Four Pillars: On minihompies and cubicles

Malcolm’s post on Second Life, itself riffing off Scoble’s On Not Getting Second Life, got me started on this particular snowball.

If you haven’t done so already, you should check out Cyworld . [Yes, I know, I’ve linked you to the wikipedia definition and article and not to the site itself; since most of the site is in Korean, I submit that I am being helpful…]

I’ve had a Second Life account for some time now, and haven’t really done much with it. I’ve thought of doing things with it (like my aborted attempt to use Second Life as a stage for discussing Net Neutrality) but I must confess that it’s been more lurker and observer than participant.

Back to Cyworld. Over 17 million South Koreans use it; this is out of a total population below 50 million, so Cyworld has a one-in-three coverage. More tellingly, over 90% of South Korea’s 13-30 age group use it. Even more tellingly, more than half of SK Communication’s $110m revenues come from it. And half of that is made by selling dotori, the synthetic currency used in Cyworld.

That should give you an idea of the scale Cyworld operates at.

From my admittedly weird point of view, I see no difference between Second Life and Facebook and Bebo and MySpace and Flickr and Or for that matter Skype and eBay. Or even Stardoll. By the way, every one of these sites/communities/facilities has an entry in Wikipedia. Amazing.
They are all communities where people can

  • create virtual identities
  • share interests
  • build relationships
  • converse with each other
  • create (and co-create) value
  • exchange value

Yes they are the same. And yet different. Different in terms of the narrowness or breadth of the interests they represent, the age-groups they attract, what is created, what is exchanged, how all this is done.

But they share one thing in common that is critical.

A low barrier to entry. Cyworld’s real popularity (and it is the Daddy of this genre) is its relative ease, the ease with which it could be adopted by a community that was not technoliterate. No html or PHP or control panels or sidebars or anything.

In a prior post I quoted Kurt Vonnegut Jr as saying “Be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be”. I also made reference to Halley Suitt‘s comment on getting a First Life before you get a Second Life.

This is why the low-barrier-to-entry issue is critical. We spend so much time ensuring that people are disenfranchised in the real world that we should not be surprised when they are attracted to synthetic ones.

Our challenge is to ensure that the synthetic worlds are complements to the real world, and not substitutes. That people are not disenfranchised to the extent that their only life is in Second Life. There is immense value to be gained in role-playing and simulation and synthetic worlds, in the serendipity and learning and experimentation that can take place. But this value is As Well As and not Instead Of the physical and real world.

So we all have to learn about these other worlds, in order to make our world better.

At a level of abstraction, the minihompy in Cyworld is a Dilbert Cubicle. In the real world, you get given a starter cubicle at work, and have to spend years crawling your way up the organisational ladder before you can have your minihompy.

Initially, cubicles are any-colour-you-like-as-long-as-it’s-black. No choice as to decor, but some rights to personalise. And it is only over time that the cubicle becomes a room becomes an office with a desk and a table becomes a corner office becomes a corner office with a window and a table and maybe even some art on the wall and wonder of wonders, a sofa.

Generation M will treat that as serious disenfranchisement. They want their minihompy today. With their skins and their devices and their personalisations and their preferences.

Or they will find an alternate world where they get their minihompy and not their cubicle. An alternate world which may be the one inhabited by your biggest competitor.

It’s all about enfranchisement. Connected not channelled.

3 thoughts on “Four Pillars: On minihompies and cubicles”

  1. Alternate worlds as entertainment is one thing (and every generation does something its parents can’t comprehend – this could well be where our kids go) but I’m with you, the really interesting thing is where the lines between real and alternate start to disappear. This to me is where Second Life is a little different to many of the others and why I love the Electric Sheep Company ( Its a shame your attempt to discuss net neutrality in Second Life didn’t work – but that idea will have its time. As a VC I’m waiting for the first real/alternate world crossover business plan to hit my desk.

  2. Which desk? Real? Virtual? Crossover?
    I think there should be a Virtual Elevator where pitches are made on Second Life :-)

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