IBMSecond LifeVirtual Worlds

Second Life watch – outline of future apps visible through the SL fog

I wrote quite a lot about Second Life around the turn of the year, but seem to have written less recently (all the archives are here).  I think that is because my interest has moved from understanding whether SL has legs and is going somewhere (it is) to trying to figure out what that means (beyond the success of Linden Labs).

What I really want to understand is what useful things can be done in SL.  I don’t mean to denigrate in any way all the stuff that goes on there already, but I’m looking for things that people could build businesses around, and for that the first thing to look for is activity that is happening elsewhere that could be ported to SL.

Enter the Digital Business Section of the FT this morning.  In it there is an article by Peter Whitehead on just this subject.  As a guest of PA Consulting he visited four companies in SL who explained why they are there, and in their explanations I saw for the first time a number of real world tasks that might be better performed in SL (as well as more cheaply).

Those tasks were:

  • Recruitment – ABN Amro and PA Consulting highlighted this as one of the reasons they maintain a presence in SL.  As well as the benefit of looking “with it” their SL presence allows potential employees to interact with them conveniently and anonymously.
  • Customer feedback – BMW, ABN Amro, Vodafone and PA Consulting all said that SL is a great place to solicit customer feedback.  There is a general feeling that people find it easier to be honest in their comments when they are speaking through avatars.
  • Product and service design – SL is a great venue for experimenting with new product and service design.  PA Consulting has built a model of a branch bank that they use to experiment with the user experience.  IBM also uses SL in this way.
  • Collaboration – mostly internal, meeting in SL will never be the
    same as a first world meeting, but it is better than a conference
    call.  IBM have been banging this drum for a while, and ABN Amro also
    cited this as a benefit.

These are all good steps forward, but I don’t want to overstate their signnificance.  All these companies regard their activities in SL as experimental and they are also there to push their brands, and benefit from the additional PR they get from being leading edge.

What I would love to find is a company that sells products in first life and delivers them in Second Life.  Now that would be cool.  I’m not talking about Rivers Run Red or Electric Sheep who sell virtual goods to avatars, great companies though they are, but about something that is delivered in SL but has value in real life.

For the first time I am seeing some glimpses of how that might look.

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