Media Perspective: Don't quit Second Life just yet - time will prove its worth

Have you ever visited The Trough of Disillusionment? No? How about The Peak Of Inflated Expectations? You haven't been there either? So you've never been to Shoreditch House?

Sorry. That's unkind; I should explain what I'm actually on about. The Trough and The Peak are parts of The Hype Cycle, a handy little guide to technology adoption and enthusiasm invented by The Gartner Group.

The first stage is The Technology Trigger, the moment when a new bit of technology gets some press and some fame. This is when the early adopters move in. So far, so uncontroversial. The second phase is the aforementioned Peak Of Inflated Expectations, when, in Gartner's words, "a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures."

That sounds quite a lot like Facebook to me. No-one's saying it's not a great technology. It's having a ton of success and maybe not a majority of failures, but it'd be hard for anything to live up to the lovestorm that surrounds it right now. Still, not to worry, because it won't be long before it gets to phase three: The Trough Of Disillusionment, when all the over-enthusiastic pigeons come home to roost and, after a brief flurry of "what was all the hype about?" articles, the press forgets about it and moves on.

Which is the phase Second Life is entering right now. The corporate showrooms and islands, opened with such hoopla and pageantry only a few months ago, are being quietly shuttered or abandoned to the graffiti and dildonics of the cyberactivists. Post-mortem meetings are being held, budgets are being re-allocated and lots of people are talking about "valuable learnings". Second Life is being written off as an aberration, a place where marketing is impossible, something just for the geeks.

That might be true. But it might also be a colossal mistake, because the next phase is The Slope Of Enlightenment, a period when some businesses decide to persist with the technology, away from the glare of publicity, learning what really made it popular in the first place and turning that to their advantage. This gives them a real edge when the final phase arrives - The Plateau Of Productivity, the time when the technology matures and its value is obvious to all.

And, while Second Life might not get to The Plateau, it's clear that it's worth persisting with, because virtual worlds are going to be part of our lives, and therefore part of our marketing. From World Of Warcraft to Club Penguin, people are playing in digital lands: making friends, having conversations, casting spells and catching fish. We need to be there with them.