Second Life: Do you fire your first customers?

Insightful article in today’s LATimes (behind registration) about some early members of the Second Life community becoming disenchanted with the growing virtual world. From the article:

Utopias never live up to their aspirations, even in the virtual world, and the more passionate will keep looking. “We all go from anticipation to anticipation,” said Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley futurist.

Would you believe me if I said this disenchantment is actually a hallmark of success? Philip and I used to talk about the role of ‘3D true believers,’ those folks who immediately rushed into Second Life because it was exactly what they’d been seeking after years of almost-viable user-created experiences. Obviously these people were (and are) really important to the community – they were the first ones to push the platform to its limits. But at the same time they are clearly not indicative of the average user — on the whole this folks were more creative, more sensitive and more quirky than most niches of consumers.

In the end, it becomes the classic power-user vs common-user issue. When prioritizing features do you put more icing on the cake for your most vocal 5%, try to figure out how to get the other 95% happier, or design for the n+1 user (the next person to user your system)?

Lots of this has to do with what part of the lifecycle your product is experiencing. Second Life is still undergoing organic growth where the number of people who have logged in is far dwarfed by those who have not but might be interested. IMHO they’re in the “focus on the other 95%” portion of their development. And this means you’re gonna disappoint the 5% sometimes. But that’s okay.

Now what if some of them get so disenchanted they leave? I actually think that’s natural. A world like Second Life needs to be sustained by the scalable experiences of many, not just the dreams of a few.