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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Gartner Predicts 80% Of Internet Users Will Be Active In Virtual Worlds

An interesting report by Gartner this week adds evidence that virtual worlds are here to stay. Gartner says 80% of Internet users will be active in virtual worlds within four years. They also gave advice on how big business should get on top of virtual worlds.

An interesting report by Gartner this week adds evidence that virtual worlds are here to stay. Gartner says 80% of Internet users will be active in virtual worlds within four years. They also gave advice on how big business should get on top of virtual worlds.

If Gartner thinks virtual worlds are hot, then by gosh they are hot. Gartner is not a company that goes all weak in the knees for every new technology that comes along. They're a cautious, blue-chip consulting firm that specializes in telling Fortune 500 companies how to maximize their IT investment.

The recommendations and analysis are nuanced and sophisticated. Gartner did its homework on this one.

I'll summarize what Gartner said below, interspersing my own kibitzing in italics.

Gartner told its enterprise clients they should investigate and experiment with virtual worlds, but "limit substantial financial investments until the environments stabilize and mature."

True. For now, the best investment that businesses can make in virtual worlds is time. Businesses should start by interacting with other users, exploring the worlds, and learning what everybody is doing and what seems to work and what doesn't. Don't just limit yourself to business activities, explore every corner of virtual worlds.

Also: Try stuff out. The cost is low -- an island in Second Life is about $1,700 up-front, $295 per month. That's expensive for an individual, but a big company spends more than that on paperclips.

Be bold, be creative, and have fun. Some of what you do will be dumb and people will make fun of you. How else will you learn?

Gartner says: Virtual worlds will be dominated by collaboration and community. Transactional commercial opportunities will be "limited to niche areas, which have yet to be clearly identified."

Right on the money (so to speak). One area where SL has proven itself in big business is in communications and collaboration. If people put their avatars in the same virtual place, their natural inclination is to talk to each other. That's not true on Web conferencing and conference calls, where people wait for a leader to start and guide the conversation.

Likewise, Second Life easily allows people to use 3D visual aids for discussion, whether it be a streaming video or a three-dimensional model of something they're talking about.

Gartner also identified five laws for virtual worlds:

"First Law: Virtual worlds are not games, but neither are they a parallel universe (yet)."

"Second Law: Behind every avatar is a real person."

Third Law: Be relevant and add value.

"Fourth Law: Understand and contain the downside."

"Fifth Law: This is a long haul. And the industry is going to consolidate.

Gartner says that businesses should find enthusiasts within the company and support them in virtual worlds.

Very true. It's still too early for many companies to set aside significant numbers of staff and funding for virtual worlds. But, still, if there's guys in the organization who are getting involved in virtual worlds on their own time, recognize their efforts, and give them a helping hand every now and then, because they're investing in the future of the Internet.

The report starts by saying: "By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a 'second life,' but not necessarily in Second Life."

That's true, but Second Life has a huge lead on any competition. It's going to be hard to dislodge that first-mover advantage. On the other hand, I remember when Netscape had 97% browser market share.

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