Second Thoughts on Second Life?

As chic as it can be to jump on the bandwagon of a new technology, there is an equal and opposite chic reaction for skepticism. So what’s a boy to do?

From Smart Mobs, I picked up this Forbes article in which the consulting firm Gartner, Inc offers advice to companies about how to proceed with caution. Here is the gist of it:

By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and
Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a "second life," but not
necessarily in Second Life, according to Gartner, Inc.

The second part certainly makes a lot of sense. All one has to do is think back to the birth of the 2-D web. Tim Berners-Lee essentially gave away his invention of the web. The web is the way it is today largely b/c of open source and common standards in HTML, protocols, and all that business that goes on under the hood of the Internet. One of the coolest things about Second Life is that everything that is there has been built by users, so it shares that with the web. But it seems to me that if SL were to expand to meet the point where 80% of users interacted in virtual worlds, it could only happen by opening up the system.

This is the really tricky part within our marketplace logic. Let’s say you’re Ford Motor Co. Sure you could have dealerships in SL where people could get a virtual look at new models and so on, just like you have a 2-D website now. But you don’t want to have a dozen or hundred different sites in different virtual worlds with different standards etc, etc.  You could almost imagine a crippled web like that, right? One where each net community had proprietary standards.

How useless would that be?

On the other hand, no one is going to hand over the whole business to Linden Labs either, not anymore than one would hand over the browser business to Microsoft. So I suppose we’ll see what happens.

Now that said, the basic concept of virtual worlds is very hot. Part of it is the 3-D, immersive experience I guess and all the activities from prosaic to kinky to kinky and prosaic that are possible there. However, what really interests me (and I don’t think this is a stunning revelation here) is the potential of communication, collaboration, and networking.

An example? OK. In my class this semester, I might post a video or podcast or write something for my students to read. Though they are all interacting on the course sites, they have no real sense of interaction. So let’s say that instead of watching a video on a browser on their desktop, now they are in SL, watching the same video on a screen in the environment. Yes, they are watching the same video, but now they are in a virtual room with the avatars of a couple classmates, watching it together. They can converse while watching the video. They can do nearly everything they might have done in the physical classroom.

Yes, this activity require real-time interaction. So the question might be, why not do it in a physical classroom? Why go to SL? Well, this post is getting long, so some of these questions will have to wait for another time. However, one obvious answer is the possibility of collaboration at a distance. Another answer is that we can broaden the times when synchronous collaboration might be possible. And a third possible answer is the SL might allow us to undertake activities not possible in RL. But that I really will have to address at another time.

3 thoughts on “Second Thoughts on Second Life?

Add yours

  1. My take on this is slightly more cynical and pragmatic…
    Virtual worlds, communities and nations are here to stay. Whilst emerging media is exploring new ways for companies to interact with their target audience, businesses must be careful not see this as another outlet where they aggressively sell.
    Users go these sites often as a form of escapism and would probably take a negative reaction where vendors try and conflict with this. However, this can be done well – take Toyota selling their cars on Second Life as a great example of complementing a virtual world rather than fighting it.
    Even though Gartner do suggest this is a “long haul”, there is a lot to be said for being early entrants into a market. My advice would be to start now but passively.
    Also – don’t get hung up on the main avenues. Technology is changing fast – who knows what new scenario will be the best place to virtually hang-out in a few years time. Have a plan that is flexible and go for it.
    Nevertheless, Gartner have made some sound suggestions that would be foolish for any would-be vendor in the virtual world not to follow… but perhaps they should use mine too.

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  2. I’ve been thinking about uses of Second Life also. My students were a mix excitement, resistance, and confusion as we looked at Second Life this semester, and I toyed with the idea of having us all meet there for a few classes, but one barrier is still access to the technology to run 3D worlds. We do have a computer lab, and while it would be interesting to ew and ah together, I’d like for us to be in different physical locations, but I have a couple students without computers and still another on dial-up.
    But I think worlds like Second Life are the possible direction we are headed in. I have a post with a couple videos that you may not have seen. I get a kick out of watching Henry Jenkins dance.

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  3. These are good points. If we are four or five years from broad adoption of virtual worlds, as Gartner would predict, then SL might be analogous with the earliest days of the Internet, say 1995, maybe even the pre-Netscape browser days.
    If you think back to those days, there were technical issues that effectively blocked many average users from participating. We struggled to imagine how the web would work.
    In many ways, virtual worlds will face less resistance. For the web to become popular, many consumers had to be convinced to buy PCs and pay for net access. Virtual worlds do require higher end devices and high speed connections, but at least the idea of having a computer and connecting to a network is already there.
    Rick makes a good point about the issue of student access. For my classes, most students are already relying on campus labs to complete media projects using Garage Band, iMovie, and so on. If they have to go to a lab to use SL, I can live with that, even though it isn’t ideal.
    Again, I think the theme here is now is the time to begin exploring virtual worlds like SL and seeing what is possible. It’s certainly far too early to imagine, for example, that one could offer the bulk of one’s curriculum through SL, at least with traditional students, but it’s not too early to begin to think about how virtual worlds might be a component in one’s curriculum.

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