Second Life: Shirky pokes more holes in sloppy press coverage

Clay Shirky tells BoingBoing,
Earlier this month, I wrote something about the uncritical reception Linden Labs was getting for its Total Residents figure. Turns out even I was not skeptical enough, and I put up a second piece digging a bit deeper.

The term Residents is even more inflated than I first thought, as something like 20% of the most recent million Residents have never been counted logging in.

The press reaction to Second Life was also more credulous than I knew. Linden is guilty of promoting a misleading figure, but the reporters covering Second Life are guilty of converting that figure into an outright falsehood:

Like a push-up bra, Linden's trick is as effective as it is because the press really, really wants to believe...

  • "It has a population of a million." -- Richard Siklos, New York Times
  • "In the Internet-based virtual world known as Second Life, for instance, more than 1 million citizens have created representations of themselves known as avatars..." -- Michael Yessis, USA TODAY
  • "Since it started about three years ago, the population of Second Life has grown to 1.2 million users." -- Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN
  • "So far, it's signed up 1.3 million members." -- David Kirkpatrick, Fortune

    Professional journalists wrote those sentences. They work for newspapers and magazines that employ (or used to employ) fact-checkers. Yet here they are, supplementing Linden's meager PR budget by telling their readers that Residents measures something it actually doesn't.

  • Link to Clay's coverage at Valleywag, and read also "Give Me Laser Guns" -- brilliant: Link.