Second Thoughts on Second Life

Ann All

With our ability to see both the good and bad of nearly any issue (some call it spineless; we prefer thorough), we find ourselves still on the fence about the business potential of virtual communities, and especially Second Life.


As we wrote earlier, while there are doubtless some business benefits to using Second Life, it's unclear as to just how much value companies can gain from it.


There seems to be a real "with us or against us" vibe associated with Second Life, judging by some of the reader comments provoked by our earlier post.


One reader predicts Second Life will become "a 3D world, tabbed down next to all the other tabs where we already do everything from our spreadsheets to e-mail our colleagues to check breaking news and stocks."


Another, however, calls such communities "the latest Internet scam/hype that has managed to convince lots of large corporations with lots of expendable cash that they are the Next Big Thing."


Companies are finding some interesting ways to leverage a Second Life presence, from hosting meetings to bringing new employees up to speed on corporate culture to looking for job candidates.


An executive with IBM -- which is either riding this horse or flogging it, depending on how we look at it -- says new employees in places like China can rapidly immerse themselves in Big Blue's culture and make personal connections they couldn't otherwise via this "very low-cost medium." IBM also sees it as a knowledge transfer tool, with the ability to unite a multi-generational workforce.


He doesn't say so -- and maybe doesn't need to, as his avatar is depicted wearing a kilt -- but Second Life also seems to add an element of fun to the work day. Though it's hard to quantify the value of a "fun" workplace, it seems to be yielding benefits for companies like Google.


Still, the nagging voice inside us asks, why are so many Second Life initiatives so darned gimmicky? For example, a company called TMP Worldwide is offering to help companies connect with potential employees via its Second Life presence.


Granted, the company's promise that it will confirm applicants' real-life identities doesn't exactly reassure us. Yet we still like the idea of this cool spin on online recruitment -- except the part about avatars conducting interviews via instant messages and the T-Mobile-branded virtual parachute, which has no apparent connection to the business at hand.


When in doubt, we go back to the advice of a Booz Allen Hamilton associate that appeared in a recent article on Second Life: Companies need to ask, "What can we do better in Second Life than the other ways we're already doing them?"

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