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Allan Benamer

I don't think my reaction really can be characterized as a knee jerk reaction. If anything, it's an extension of what we as technologists should be teaching our non-techie counterparts. That is, we should be teaching them what ROI means and how to apply it to the business of nonprofits.

It's clear to me that right now, ROI for Second Life is extremely low. The cost of building a 3d landscape, populating it with content, and then running a special event for it is a pretty staggering investment for the average nonprofit (under $10 million in revenue) and it's not clear that even the largest nonprofits have attained a positive cash flow from their events in SL. And aside from the quantitative issues surrounding SL ROI, the qualitative ones concern me as well. It's not sticky, not viral, not scalable, not open platform and statistics that determine intentionality of the user are difficult to get.

However, I'm entirely open to the notion that other virtual worlds may take the spot of a Second Life (, Runescape, World of Warcraft, etc.) and that someday the ROI will be reasonable on those worlds.

This is why I find the comparison of my stance to "those guys who stuck to DOS" particularly objectionable. It's a caricature that's easily used on people who don't "get it". It's an easy one to make but if you read my post carefully, you will see I never called Second Life a fad. That was Nicole Wallace's framing of my article, which is really quite unfortunate. It's never that simple. I think Second Life is a tool where you should not expect a high ROI and that has limited uses simply because of its architecture and high marginal cost of participation. Does that make it a fad? No, it'll be around for some time to come. Could it be in vogue some day? No, not without some heavy duty re-engineering.

I would suggest that SL proponents really really need to make the case here. They can't just let people like me take easy potshots at them like I do. I'd love to eat crow on this issue but without hard data from SL proponents, I'll be making these easy comparisons all the time since the data from Causes is heckuva lot more transparent and accessible to me.

As a case in point, I was very skeptical about ChipIn when I first saw it, but was very much turned around on the issue by your case study and after talking to Carnet. I'm now one of its biggest fans. So make me a SL fan... show me some hard data.

Susan Tenby

Responding to Allan's comments, although it is likely that another virtual world may take the place of SL, it would never be a game-based one like Habbo or WOW. They have a totally different audience and their audience has a different reason for joining (entertainment).

As SL is now open-source, it is more likely that someone may invent another virtual world platform that allows it's users to create their own content on a new virtual world, but this new world will take a long time to attract the same amount of members (and at the same rapid rate of membership increase) that SL currently has (nearly 7 million members).

ALso, re: ROI... I think you are thinking about ROI far too narrowly. Cash is not the only way to define ROI. For example with our own organization (TechSoup) we are attracting a completely new audience that may not have known about us and was probably not visiting us before this work on SL. The ROI may not be a direct and immediately trackable cash transaction. But if you think about ROI a little more broadly, the press, conference speaking gigs, new members (who may eventually become donors) and volunteers are all evidence of an ROI that will increase the interest-level in the brand of an organization beyond it's pre-SL days. That is, I am not speaking exclusively about my own org, because I know of many orgs that are having increased interest from funders and increased interest from members, due to their recent involvement and activity in Second Life. The publicity that being involved in SL has provided them is invaluable and was not possible before the SL involvement.

The nonprofit orgs that are joining in this new platform (SL is a platform, not a game like WOW)are exposing themselves to a new population of technology innovators who will usually be willing to help them build something, produce events and who are eager to join in an effort to raise awareness about the organization and the community they serve. SL is another place, full of untapped constituents who are eager to make the content on the platform as rich and community-focused as possible.

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