Should You Be a First Adopter of Second Life?

Ann All

We are not blind to the appeal of Second Life: Build a virtual life that is more interesting and entertaining than reality. But three words keep us from enjoying this too much. No matter how compelling virtual life may be (cue the words), it isn't real.


Should executives considering Second Life initiatives intone those words? If they do, will they be seen as cynical or smart?


We don't deny there is value in Second Life for companies willing to look for it. After all, its residents spend some $7 million a month on virtual land, products and services, according to a recent BusinessWeek story.


A Sun executive mentions the ability to dazzle prospective clients with visuals such as a rendering of a server deconstructed before their eyes.


An ABN Amro exec cites the ability to make communications with customers more direct and personal. (Not as personal as speaking to them face-to-face, but opportunities for that kind of contact have dwindled as bank customers conduct more transactions online or at ATMs.)


Wells Fargo is doing its best to convince a young demographic that banking is hip by letting them sky-dive and go clubbing on its Second Life island. Other companies that have established outposts in Second Life include Toyota, Dell and Cisco.


IBM is perhaps the most ambitious to date, with its plan to establish an internal emerging business opportunity group that will focus on virtual worlds such as Second Life.


Yet tangible benefits are hard to come by in all of the glowing press coverage. Now some observers, notably blogger Clay Shirky, are questioning the number of users, which Second Life says is approaching 2 million. Shirky contends the site is counting too many one-time users who check out Second Life to see what all of the publicity is about and then never return.


He also points out that the coverage neglects to include any mention of earlier failed experiments in virtual worlds, such as LambdaMOO. Media types have been quick to latch onto the concept of virtual reality because it is one that is simpler to understand than, say, social software, he says.


So what's an exec to do? Maybe get someone with their finger on the Web pulse to help determine which online opportunities are real and which are only virtual.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 16, 2006 9:53 AM Prokofy Neva Prokofy Neva  says:
*Cough*  The first adopters already got here in 2002. Those of us who came even in 2004 are relative late adopters.And it's not even that you are the first business adopters, as plenty of us started inworld businesses to serve the growing population.So...you are the first *real-life* business adopters -- oh, but not even there, as there were a few very early pioneers like Justin Bovington's Avalon. So now what? You can either immerse in the virtuality to make another world, or you can use the platform to augment whatever you are doing in RL. The discussions around "immersion v. augmentation" needn't discourage you from trying both or mixtures to find the right balance.The discussion about how "this isnt' real life" is always curious to me. But we are all online, much of the day, we people in modern cities working as knowledge workers. So, there's one more thing, a 3-D world, tabbed down next to all the other tabs where we already do everything from our spreadsheets to email our colleagues to check breaking news and stocks? It will all be interconnected.   Reply
Dec 16, 2006 10:19 AM Aaron Aaron  says:
Well put, Prokofy. Reply
Dec 16, 2006 12:21 PM Mark Ravenscraft Mark Ravenscraft  says:
Caution would have kept us all in candlelight, traveling in horsebuggies, and cooking over open fires.  If one reflects on the 1993-2000 period - when webpages came into wide use - it isn't hard to see that virtual communities, like Second Life, will be the next frontier.  This time the "adoption" period will be much quicker, perhaps half or one third the time it took webpages to gain widespread use.   Companies and entrepreneurs wishin to compete in a global marketplace have little choice but to jump in now, and they won't be "first adopters," but they will a head start on most of their competitors. Too much investment and many too many public committments have been made in Second Life for it to go the way of Alta Vista in the early search engine wars, or Netscape in the battle of the browsers.  It is a decidedly anglo perspective to believe VR worlds are in only the pioneering stage.  Korea's Cyworld, Sweden's Entropia, and others have shown other parts of the world are not so timid in embracing this new technology and social phenomenon. Two years from now, the article printed above will read like the reviews from those who said color would never phase out black and white TV. Reply
Dec 18, 2006 8:31 PM Reality Based Reality Based  says:
Second Life is the latest internet scam/hype that has managed to convince large corporations with lots of expendable cash that they are the Next Big Thing.SL will be lucky to be a Thing that survives it's own modest success. As someone who actually uses the platform I and others can tell you that not only are the numbers absurdly inflated, the database servers and the platform itself is falling apart, constantly down, filled with bugs and completely unreliable. The grid, as we call the world, is filled with underage kids and others with disposable accounts making life miserable for everyone else. This started when Linden Lab opened it's doors to Second Life to anyone who signed up, without even a verified email account, in order to inflate their numbers. With only 15,000 people logged in, the lag makes SL barely usable and that is now becoming the average number on at any given time. Hardly 2 million. Most are throw away accounts or "alts", accounts other than your "main". The Grid has been so unstable lately many are leaving or considering doing so, only to be replaced with "griefers" who use their multiple accounts to annoy and harrass the residents or camp in casinos and sex clubs which make up the vast wasteland of the "mainland". (The not very hidden underbelly of SL, sex and more sex, often of a kind that would raise many eyebrows, is never given coverage by mainstream media.) Other than the attention that businesses get from their entry into Second Life by the the media taking notice and giving it mention in their breathless write ups, I don't see any benefit in the investment their of mostly empty private "sims" (islands). Residents don't visit them, for the most part, and once it's been mentioned a few times by the media, there is little point in their presence. Reply
Dec 19, 2006 4:31 PM dave from Knoxville dave from Knoxville  says:
As a regular frequenter of Lambdmoo for going on 15 years, I have to bristle at your suggestion that it is a "failed experiment in virtual worlds." It begs the question: what would have defined success? It's a meeting place for a couple thousand people that mostly enjoy one another's company. Where's the failure? Reply
Dec 21, 2006 2:03 PM Sue Baskerville Sue Baskerville  says:
"Wells Fargo is doing its best to convince a young demographic that banking is hip by letting them sky-dive and go clubbing on its Second Life island. " Wells Fargo abandoned SL after a trial and switched to Active Worlds. Reply

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