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Why your company needs to be in Second Life now

Like many people, I first registered for Second Life, cruised around for a couple of weeks and haven’t been back in a long time. There are a number of reasons why many users follow this path. Some find it confusing and difficult and give up. Others see a lot of empty space and end up not becoming part of the community and leave for more interesting online hobbies. As on online gamer I got on, said “Hmmm, not as much fun as a networked game from 10 years ago, and I can’t kill anybody or blow anything up.” Lags and crashes are not uncommon, especially if your machine is not up to snuff, so I wasn’t impressed with the overall experience. Lots of cool stuff to see, but limited in the ability to generate huge crowds.

My wife is at the wrong point on the hype cycle, she’s just tired of hearing about it and doesn’t want to hear about it any more (File under “Hater”).

So for all this complaining you’d think I would be laughing at companies such as Coca-Cola, Sears, American Outfitters, and IBM that are pouring resources into empty islands on SL. But I’m not. Granted that some organizations are spending more than is perhaps wise, and if you are looking for ROI in the next 3 years you will be disappointed.

The critical point is that 3D user environments are not going to go away. If you’ve ever been lost in an immersive experience such as a great multiplayer online game, online gambling, playing with simulations such as SimCity or the Sims, or even just watching an IMAX film you know that the face of entertainment and interaction with technology is continuing to evolve. It was obvious for a small group at PARC that saw the first graphical interface – they knew that there was an easier way to work with computers rather than just typing text commands. Second Life is the same thing, clunky, yes, but a look into new ways to interface with computers.

So now, everybody makes fun of the companies that jumped into SL in a big way, or what appears to be a big way. This is an important point, Coke is probably spending more than an entire 20-person company’s marketing budget, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are spending less that 1% of their marketing budget. Here’s a Brain Buster – How much are you spending on Marketing R&D?
The risk averse are sitting around saying it’s too early to get in to SL. As I gaze into my crystal ball, it seems safe to bet on this:

A couple of years go by and suddenly Third Life shows up. Maybe Linden rolls out the next big version, maybe somebody steals all their good ideas improves the existing paradigm. I log on, now I can use a gamepad to drive around, and there’s a trusty flamethrower for only $2000L. Next time some bozo shows up to interfere with my conversation or do something perverse – WHOOSH! A huge helping of J-Funk BBQ.

The big crowd arrives. Now the nay-sayers say “We need to get a cross-functional tiger team to get into this virtual thingy” (I picture Dilbert’s boss doing this).

What happens next? Coca-Cola, American Outfitters etc. get their stuff ported and up in a week. The rest of the Fortune 500 put together a focus group to figure out what they need to do now that they want to get in. Lo and behold, there’s a list of problems a mile long:

  1. Who do we hire to build this?
  2. What budget takes the hit?
  3. Who is responsible for the upkeep? Marketing? Sales? IT? Support? Customer Service?
  4. How do we account for this?
  5. Can we add to this list by having an offsite focus group boondoggle that will take 1 week?
  6. Who do we hire to manage the people we hired to build this?
  7. What should this thing look like?
  8. What are we trying to accomplish?
  9. How will we know if we are doing it right?
  10. Why is Bob’s office 2.5 cubic feet bigger than mine? We’re both VPs! (These are Forture 500 animals, mind you)
  11. … continue list with 576 more items

This will be fodder for committees, focus groups, consultants, analysts, janitors, you name it. This could take years in many companies, and it will in some.

There will also be a small group that goes in and looks like the US Olympic Basketball Dream Team vs. St. Mary’s School for the Blind. They’re paying their dues now in Second Life.