Remember Second Life? Two years ago it was all the rage in b-to-b marketing, and companies like Cisco Systems, IBM Corp. and General Motors Corp. built “islands” in the site's famous virtual world. It was even the topic of this column back in April 2007.
You don't hear much about Second Life today. It's still around, but most of its commercial islands have been shut down. Second Life's interface is too complex and its computing demands too voracious to win the loyalty of business professionals. While virtual worlds have enjoyed some success as a trade show alternative, they have quickly lost their luster as a means to allow the transacting of real-world business.
Taking Second Life's place on the hot list is Twitter, a public messaging service that is about as unlike Second Life as you can imagine. Twitter is so simple that it can be used on a cellphone or BlackBerry. It takes minutes to set up, requires no local software and makes users instantly productive. It is rapidly emerging as the most important new social media platform of the last two years.
Twitter's member base has reportedly eclipsed 4 million, and it has a dedicated following among communications professionals and corporate executives. It's also rapidly being adopted by b-to-b marketers. BearingPoint Inc., British Airways, Gartner Inc., Eastman Kodak Co. and McKinsey & Co. are just some of the businesses using Twitter to communicate news to their “followers.” Dell Outlet has found that it can dispose of a couple of hundred refurbished PCs in an hour or two by “tweeting” their availability. More than 50 CEOs have Twitter accounts, and the number of celebrities, politicians and business thought leaders who tweet their thoughts and observations is growing by leaps and bounds.
First-time users are often overwhelmed by Twitter's chaotic cacophony, but they soon understand its utility as a simple, real-time news feed of information from sources they trust. In contrast, most people understand Second Life immediately, but they haven't the patience to put up with its complexity. Over time, Twitter wins and Second Life loses.
The contrast between these two promising social media technologies makes an important point: In a time of proliferating media options, simplicity sells. Technologists and the media are smitten by features (remember how Palm briefly had people “beaming” contact information between their handheld devices until they realized that exchanging business cards was faster and easier?), but technologies that fail to provide immediate and apparent business value don't stand a chance.
Consider this story next time someone tries to sell you on the merits of a new communications technology. It may be cool, but will the audience you're trying to reach have the patience to put up with it? M