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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

CNN to Shirky - Practice what you preach

David Kirkpatrick over at CNN Money is a bit miffed with Clay Shirky, and goes on to point out that:

  • Shirky's missing the point.
  • Shirky's indulging in hype-sans-research.


Shirky responds, first-to-comment but does so obliquely, dodging the Kirkpatrick's main points and either ignoring or failing to research the available data. Double-ouch.

Monty Python's black knight comes to mind here, bleeding from stumps but still full of ineffectual fight.

I've got to hand this one to Kirkpatrick. Shirky's response seems to confirm Kirkpatrick's point, and makes Shirky look like he's carrying a specific grudge. He knows that no MMO or virtual world or web-services company can address his first basic question on which he predicates all the rest of his arguments, but he's hammering on just the one company.

How many people (real unique people) have created a gmail account?
How many people (real unique people) have created a World of Warcraft Character?

I don't see him kicking up the same fuss about Blizzard or Google, so ... what's his beef with Linden Lab? He's entered into what looks increasingly like a personal grudge-match with Linden Lab, with reporters and journalists being used as simple cannon fodder.

How many people (real unique people) read Shirky's posts on Valleywag? Answers on a postcard.


  1. Talon S.7:56 AM

    Having been on the backend myself, I can unbiasedly say that any service touting total user accounts is being purposely misleading. It doesn't matter if your stats are 30, 60, 90 or 365 days. So many factors go into determining rapid growth in user accounts: Database errors, account migration, updates, PR, advertising, etc. Account growth is meaningless without a corresponding growth in peak concurrency.

    Unless concurrency is keeping pace with new accounts, then account growth means nothing.

    The simple way to find out who's growing, by how much, and what % of their users are active, just graph concurrency over accounts. If they aren't on the same path, then they're probably headed for trouble.

    What's a good concurrency rate? 2 percent? 3% or maybe higher? SL is sitting at about 1% right now based on a 2Mil user db and 20K peak concurrency. That seems a bit low in my experience and would indicate a large number of dead accounts. You could probably figure closer to the 60 day number as being reflective of "real" accounts and would put concurrency at nearly 3%, which is pretty good. So ratcheting back the user number would actually help Linden in my opinion because it makes concurrency look healthier.

    When I was still doing it, at my company, we never celebrated user accounts after the first million. The only time we popped the corks was when concurrency topped 50K and then 100K.

    Here's hoping the same for SL.

  2. Concurrency data really isn't something that's available for most services.

    Actually, I'm not sure that 2 million made much of any difference to Linden Lab. I think they just made a blog post about it because everyone else was making a big deal of it.

    Incidentally, peak concurrency was 21,500 at 2007-01-01 22:11 GMT.

  3. talon s.8:43 AM

    Concurrency data is everywhere. Every service from EQ to WoW to SL shows how many are on at any given time. Historical concurrency data may not be generally available for you to pop into a chart, but you can bet that somebody is tracking it.

    It's the only stat that matters, IMHO.

    I'm not trying to be negative on LL, I'm a fan, and I just think a higher concurrency ratio (achieved by publishing "active" account numbers only) would better serve them. Drop the 2mil from the login screen. That's all. I'd never publish it as a counter. Maybe send out a release at milestones.

    When your accounts go parabolic and concurrency creeps up, then you are demonstrating retention issues.

  4. Up until August 15 2006, LL had a weighted number that was more indicative of active accounts there.

    Of course, there were complaints that this didn't reflect the number of signups, and people didn't understand the weighted average math that was used to generate it, so the switch was made to total signups.

    At least that's what the apparent cause was. "We don't understand the numbers, and they don't reflect the number of signups" so the figure was broken up into the two source components, the active-last-60 figure, and the total signups.

  5. A disturbing thought. Clay Shirky is getting all his attention from a community of 2 million people who are furious about the amateurish way he deals with statistics — only to point the limelight back on him.

    I'm pretty sure he's the sort of die-hard stubborn techie who suddenly woke up and saw that the world was going on and he was still stuck to the past, and not part of the "dawn of the new age". This happens all the time. What do once-famous visionaries do when they came too late to the "new revolution"? They fight it with tooth and claw — to the bitter end. This has happened so often in the past that it's a good assumption of what might come.

    Instead, clever visionaries will know when to jump into the next bandwagon. I'm always quoting Bill Gates, scorning the Internet when Windows 95 was launched... just to make a 180º turn 6 months later and claim that "Microsoft is now The Intenet Company™". Ok, he started a bit late, but caught up very, very fast.

    This is reminiscent of people like Raph Koster or Edward Castronova who are also reluctant about embracing Second Life — although they can't afford to ignore it. At least they're cleverer — no direct attacks, but more subtle ones. Claiming that "SL is not a game, so we have nothing to say about it, except that it has pretty, albeit outdated, graphics" is a much more safe approach.

    Shirky is betting on the "destroy SL, give me back my limelight" apporach. What this ultimately will mean is that if SL goes on in spite of "all the hype" — which it is now ever more likely to do — Shirky will simply be forgotten in 2-3 years. What a shame. It's always sad to see visionaries that cannot cope with paradigm changes.

    Maybe that's because they're not visionaries at all. Who knows. FDor Shirky's sake, I hope I'm all wrong :) For *SL's* sake, however, I think I'm not — and so aren't N people (200,000 < N < 2.3 million) who are plodding along with us :)

  6. Next up, Gwyneth writes a book called *Clever Visionaries*. That's as good a catchphrase as Tipping Point, Revolutionary Wealth, or even Cluetrain Manifesto!

    Unintended consequences has many LOLarious results. I'm not one to care for empirically-lacking "studies", but you know what they say about hindsight. And retrospect. And nostalgia.

    Mentioning Second Life in any capacity just gives it more publicity — and that's the "trap", huh? To criticize something specifically, you must NAME it.

    I have a term for that of my own: "meme-pawn".

    Now, just so my platform is unambiguous, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm thankful when someone writes about Second Life. It takes some of their own time, their life, to devote an article to this online digital world (by now, I reckon "digital" is moot and could be lopped off).

    But me? I'm more of a bemused observer and backwater participant than any "This is the way it's gonna be". I don't exclude improbabilities, because those often apply to me. From experience, I ponder: "You're on Second Life. What are you doing?"

    Keeping in mind that in the Modern Age of the Contemporary Avatar, it's not hard to launch a squadron of bots and glue them in camping chairs... that's a few dozen right there. That seems not to have been brought back enough, but in this case, when the numbers are about humans, it's helpful to have additional context and perspective. How would I know otherwise? Those are the real questions which are soft AND hard at the same time.

    [Tangent: I'd definitely like to know how many Resis are filming machinima RIGHT NOW. Then I could go watch their films, admire their craft — just has a lot of grounds for merit and practical usage. It currently sounds like a stretch, but it's not too much of a leap to see who's been sending photos to various snapshot-sharing services. (Mark Barrett pointed out rotation data should be included.)]

    I'm leaving this note here and hoping the "next generation" reads it with an amused chuckle and historically-inquisitive eye-in-hands, much the same way we read about, say, LucasFilm's Habitat or LambdaMOO today.

  7. OH GAWD I THINK I WROTE A COMMENT LONGER THAN GWYN! It's definitely 2007, something's changed!!!! @_@

  8. There, there, dear one. We still love you.


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