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Sites To Watch: Second Life

Posted by SIM on February 12, 2007

The List: The Next YouTube
by Foreignpolicy.com
February 12, 2007

Social networking software—the people-powered technology that drove YouTube to a $1.65 billion sale to Google and catapulted MySpace to #1 online—is all the rage in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. In this week’s List, FP takes a look at the technologies, services, and ideas to watch in the months and years ahead.

Video sharing

What it is: Short video clips posted online and shared on other sites or via e-mail. No special software needed.

The buzz: Video is the future of the Internet, or so the gurus tell us. In the wake of Google’s $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube, dozens of companies are vying to prove that online video clips can be not only viral, but also profitable.

Companies to watch: YouTube is the global leader, with about 30 percent of its users coming from outside the United States. Despite joining the Google empire, YouTube does face competition from Revver, Metacafe, Sony’s Grouper, Photobucket, and others, not to mention countless legitimate open-source projects and less legitimate video piracy sites. But the ultimate “GooTube” killer could be Joost, a peer-to-peer video platform being developed by the Scandinavian founders of Skype. Joost aims to become no less than the future of television itself.

Obstacles to success: Money, intellectual property, and inappropriate content. YouTube, which has never turned a profit, hopes to demonstrate that Web surfers will tolerate brief commercials. Meanwhile, keeping copyrighted material, pornography, and even terrorist propaganda at bay is a constant battle.

Social bookmarking

What it is: Web sites for saving, sharing, and recommending Web links

The buzz: Social bookmarking has been around for a few years, but only recently has it moved beyond a core audience of bloggers and techies. With their ability to direct increasingly huge numbers of eyeballs, the sites have become minor players in the news business. Major media organizations have taken notice and integrated social bookmarking tools into their online strategies.

Companies to watch: Digg is the king—for now. MySpace (owned by News Corp.), Facebook, Reddit (owned by Condé Nast), del.icio.us (owned by Yahoo!), Newsvine, and StumbleUpon offer similar services, and even Internet pioneer Netscape has returned from the dead as a social bookmarking site.

Obstacles to success: Revenues and payola scams. Although social bookmarking sites can direct huge traffic, they have yet to prove that they’re more than targets for acquisition. And the sites have struggled to implement robust systems to prevent and catch abuse.

MoSoSo

What it is: Mobile social software, or programs that help friends keep track of each other’s whereabouts

The buzz: MoSoSo is just starting to migrate from Asia’s digerati to young Western college students and urban yuppies. Some MoSoSo systems in the United States rely on the rudimentary global positioning systems (GPS) that the Federal Communications Commission now requires to be in most mobile phones. Others involve simple codes sent by text message (e.g. “@ Moe’s on 23rd”) and broadcast to a preset network of friends. MoSoSos belong to the broader field of “location-aware services” that, say, notify you when you’re near an ATM or—less exciting to mobile subscribers—serve you custom advertisements based on your location.

Companies to watch: It’s wide open. U.S. cell phone companies are exploring their options, and there are dozens of independent efforts such as Mologogo, Google’s Dodgeball and the London-based Playtxt. RAVE Wireless focuses on winning mobile phone contracts for entire college campuses. Helio, a joint venture between South Korea’s SK Telecom and U.S. broadband provider Earthlink, has made slick integration with Google Maps and MySpace the centerpiece of its marketing efforts.

Obstacles to success: Privacy concerns and market fragmentation. These are opt-in systems, but abuse is bound to happen, whether from advertising or stalking. What’s more likely is that MoSoSo never takes off beyond a small urban audience because mobile carriers won’t agree on a single standard.

MMORPGs

What it is: Massively multiplayer online role-playing games

The buzz: Most MMORPGs are glorified video games, but one of these virtual worlds is fast becoming big business. In Second Life, the nearly two million unique “residents”—more than two thirds of them from outside the United States—can buy virtual real estate, clothing, and accessories for their “avatars” (customizable cyber-characters) using “Linden Dollars.” The virtual currency can be exchanged for real money: An average of USD $158,000 changes hands through the LindeX exchange market every 24 hours.

Sites to watch: Second Life, period. The 3-D virtual world has its own Swedish embassy, a Sears store, and a dedicated Reuters correspondent. Though there are other players such as Active Worlds, Linden Labs’ Second Life is the only one with media buzz. South Korea-based Cyworld does offer a virtual “Miniroom” where users can play dress-up with their “Minime” avatar, but the site is much more like MySpace than an MMORPG.

Obstacles to success: Lousy software. Crashes are common in Second Life, and the user experience needs to be vastly improved if the virtual world is to reach a general audience.

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