The Oddness of Second Life’s “Sponsored Links”

Linden Lab recently introduced a Sponsored Links program in Second Life. This interesting idea sees people bid on eBay for a chance to have one of 20 slots on the Sponsored Links section on the in-game ‘find’ menu and, for some, on the web site as well.

While an interesting idea, I’m somewhat concerned at its implementation. For starters, by listing individual slots the final sale prices are varying between around $13 and $40. On average slots are going for $20-30. The wide variance in cost for a slot means ROI for the businesses involved (can they be considered hobbies any more at this point?) must be considered quite unpredictable. Its also a time-consuming task as you micro-manage your budget and try and maintain leadership in at least one bid race. All this on the back of no data from Linden Lab on views for the ads, click-throughs from the web site or any case studies of success the ads can generate whatsoever. It’s a risky investment for no proven return, yet it seems popular enough.

Also of concern is that the price you pay for your ad in no way influences your position on the sponsored link list. You would expect that the slot that sold for most would give the buyer a first position on the list, with the lowest winning bid being last. But no, instead, the list is sorted alphabetically. At the top, “* Animations and poses”, and at the bottom, “Timeless Trinkets”. It would seem only fair that those who pay the most go to the top, not those who know the priority sorting of asci characters. The last thing we need is a bunch of “### AAA Great Place” type listings.

For a toe-in-the-water experiment the sponsored links are an interesting move by Linden Lab, representing an official acknowledgement of the economic closeness between real and Second Life. However, I think they should try and refine the scheme as quickly as possible. I, for one, would be interested in numbers for the views and clickthroughs before I considered an investment. For a cost of $30 (around $7,500Lindens), I would need to be fairly sure it was going to be profitable and right now it’s not clear at all how beneficial the purchase will be.

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