The SL gender balance – female decline continues

The gender balance in Second Life continues to skew in favour of the masculine according to the updated demographic statistics provided by Linden Lab. Although the proportional drop in female residents is very small there’s certainly a trend line downwards since June 2006.

So why? One reason may be that the evolving nature of SL means that the user experience is altering more and more toward a male world-view – if sixty percent of any experience is one gender then the balance of activities is going to skew that way as well. Also, the predominance of the males in regard to broadband internet use was always going to bite in the longer term. The big shame for SL is if the comparative decline in female membership continues – a world where males are significantly iin the majority is not the natural balance of things – SL or RL.

SL Voice-enabled beta is live

As per the official Linden Lab post, a beta version of the SL viewer with voice capability is now avilable. You need to have a SL account created before 19th February this year and there’s some technical caveats, but the voice implementation is well on the way.

One of the more amusing initial responses from user Canne Thewphaingarm: “I predict that many of the escort services in SL may find themselves short on employees soon…”

Marketers not hitting the mark in SL

At SLOz we get asked regularly about businesses getting involved in SL and we commonly respond along the lines of ‘any company that doesn’t understand the SL community and drops in a standard business model is going to get burned’. It’s not rocket science – if you impose yourself in a new market without understanding same market, then there’s going to be resistance.

As reported by Digital Media Wire, German firm Komjuniti have surveyed SL users and surprise, surprise, there’s resentment building against companies just inserting themselves into SL without any real research or understanding of SL dynamics.

Looking to start a business in SL?

This article provides some business ideas, albeit directly from the SL website.

If you’ve got friends or family still looking at you a little strangely when you talk about Second Life, the article does provide a simple overview that may help explain things to them.

Linden give a glimpse of SL’s Web Services future

In a technically dense post on the Linden Blog, future development plans for Second Life. For the layperson, what it essentially means is that over time, a lot of things that the main grid needs to deal with (messaging for instance) will move to an aligned Web Services framework, which should ease a lot of the burden on the grid with a subsequent improved user experience. Or as put by Babbage Linden:

“It’s an attractive prospect, but there are a couple of practical problems: there are hundreds of methods that send or process messages using the current LLMessageSystem API and there are a few messages that really should be sent over UDP rather than HTTP. So, instead of refactoring the whole of Second Life to send messages via capabilities we’ve instead refactored the message system to optionally build LLSD messages and send them over HTTP instead of always using message templates and UDP”

Aren’t you glad SLOz is here to decipher? Of course, the number one issue faced by Australian users is lag due to geography – the proposed changes may help but not to th extent it will in the United States.

SL gets vocal

Linden Lab have announced a road map for integration of voice capability into SL. Limited beta-testing is on the horizon.

The changes to the SL dynamic with voice capability are potentially enormous. Some individuals will be attracted to SL with the added capability, others (including current users) may actually be repelled by it.

There’s also the obvious issue of bandwidth and lag – will it just make the whole experience even more frustrating in the short term?

Linden Lab ends First Land program

Linden Lab has today announced an end to the First Land program. The program gave every SL member who upgraded to a Premium Account the ability to buy their first 512m2 of land for $512 Linden Dollars. The discontinuation of this has a number of ramifications:

1. New premium members will have to fork out the Premium Fee and then another significant chunk of money to buy land on the private market

2. Rental options are likely to boom as it becomes an even more affordable option compared to outright purchase

3. There could be an impact on the longevity of some users in SL. Using a RL Example – people arguably tend to treat the houses they own better than ones they rent and tend to have a more sentimental connection to what they own. The majority of rental options require payment to a business using PayPal or other payment option which adds a further administrative burden to the SL user compared to those who purchased First Land. This could all increase the churn rate of SL users

One suggestion made by a number of residents on the Linden blog is the idea of a grandfather clause whereby those who have signed up to Premium accounts prior to today’s announcement be allocated a 512m2 block for $512L.

Linden have stated they are looking at other ways to boost the value of upgrading to a Premium account. Linden Lab’s action in that regard is likely to be as swift as the wider SL community reaction to such a significant change.

The Gender Gap in SL

Looking further at the metrics released by Linden Labs, the gender breakdown of unique users shows a couple of interesting things. Firstly, Second Life would have to be one of the most gender-balanced internet offerings around, and for one month there was even a female dominance by a small margin. Secondly, the surge in growth over the past six months has seen more males sign up than females which has widened the gap significantly.

The standard perception of internet-based entertainment is that males will seek out options where there are set goals to achieve, the antithesis of Second Life. The statistics are showing this perception to be flawed. Of course, the true test would be the gender balance of active accounts which isn’t clear from the data provided. Nor is the Australian gender balance.

Spirituality and SL – want to talk about it?

Linden Labs have put out the call for anyone interested in speaking to the media about how SL plays a role for them spiritually. Read their blog post for details and email if you’re interestd. At SLOz we’re also interested in that aspect so if you wanted an aussie religious / spiritual event covered, let us know.

Haptic or just plain bizarre?

As explained in a Times Online article, haptic interfaces bring sensation to virtual experiences. This means that we may soon have devices that allow you to feel the hand of the avatar you are shaking. It seems an obvious flow on from the visual and aural experience SL currently is.

There are obvious benefits, particularly for those with particular disabilities. However, such interfaces will bring a whole range of challenges as well. We’ve discussed the issue of addiction previously, and it’s arguable that haptic devices are only going to exacerbate the issue for the percentage of users who find the whole SL experience immersive anyway.

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