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Fumbling Toward the Future.

April 28, 2010

Second Life. Have you heard of it?

Released in 2003 by Linden Labs, Second Life is a massively multiplay online world in which people live through simulations of people, called avatars. It hit it big for a while: CNN had a news desk in Second Life, American Apparel was selling virtual clothes in a virtual store front, and IBM took initiatives to build an online presence.

Seven years later, in the start of the second decade of the new millennium, Second Life mania has died down. But why? Is it still a valuable business tool, as some claim? Or is it simply a more “realistic” version of World of Warcraft? Is it a game, or something more? Is it the future?

From a business perspective, Second Life can save a company a lot of money, cutting down on travel costs, both in terms of money and time. Other than saving, it appears that there isn’t much room in Second Life for Big Business to be making money, so is there any real value in it for corporate America? Do these virtual interactions really serve the same purpose as in-person meetings do?

In a creative environment, there may be a desire to use such technology to communicate with distanced offices, and yet I think that the creative types will find the environment of Second Life does not enhance the conversation at all. Though are things to look at, “people” to look at, having conferences in this virtual environment is probably no more productive than handling the same conversation over the phone, and perhaps even less due to the distraction factor. Enter Skype: the online video conference service. Now that most laptops come equipped with cameras, Skype is taking off in a way that Second Life never did, and for this reason: in business, people want to deal with people.

Because when it comes down to it, we want to collaborate with other human beings. We want to see their expressions and hear their voices. We want the hands flapping around and adding color. Or, at least I do.

So are these virtual worlds the future? What are your thoughts on virtual worlds mixing with business?

One Comment leave one →
  1. arush84 permalink
    April 28, 2010 9:22 am

    Being able to notice intonations of other people’s voices in conversation can be the deciding factor in interpreting a comment as a joke or serious discussion. As you mentioned, Second Life lacks this openness in human interactions. Yes, it is possible to voice chat in Second Life with other users via avatars, but this muddles the sincerity of human communication.

    Indeed cost savings can be realized using Second Life in place of face-to-face, real world meetings. For businesses trying to weather the current recession, Second Life may prove to be a viable option. However, how much trust can be established between two or more artificial figures, composed of pixels, on a computer screen? Personally, I believe very little. Second Life will play a niche role in business communications in the years to come. I do not think CEO’s are willing to replace old fashion, palm-to-palm handshakes with those of virtual avatars in order to seal a business deal.

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