Critics and fan bois of Second Life seem to discover the "Gartner Hype Cycle" all of a sudden. Funny, since the idea of hype cycles is one of my all time favorite memes. This model describes how a new technology "appears in the world at large"; how they are mostly unknown at first, then suddenly public interest explodes, implodes after the press looses interest and finally reaches a kind of "normal" level. More on that here.
It is perfectly normal for me, to look at any new technology, like Second Life, in terms of a Hype Cycle. But the idea of a Hype Cycle just models public attention of "something new". You can not use it to debunk the "something new ("Baah ... it is just a hype"). Nor does it make sense to try and baptize it with hype cycle terminology ("Just you wait ... until the plateau of enlightenment.") What most, who let this term elegantly drop into a discussion, like to forget is, that a hype cycle doesn't care about the usefulness of a technology, doesn't care about the acceptance, the number of users, doesn't care about the volume of business ... it only models the volume of buzz in the press.
Most people using the term currently see Second Life at a certain point in this curve and draw conclusions from this assumption. The conclusions (and assumptions) are colored deeply by the authors own attitudes, though. Those who are skeptical, see Second Life already on the downturn, following the Peak of Inflated Expectations. Even some usually level-headed commentators tend to confuse a little critisism with a peak that has been past. Some of the biggest fans on the other hand like to locate Second Life already at the Slope of Enlightenment or even on the Pleateau of Productivity. Both attitudes are ... highly debatable, to phrase it politely. Please recheck Gartners own definition of Hype Cycles!
Of course there are inflated expectations about Second Life - and of course there are critics and skeptics who are crying "it's all BS". A backlash is starting. There are critics with reasonable arguments and some of the "i don't like it, therefore it's doomed" school, who, while reflecting personal preferences, might have a large following. A huge problem is the coverage in the "professional" media, which is not very thorough and results in some misunderstandings with those critics, who rarely have the time for collecting personal experiences. Often it is not the platform "as is" which is critisized but assumptions, promises and euphoric fan reviews. This is perfectly normal with a Hype Cycle, too, and doesn't say much about the the technology being hyped.
Hype Cycles have a much longer wavelength than most critics and fan bois would like to see. The peak of media attention with Second Life hasn't been reached yet - nor have we seen the peak in public criticism. Maybe both will happen in 2007. And the "Slope of Enlightenment" or the "Plateau of Productivity" is at least one or two years away. (Which does not mean that no one can be productive in Second Life now; please check Gartners Definition.)
But no matter where you see Second Life on that beautiful curve: it is impossible to extract any meaningful assessment out of that, if Second Life (or the idea of virtual 3D worlds, of which SL is just an early and imperfect implementation) will prove to be a useful and widely accepted technology in the long run.
I believe, that virtual worlds like Second Life represent a development, that will prove itself to be (very) useful. And I can see indications for this in some of the projects already being done in Second Life. But it is impossible to prove - now. As it is impossible to falsify this assumption. Time will tell. Terms like "Hype" oder "Hype Cycle" are extremely useful for describing the workings of public attention; and completely useless, when trying to judge a technology.