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8/13/2007
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Five Rules For Bringing Your Real-Life Business Into Second Life

If you're thinking about establishing yourself in Second Life -- or are wondering whether you should -- we've got five rules that will help your new venture be a success.

Second Life is one of the most controversial technologies to hit the Internet. Praised last year as a platform that would turn the net upside down, this year it's being dismissed as an overhyped fraud and a waste of time and money.

The truth is somewhere in between last year's hype and this year's backlash. Second Life is revolutionary, but the revolution will take a few years to play out. For now, the virtual world is rough around the edges, and at times very difficult to use.

Nonetheless, you can get a lot out of bringing your real life business into Second Life. You can use Second Life for effective marketing, building relationships with customers and partners, and creating business value.

Here's how.

1. Do Like Captain Picard Said: Engage

InformationWeek has been doing business in Second Life for seven months. Our sister publication, Dr. Dobb's Journal, has been doing business in Second Life since October. And we've spent a lot of time talking to the business leaders of Second Life.

One thing we've learned: When doing business in Second Life, you can't just lecture people with your marketing message. You have to connect with them. Engage.


Cisco Systems has a big presence in Second Life, including a recent forum on mobility solutions.
(click image for larger view)


Cisco Systems has a big presence in Second Life, including a recent forum on mobility solutions.

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"If you want to avoid people, get on the World Wide Web. That's solitary," said Christian Renaud, chief architect of networked virtual environments for Cisco, who heads up that company's virtual worlds strategy. "If you want to interact with people, go into Second Life."

Cisco Systems has festooned its in-world campus with meeting rooms and areas where its user groups can get together. The real value of Second Life for Cisco is the opportunity for spontaneous customer interaction, Renaud said. "It's like a birds-of-a-feather session that goes on 'round the clock," he said.

Cisco has 650 employee avatars registered in Second Life and six locations (known in Second Life jargon as "islands" or "sims"), four of which are open to the public. The company sponsors events once a week on average.

When Cisco launched in Second Life last December, it built a lot of static displays where people could download content and learn about its products. But it found the displays just weren't attractive to residents, and so it tore the displays down and rebuilt, focusing instead on meeting rooms and coffee shops.

"What we did was put in a lot more areas for people to sit and talk with each other," Renaud said. "We put in an area to do job interviews. We went from one to three amphitheaters, because we had so many meetings-and-greetings going on."

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