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Second Life, New Opportunities

My 11-year-old daughter and her friends already are addicted to a virtual world. Called Club Penguin, it's for tweens, who create avatars--of course, they don't call them that--who are (quite naturally) penguins. Through their penguin alter egos, the kids can chat, build, and furnish houses (which are igloos, of course), and work at various jobs to earn money that they can spend on penguin clothes, furnishings for their igloos, and other goodies dear to the hearts of that species, er, age group.
My 11-year-old daughter and her friends already are addicted to a virtual world. Called Club Penguin, it's for tweens, who create avatars--of course, they don't call them that--who are (quite naturally) penguins. Through their penguin alter egos, the kids can chat, build, and furnish houses (which are igloos, of course), and work at various jobs to earn money that they can spend on penguin clothes, furnishings for their igloos, and other goodies dear to the hearts of that species, er, age group.As I watch her immersed in this virtual space (access to which is strictly limited to 30 minutes a day) I'm struck by what our virtual fantasies reveal about us. For the kids at Club Penguin, they are obviously attracted by the fact that they can emulate grown-ups and get access to adult privileges and rewards.

All this leads up to the fact that corporations are diving into Second Life at accelerated rates. The latest news: IBM and Sears build a Second Life store designed to help users visualize purchases planned for real homes--and hopefully traipse to Sears to buy what they need. This follows IBM's announcement that it will allow the unwashed virtual public to be lookie-loos in a 3-D replica of its real world premises. The point: Obviously to sell people on buying its consulting services for creating 3-D virtual spaces. Amazon is hoping to sell real books in the virtual world. And don't forget that Cisco opened two Second Life "campuses" in December, with plans to build an amphitheater as well as a sports arena, "Cisco Field."

What I'm curious about is: what do these initiatives tell us about corporate fantasies (of course executives call them "strategies" and "goals"). Does Cisco believe that its fantasies (that people will come to its site to stand and gape at the photos and specifications of its latest integrated services router, and then run out and buy it) match the fantasies of the people who frequent Second Life? Likewise, how realistic is IBM's fantasy that we will spend our virtual time walking through its hallowed halls, and that what we see there will excite us enough to pledge our allegiance to Big Blue.

With more than 2.3 million registered avatars as of Jan. 1, there's a huge potential market out there. But how to tap into their particular fantasies for commercial purposes? (For an interesting discussion of why these numbers--released by Second Life's owner, Linden Lab--are dubious, click here.)

What do you think? Do you belong to Second Life or other virtual worlds? Do you welcome or resent the steadily increasing corporate presence? What do you think of these virtual corporate fantasies? Do you think they make strategic business sense? Let me know by responding below.