Despite diminished interest, Second Life keeps attracting business

Posted on August 25, 2008 8:34 pm by | Second Life | Web3D

You don’t read too much any more about Second Life in the communications corner of the blogosphere. Early clumsy efforts by companies to market real-world products in Second Life mostly bit the dust, leading pundits to dismiss it—and other virtual worlds—as a venue for gamers and the socially inept not worth investment or attention. The dismal failure (so far) of Google’s Lively hasn’t helped boost the profile of virtual worlds.

Many of those who used to participate in and even organize in-world events haven’t entered Second Life in months. I haven’t spent 90 minutes there myself this entire year.

At the same time, though, a growing number of organizations continue to find practical uses for Second Life. The most recent evidence came in the print edition of Business Week’s Small Biz magazine, which profiled several organizations that have tapped into attributes of the virtual world that can’t be duplicated through other channels:

  • A toy designer created a 3D model of his proposed windup toy and showed it in-world to an engineer from a factory that might manufacture it. The engineer “rotated it, and took it apart piece by piece.”
  • A husband-and-wife architecture team that designs senvironmentally friendly homes now creates its models in Second LIfe. Clients can see the model in real, not scale, size, and walk inside. “Moving a kitchen to gain a southern exposure or putting a stairwell in amore convenient location can be accomplished in just a few minutes.” (An example of Crescendo Designs is in the video below.)
  • A company is working to sell its idea for video displays in high-traffic areas like airports and malls. Setting up demos in actual airports would be expensive and, in most cases, simply impossible. Now, the company’s founder is able to demonstrate how the system works in a number of locations.
  • Another company is developing a people mover, doing much of its work in Second Life. Says the company’s founder, “Here’s a tool inb cyberspace where we can simulate an engineered system and see if it works.”

There were more examples in Forrester’s report, “Getting Real Work Done in Virtual Worlds.” And even marketing efforts—smart ones that leverage Second Life’s characteristics and honor its culture and economy—are working.

I remain convinced that the Web in general will become largely a 3D experience by about 2013, once key obstacles are overcome (such as portability of avatars and ease of creating objects). It makes perfect sense. Right now, no matter how many other people are at the same time you are, you’re there alone. Trying to find a book the title and author of which you don’t remember? Good luck. Now imagine a 3D representation of the world’s biggest bookstore. You teleport to the mystery section and ask others who are browsing the shelves if they know the book you’re seeking. If none of them are able to help, you can mosey on over to the information desk where you can interact with an Amazon customer service representative. Later, you can return to participate in a mystery book club gathering instead of a book club discussion forum.

But the intuitive experience of a familiar 3D world is less exciting than the uses to which people like those profiled in the SmallBiz article are putting Second Life. Don’t ignore virtual worlds; you’ll be living in one soon enough. Buying into the shrug-off so many others have given Second Life will keep you from helping your company prepare for the inevitable 3D web.



  • 1."Now imagine a 3D representation of the world?s biggest bookstore. You teleport to the mystery section and ask others who are browsing the shelves if they know the book you?re seeking."

    Well, it will be tricky. For one, you have to see the others, on the other hand you have to see the books. Part 3D, part traditional? Books in a sidebar, so you can see them? Although, you don't have to go 3D for that, an integrated chat client can do it too.

    What I see as a downside to this approach is that if there are a lot of people your asking will be drown out in real time communication, and will be skipped.

    We are aiming to introduce distraction and crowdedness into the net experience? When one of the best things in it that you can actually concentrate on a product?

    If you are in a 3D web then the visuals will get distracting after a while.
    I am not sure that copying the real world into the web will be exactly the right way to go.

    But I can be mistaken. And 2013. I think we will be glad if by 2013 people will start to accept twitter, blogs and the other "fancy, useless stuff", less go 3D and play on the net.
    I would put the date for the completely 3D web between 2020 and 2030 if ever.

    Roland Hesz | August 2008 | Hungary

  • 2.Interesting post. I've always felt that the promise of SL was less in the marketing/communications arena, and more in the education/interaction space. This hit home for me when I saw a 3-D depiction of a chemical reaction. I have always been math/science adverse, and the visual representation made more sense to me than a description of a chemical reaction in a science textbook.

