May 13th, 2008
07:46 PM GMT
NEW YORK – Call them growing pains. The virtual world Second Life has had a tough time of it lately.
Last month, its founder Philip Rosedale said he will step down as CEO of Linden Labs – the company which runs the community. He said he was staying on full-time as chairman preferring to focus on innovation rather than people management.
The management part certainly looks like it is getting harder. Over the last two years millions of users all over the world signed up to mix, mingle and play out their fantasies on Second Life. It was the hot thing. The virtual world had its own currency, its own economy and it didn't take long for the business world to catch on. Companies rushed to open virtual stores and offices.
But the initial hype has faded. Although it has an estimated 13 million registered subscribers, only a small portion – as little as 5 percent - are considered active. Corporations are shuttering their virtual stores. A series of banking scandals prompted Second Life to shut down all virtual-only banks in January. Lawsuits involving everything from land deals to copyright infringement have been filed.
Like real life, Second Life is getting ... well ... complicated.
That doesn't mean businesses are giving up. While the direct marketing opportunities didn't quite live up to expectations, companies are finding Second Life provides a great platform for bringing scattered employees together.
This past weekend the Los Angeles Times ran a great article featuring some companies who are actively using Second Life to hold strategy meetings, training sessions, question and answer forums and even throw parties! As you might expect, technology companies like Sun Microsystems, IBM and Intel are at the forefront, but it is expected to grow.
I am totally fascinated by this partially because I am a complete outsider. I'm not a resident of Second Life. I thought about it, but juggling work and family leaves me barely enough time for my first life. That may soon change.
A couple of weeks ago, Forrester Research analyst Erica Driver released a report in which she makes a case that Web3D is the next major Internet wave.
In 5 to 7 years, many of us might find we are asked to create work avatars that communicate and network with other employees in a digital world. Whether companies will use Second Life for that, create their own virtual worlds or use a combination is an open question.
How they manage that world will also present challenges. One of the interesting things about Second Life is that people feel free to explore and express themselves in ways they might not in their everyday life (so I am told.)
I loved reading about Intel employees who showed up at meetings in Second Life in the form of a half-man half-animal or another with blue skin. Will human resource departments be able to cope with that level of non-conformity?
I'd like to be optimistic and think that unlike e-mail and Blackberries, which stopped people from actually talking or interacting, having a work avatar might increase the sense of camaraderie and community within a company.
But almost as soon as I had that thought I started to worry about what my avatar should look like. Will I understand the slang? What if I land in the wrong place? Maybe it will just create more stress.
What do you think? Will widespread use of Web3D make work more interesting or just corrupt the fun of Second Life? What will your work avatar look like?
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