Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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2/8/2007
01:48 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Using Second Life For Meetings And Collaborations

I admit I was skeptical, at first, about whether it made any sense to hold meetings in Second Life. Getting together a bunch of avatars to discuss real-life business issues seemed to me to be just plain silly. I would have said adding Second Life to a meeting added distractions and brought nothing useful. However, recent conversations with IBM and with an executive at a SL consulting firm have given me some things to think about with regard to the value of meeting in virtual reality.

I admit I was skeptical, at first, about whether it made any sense to hold meetings in Second Life. Getting together a bunch of avatars to discuss real-life business issues seemed to me to be just plain silly. I would have said adding Second Life to a meeting added distractions and brought nothing useful. However, recent conversations with IBM and with an executive at a SL consulting firm have given me some things to think about with regard to the value of meeting in virtual reality.

There's two obvious reasons why you might want to meet in Second Life, rather than on a teleconference call or even face-to-face. The first one is if you're a marketing consulting firm and you want to wow your client, especially if your business is consulting with real-life companies on marketing in virtual worlds. That's one reason that QTLabs often has meetings in SL, according to Kim Smith, director of business development and marketing.

The other reason -- also kind of obvious -- is if the subject of the meeting is Second Life. If you're building something in-world, or planning an event, it makes sense to hold the meeting in-world so you can all look at and comment on the thing you're meeting to discuss.

Sandra Kearney, IBM's global director of 3D Internet and virtual business, described another reason: Holding a discussion in a virtual world gives you the opportunity to create three-dimensional diagrams of what you're describing. Four-dimensional, if you make the diagram move. She showed me a thing in Second Life that looked like a giant molecular model: It was a diagram of the workflow of a business process for a large corporation, with the links between nodes representing steps in the process.

She described the possibility of military applications, with soldiers in the field carrying RFID tags which would relate their position to a simulation of the battlefield, allowing the general staff to monitor military action in three dimensions. That made me think that simulations like that would be good for any geographical application: Air traffic control, urban traffic planning, delivery services, and so forth.

Those are some of the ideas IBM is experimenting with; it has a big investment in Second Life, with a large virtual campus with lots of facilities.

When you broaden the discussion from meetings to overall collaboration, the possibilities of virtual worlds grow greater.

Virtual worlds marketing company Electric Sheep did a "build," as they say in Second Life, for the Starwood hotel chain's, upcoming loft hotel, The build was designed to show the hotel off to SL residents, and allow them to comment on what it should look like.

Smith, who goes by the name Rissa Maidstone in SL, has proven to be quite gracious. She was even pleasant when I abruptly, and rudely, materialized hovering above her desk. I'd forgotten to teleport to a public location before she and I met in Second Life the previous day, so when I relogged in to the world, I returned to the same place.

Smith keeps an office in Second Life, complete with virtual desk, laptop computer, and filing cabinets. I asked her why she does it, she said one reason was because she has a lot of information that she needs to access when she's in Second Life, such as client presentations and other documents, and it's easier to just store it where it's needed, in Second Life. The virtual laptop computer and the filing cabinets are actually tools she can use to locate information faster.

Three weeks ago, before I became involved with Second Life, I would have thought that was ridiculous. Now it sounds intriguing.

We already use visual metaphors for information we keep on the computer: Desktop, documents, folders, and Web pages. We decorate our PC desktops with wallpaper, screen savers, and window borders in different colors. Why not add a third dimension to the metaphor, and create virtual offices to work on digital documents? As in real life, we'd keep the documents we are currently using on our desktop, and put the rest of our documents in file cabinets, close to hand but out of the way. Then a virtual guy pushing a virtual cart would come by our virtual office every day to pick up memos for delivery to our colleagues, and cart documents off to the archive.

OK, I got carried away there at the end. But thinking about virtual worlds does that to a person.

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