Second Life Making a Corporate Comeback

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I admit it; I need to give Second Life a second chance. In the past I've been dismissive of virtual environments like Second Life, largely because I found efforts to blend the real and virtual worlds generally superfluous and sometimes even kind of silly.


While I was dimly aware that companies like Amazon still did recruiting in Second Life, it had been well over a year since I'd given Second Life a second thought. And I wasn't the only one. As MercuryNews.com's Chris O'Brien wrote, "Second Life dropped off the radar, for reasons that aren't entirely clear."


Here's the nutty part: While many of us in the technology press moved on to knocking Twitter and Facebook for their lack of compelling business models, Second Life began making money. O'Brien throws out some stats: Second Life user hours grew 33 percent year over year to an all-time high of 126 million in 2009's second quarter. During the same time period, the in-world economy grew 94 percent year over year.


In an e-mail exchange with the Industry Standard, Mark Kingdon, CEO of Second Life parent Linden Labs, says 250 companies, including IBM, Intel and Northrop Grumman, use Second Life for collaboration, training, meetings and conferencing, prototyping, simulation and product design. A product called Immersive Workplaces allows companies to conduct meetings or host virtual events in Second Life. Like other variants of video conferencing, virtual worlds can save companies time, money and productivity otherwise lost to travel, always a nice value proposition but especially so in the rocky economy.


To allay corporate security concerns, Linden Labs is testing a behind-the-firewall version of Second Life. A closed beta, currently under way, had more takers than available spots and will move into an open beta before the end of the year. Kingdon says the company hopes to add 70 employees to its workforce of 330 over the next six months and is preparing to open its ninth global office.


Also on the drawing board is a plan for a mobile Second Life application. Instead of trying to create the full 3D environment, Linden Labs will smartly focus on selected functionality, such as the ability to communicate with colleagues in-world.