Virtual Worlds Becoming More Business Friendly

Ann All

WhenI blogged about Second Life in July, it appeared that interest in the virtual world was waning, with consumers largely ignoring the storefronts of companies like Dell and Best Buy and businesses steering clear of Second Life due to concerns over security, reliability and regulatory issues. Gartner, for one, assured companies they were right to be concerned.


In August, Gartner advised companies interested in virtual environments to stick to only those that could be hosted behind corporate firewalls.


However, a deal between IBM and Second Life owner Linden Lab could make the virtual world a more business-friendly place. As InformationWeek reports, IBM will run Second Life on servers behind its firewalls, in order to access the environment for internal projects. IBM and Linden Lab hope to make the capability available for pilots by other companies by the end of 2008.


This appears to mark a major shift to expand Second Life's mainstream appeal. After six months or so of stagnant growth, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale announced last month that he is leaving the company.


IBM is offering similar capabilities for Activeworlds and has built a software toolkit that can be used for either platform.


Linden Lab faces a growing amount of competition for corporate business. A Wall Street Journal article mentions several companies, including Qwaq, Multiverse Network (also mentioned in InformationWeek) , Activeworlds and Forterra Systems, most of which offer software that helps companies build their own internal virtual worlds. It also cites Sun Microsystems, which used internally developed software called Project Wonderland to create a virtual workplace called MPK20.


When I blogged about MPK20 last April, it was still just a concept, though Sun expected to deploy it internally within six months (a goal it obviously met). At that time, it seemed like Sun's early activities in Second Life led it to conclude that a more business-friendly alternative was needed. Now there seem to be plenty of these alternatives.


Just last month, I spoke to Steve Kramer, the chief technology officer of iCongo, which provides software used to create interactive 3D technology for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications. The business case for B2B applications is "very simple," he told me.

A lot of companies have big annual sales rallies or other events where they bring together a lot of their employees and business partners. They're very costly events. People have to travel. Our event platform, which is not a very big investment, is a very easy business case for people to sell internally. The virtual events don't have to be as branded as the interfaces where you are facing a consumer. So we are able to use a more generic application; it's very cost-effective.

While large publication and advertising companies have been organizing virtual events such as job fairs for companies, Kramer said the introduction of easy-to-use development tools will lead more companies to create their own interactive events. Says Kramer:

Who better to create the event than the people who really know the business and the audience for it?

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 4, 2008 10:43 AM Mark Randall Mark Randall  says:
The Activeworlds platform does offer some great benefits over SL, and the fact that it has always been designed to allow compartmentalized worlds and environments with their own access control and security is a great benefit to businesses looking to become involved in having their own 3D environments. Reply
Apr 5, 2008 12:57 PM csven csven  says:
This shift is not, in my opinion, something that came about as a result of last year's problems and/or Gartner's report, but from the limitations encountered during the much earlier Wells Fargo experiment. I'd already pretty much figured out Linden Lab was heading in this direction back in September 2006 -'s what a Linden Lab rep said in January 2006 after Wells Fargo decided to Active Worlds:"That said despite the dissappointment of seeing this project move to ActiveWorlds, it was a very powerful learning experience for us at LL. We are moving towards having a much better idea of what works and what does not in this type of project and also towards understanding how to handle such projects better in the future." - Reply
Apr 9, 2008 11:12 AM britt coleman britt coleman  says:
I would like for someone to explain how a virtual world is used in a business setting. I don't understand how the virtual world environment is better than well developed eLearning courses to dispense product knowledge to sales force. Even using the example of the annual sales rallies is baffling. I suppose in the virtual world you could simulate walking the exhibit floor and stop at virutal vendor booths. At that point the vendor presents his product... most likely by some form of eLearning. I don't know the price points for SL, Active World, et al nor the development cost to bring a world to life... but it would have to be at a large multiple to elearning course development. Reply
Apr 15, 2008 3:33 AM Denis Brennan Denis Brennan  says:
I second Britt's comments. This has a whiff of hype - finding the "next big thing". I would welcome someone explaining how the virtual world offers anything to business. So, if someone's an expert let's hear from you. Reply
Apr 19, 2008 5:48 AM Roy Roy  says:
What the 3D space does is connect people in familiar surroundings. 2D eLearning or conferencing is stilted in comparison. These worlds do not yet have complete abilities to hand objects to others or to review a PPT or video of a product together yet, but these capabilities are coming. If there is no value to "being there," then why are trade shows, conferences, and classrooms so effective? Surely as these technologies mature, they will bring much of the same benefits to these and other "face-to-face" activities. Just ask your sales team if they would rather meet with prospects or send them text messages. These two examples are at oposite ends of the spectrum, but demonstrate why these technologies that replicate "being there" have so much potential. Reply

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