traditional town planning: features at human scale, walkable density, public space as ‘outdoor rooms’, mixed use. People and life bring more life. Unlike goal oriented games like WOW, there’s no necessary need to join with others to accomplish things. So environment, ‘street life’, and crowds of interesting avatars need to provide this incentive.

  2. Something strange is going on with your comments, David. Last night I wrote a lengthy comment on this post, and this morning it’s gone. Unless you found something hugely offensive in it and just deleted it?

  3. Sorry–your comment approval got lost in the spam net!

    Thanks for the funny story.


  4. It really is amazing how closely you can mimic the real world though the use of a virtual one.

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