by Urizenus Sklar on 29/10/06 at 4:17 pm
Your humble servant Uri has a guest column in the PR/marketing blog Strumpette, at the invitation of head strumpette Amanda Chapel. In the article, I argue that the new corporate builds in Second Life are standing out mostly for their rust-belt aesthetic and mind numbing lack of creativity, and that the endless false claims of “first” by the PR firms is making the firms look like, well, fucktards. Amanda sees this as a larger issue about how PR firms are being regurgitated by social networking communities everywhere, and presumably I am a pawn in some internal battle between Amanda and other PR flacks about the future of their profession. Ordinarily I can’t be troubled with such battles, but Strumpette has excellent banner ads for lingere and Amanda’s bio makes her out to be uber hawt and that was pretty much all it took to get me with the program, although I suppose I should remind myself that the bio *is* the work of a PR flack and Amanda is no doubt in reality a 300 lb trucker jacking in from a Flying J Truckstop somewhere on Interstate 80.
For those with ethical principles so lofty they cannot bear to visit a PR flack’s blog, the story is reproduced below the fold.
There Goes the Neighborhood
I joined Second Life in August of 2003. At the time it was a sleepy little enclave of cyberspace with a few thousand residents, most of them fringe culture programmers, artists, and way-out-of-the-box entrepreneurs, each of them a brand new flavor of pioneer. These pioneers collectively decided they were not playing a game, but actually building a new continent, a place where people were free to express their creativity, develop new ideas, create wealth and socialize in ways that were otherwise constrained in meatspace due to geographical separation, lack of tools for content creation, and unlevel social and economic playing fields.
For two and a half years I watched Second Life residents work like dogs, often without remuneration to build the wonderful mindblowing place that it is today. All forms of fantastic structures and vehicles emerged in the space, from psychedelic cities to dark medieval fortresses to delicate gravity-defying elven castles. Artificial life forms appeared, reproduced and evolved in gorgeous gardens, while the skies were dotted by magnificent and elegant otherworldly flying machines. Virtual sporting events ranged from elven archery tournaments to giant snail races.
In Februrary of 2006, I took a sabbatical from Second Life to pursue other projects. When I returned ten months later I was flabbergasted by what I saw. Second Life, now with 1 million subscribers, was being invaded by an army of old world meat-space corporations, ranging from Reebok and American Apparel to GM and Nissan. The traditional newsmedia was hyperventilating in its awe of the old meat-space corporations and the “innovative” things they were doing in second life, and could not stop writing about it.
But what were these corporations in fact contributing? Rather than use Second Life to create new and exotic things, the corporations brought their old tired ideas with them. Fantastic flying vehicles gave way to scale models of Scions and Sentras. Psychedelic builds and castles and mushroom hotels gave way to scale models of the next Starwood Hotel. Flaming jet boots gave way to scale models of Adidas. Golden battle suits gave way to American Apparel yuppieware. Giant snail races gave way to pathetic in world broadcasts of the MLB;s home run derby in a traditional looking stadium.
And then came the public relations and media marketing firms, trying to show what groovy hepcats they were. They came late to a world they didn’t understand and hyped what they thought they saw without research, reflection, or understanding. Rohit Bhargava, a VP for Interactive Marketing with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, decided to post “A Gallery of Virtual ‘Firsts’ from Second Life.” In his twisted view, Starwood was the first virtual hotel, American Apparel was the first virtual clothing store, and on and on in nauseating fashion, giving the late-coming creativity impaired corporations credit for what the residents of Second Life had been doing (and doing better) for three years. Never mind that hundreds of virtual entrepreneurs had developed hundreds of lines of clothing and made a profit at it, American Apparel had to be the first because Bhargava’s tiny mind could not grasp what was actually happening in Second Life: hundreds of successful and creative businesses were organically springing from the ether. Needless to say, residents were sickened by this misappropriation of credit.
Most disgusting of all for me, however, was when the “new media” consulting firm Crayon announced, three years into the life of Second Life, that it was going to be the “first corporation to launch in Second Life.” In a press release they claimed to be offering a “new way of thinking” and called their new corporation a “mash-up”, a term that I found descriptive of their press release, which was a word salad jargon-fest. What was clear from the language of their announcement was that they had absolutely no idea about the history of Second Life, nor what it was about. No doubt the “launch” – in reality a public relations stunt to feed back to the meat-space world – was a great success; meat-space corporations would hire these posers to represent them because they must be on the bleeding edge: gosh golly, they “launched” in a video game!
Incensed by these events, I unloaded on the PR firms in the Herald, accusing them of being “a bunch of desperate clueless fucktards trying to show how bleeding-edgy they are.” Of course after my critical post came the defenders of Crayon etc. accusing me of being opposed to the future, and having a “potty mouth” and sounding “like a lunatic.” But this wasn’t the future calling: you don’t blaze a path to the future by charging into a new space and ignoring what is happening around you, nor by recycling your old rust belt industrial design ideas in a new medium, and more importantly, if the discourse of cyberculture offends your delicate ears, then just keep the fuck away thank you very much.
In the end, I wonder if I should even care. Even as I write, Second Life residents are avoiding the new corporate builds like the plague (and who can blame them given the inferior content; do I want to drive a flying saucer or a Scion? Hmmm, that’s a tough one), and if large corporations want to pay Crayon good money for nothing, that’s fine by me. If the meat-space corporations successfully borg Second Life and suck the life out of it, we will just move on to another place, and the corporations and the PR firms will just have to breathlessly keep running after us, claiming their hollow “firsts,” while their arrogance fuels their ignorance, and they fall further and further behind.