    Most of the true promise of social networks, in my opinion, is making information more accessible and understandable in ways that previously have been too expensive. Even if a computer 3-D imaging program had been available way back when I was struggling through HS chemistry and physics, it would have been well outside of the budget of my public school. Communicators who just look at these channels as a venue for advertising and PR messages are missing the broader communications picture.


    Jen Zingsheim | August 2008 | NH

  • 3.And with the fairly dramatic changes to SL's underlying architecture and capabilities, I fully expect we'll see a second wave of corporate marketing efforts in the not-too-distant future. The question I ask is: Did the marketers learn anything from their first clumsy attempts in SL? I wouldn't bet on it.

    csven | August 2008 | U.S.

  • 4.My question to you, Roland, is how is this different from the real world? These "distractions" are just what you encounter when browsing the shelves in a Borders or a Barnes & Noble. I expect you'll be able to see the titles on the spines of the books, just like in a real book store.

    I would also expect that the traditional two-dimensional web pages will remain available for those who DO know what book they're seeking and don't need to browse shelves.

    Shel Holtz | August 2008 | Salt Lake City, UT

  • 5.@Shel @Roland - more importantly, the assumption is apparently being made that people go shopping to *only* make purchases. That would be a mistake, as there are plenty of people who consider shopping a pleasant social pastime. They're not on a "seek and destroy" mission; they're having fun ... whether or not they purchase anything.

    csven | August 2008 | U.S.

  • 6.Interesting point about virtual worlds. I have to admit that I haven't "wandered" into one, but I see the benefits based on the examples you highlighted. My company just intro'd a virtual show solution - has 3d images, but not immersive like Second Life.

    Do you think that virtual show environments (e.g. job fairs, conference/trade shows, customer summits, worldwide sales meetings, etc.) will succeed in areas where Second Life hasn't?

    Cece Salomon-Lee | August 2008 | San Francisco

  • 7.@Cece - Second Life has some of those things already: real life job fairs, sales meetings, customer meetings, aso. While the media gloms onto the salacious news bits - which are to be expected whenever people from all walks of life are given wide latitude in their behavior - there are plenty of serious users already engaging in some of the activities you cite; sometimes as part of their own effort to deliver a dedicated solution.

    The reason I expect resurgence of corporate interest is because Linden Lab has spent the past few years resolving an issue that most prominently surfaced during early testing of the Wells Fargo effort (which, btw, never got as far as being launched, and thus failed for reasons other than is often reported by MSM). The solution to that problem has apparently been sufficiently incorporated into the system architecture to allow Linden Lab to begin selling what they couldn't previously sell: control.

    csven | August 2008 | U.S.

  • 8.Coincidentally, I spoke at a conference today where I heard a speaker talk about a Virtual Trade Show the AAA (the Auto Club) is holding tonight with Caribbean Cruise Line; they've already done three, with companies like Disney. Not SL, but a virtual trade show specialty site. Certainly COULD be done in Second Life, though.

    Shel Holtz | August 2008 | Salt Lake City, UT

  • 9.The issue about the bookstore is already solved for us, courtesy of Amazon's 'read this' feature where you can read a few pages of the book.

    I've been banging on for ages about how you can combine that experience with the photo-realistic experiences of SeaDragon and Photosynth and the always-developing 3d cgi technologies (search youtube for 3d cgi videos that will rock your socks off).

    It matters not a whit whether it is Second Life or some other vw (virtual world) that gains traction in the end; what IS important is that the 3d web most definitely IS the future of our online day-to-day experience, so as Shel says, the smartest companies are going into SL and other worlds now in order to learn the ground rules of communication so that when the masses arrive they already will know how best to meet their expectations.

    Lee | September 2008 | the GLORIOUS Adelaide Hills, Australia

  • 10.It sounds strange, but I think Second Life will have a new chance to attarct business and marketers in the years up to come.
    I mean, lots of SL users now are Facebook/Twitter members, but the high profit expectations from those social networks failed (in accordance with what I've read on important newspapers and blogs on this topic).
    So, either current social network platforms chance radically or enterprises look back to some SL-clone!

    Luke "Programmi gratis" | August 2010 | Italy

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