I don’t usually post about Second Life membership numbers, but reaching the quarter-million mark (which I spotted on SL resident Tateru Nino‘s blog) seems significant to me. Tateru follows up with a post attempting to look a bit more closely at the numbers. Neither she nor I have great insights into the matter, but the point here is that the quarter-million mark I just blogged is actually relatively meaningless, since as far as I know it merely counts number of characters that have been created historically. (These could be defunct accounts, multiple characters on the same account, etc.) A better number can be found on SL’s economic statistics page, where it says that 124,028 residents have logged in during the last 60 days. But even this is obscure, since it counts characters, and not actual real-world people. And neither of these numbers give any indication of how many people are actually paying money to Linden Lab (basic SL accounts are free). A month or two ago, when I chatted with LL CEO Philip Linden on related subjects, the company had only 12,000 or so paying customers.
Whatever it means, it’s impressive to think that when I joined SL in December 2004 there were only about 10,000 members of any kind. As Jerry Paffendorf has blogged about, there’s a $0.25 bet on between Linden Lab’s Cory Ondrejka and the University of Illinois’ Dmitri Williams over whether SL will have more users than World of Warcraft has now by early 2008. (Note: The bet is actually over which will have more users in North America.) WoW currently has something like 7 million members.
I’d say the outcome of this bet will revolve around how well and how quickly SL can improve its technology, which at the moment is fairly clunky, and how open they’re willing to be with it. Already there are stirrings that other people may have similar platforms in the works, though given the development time for these kinds of things, they’ll be lucky to get anything useful out by then. And contenders like There.com (which already claims more members than SL) are said to have big projects in the works that could attract users that might otherwise have entered SL. The outcome is anything but clear, but the race will be fascinating to track.