Second Life: The Recount Continues!

The fracas around the number of actual, active Second Life users continues into 2007, but it’s fair to say no one believes it’s the 2,341,910 “Total Residents” currently listed on the homepage at the very moment I write this. (Not even Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, the company behind SL– see after the break.)

According to a story, the SL user base is now roughly 200,000-230,000— a figure based on the 10% conversion figure first reported by Tateru Nino on my SL blog (and confirmed to CNET), and also on a game industry rule-of-thumb offered up by an anonymous “insider”, in which the peak user concurrency (20,000+, in Second Life’s case) is multiplied by 10.

For those just tuning in, the controversy around SL’s population was launched last year by Internet analyst Clay Shirky, who now tells CNET, “If you’re being told that something is the future of the Internet and the arguments are based on the incredible popularity, the first thing you want to understand is how popular it is,” he told (I’m hard pressed to think of any significant analyst who’s made that claim solely or even primarily based on total registered accounts, but leave that to one side.)

Clay’s latest Valleywag broadside was directed at credulous reporters who file Second Life stories which cite the two million-plus “Total Residents” number without the important caveat that very few of those “Residents” return after their first visit. But now, some of the reporters he criticized there are starting to fire back: on the CNN Money blog, writer David Kirkpatrick conceded that point to Clay, while fingering other figures to buttress his original thesis that “Second Life is a preview of the Internet of the future“.

To make things interesting, Clay Shirky himself responds in the Comments of the CNN post, refusing to give an inch, instead demanding of Kirkpatrick:

“Here are three questions I’m certain you have never asked Linden Labs:

1. How many people (not Residents) have created an avatar in Second Life?

2. Of that number, how many have returned 30 or more days later?

3. How fast is that latter figure growing?”

… and in a follow-up Comment, Kirkpatrick goes and does that very thing, e-mailing Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, and quoting his response:

“1. 1,525,670 unique people have logged into SL at least once… in comparing that to the overall [2,300,000+] signup number, the difference is created by two sources: alt accounts (cases where one person has multiple accounts), and cases where the person signed up but has never logged in…

2. 252,284 people have logged in more than 30 days after their account creation date…

3. [R]egistrants in January 2006 were 20,000. In October they were 254,000.”

“It is hard for me not to be impressed with any service whose active new users are growing 23% a month,” David Kirkpatrick concludes defiantly.

Reading the exchange, Tateru calls this round for Kirkpatrick. However, I strongly suspect the fight is just beginning.