Perhaps the most surprising thing I heard when I interviewed enterprises for our “Building the Virtual Workplace” benchmark was the statement by the CTO of a graphic design company that they were using Second Life as their primary collaboration environment. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about Second Life as much more than an entertainment vehicle, but perhaps we’re on the brink of radically changing the way groups of individuals collaborate?
Second Life is a 3-dimensional virtual reality environment in which residents create avatars and use a software application to explore a virtual world. In the last few years second life growth has surged, with over 4 million registered accounts according to Second Life Insider. A number of individuals are discovering ways to make real-life money selling goods and services within Second Life, and several traditional brick-and-mortar stores have set up Second Life store fronts to help visitors find information about products, get customer support, and even make purchases (See: Information Week: Second Life Opens For Business), though so far the results have been disappointing as the Second Life audience is busy with other virtual activities.
IBM has recently carried out a number of Second Life initiatives as well, allowing virtual attendance to portions of its recent Lotusphere conference, and the recent launch of a Second Life developer community for collaboration on development of 3-D virtual applications.
As a collaboration tool, Second Life offers a richer user experience, enabling users to move from the 2-D world of web conferencing into a virtual world that can enable direct user-to-user communications within the context of a virtual meeting. For example, suppose I’m in a virtual meeting room watching a presentation on the screen. I can tap another participant on the shoulder and ask them a question. I can also enjoy a far richer user interface than simple web conferencing can currently provide.
Within the enterprise environment Second Life has significant potential, but also must overcome perceptions that it will cause distraction and doesn’t offer any business value. But the promise of virtual reality is likely to far exceed the drawback. Mozilla’s Window Snyder recently predicted that over the next ten years Second Life will transform the Internet. Enterprises would be well served to start looking now at the opportunities, and the risks.
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