Thursday, 6 December 2007

When worlds collide: Second Life and virtual worlds

By an astonishing co-incidence I had two Virtual World encounters this week, although both were in the real world. On Wednesday I snuck into the back row of the Computer Weekly 500 Club debate "Second Life or First Life" at Claridges. The following morning I was at Online Information 2007 to hear IBM "Metaverse Evangelist" Roo Reynolds, umm, evangelise on the same topic.


The CW event was set up as a debate for its audience of top IT directors: is Second Life a flash in the pan or should businesses be getting in there? Are virtual worlds the new Internet revolution or the new CB radio?

It's off the record so no names, but...

Speaker X spoke against businesses troubling themselves. His points included:

Accessibility: Second Life requires hardware of a specification beyond that of most corporate machines
Reliability: SL is "dramatically unreliable", he said, pointing to stats that reveal that one quarter of all sessions crash before they complete.
Architecture: One square can only hold 40 avatars so it is not scalable.

The track record of corporations going into Second Life has not been good, he said.

Dell went into Second Life but who in their right minds would buy a PC in Second Life, he wondered? American Apparel got a lot of publicity for going in to SL but then gave up.

Speaker Y argued that virtual worlds will meld at some point. A lot of people are exploring virtual worlds and although no killer app or tool has emerged yet, it's too early days. "You have to follow your clients," she said.

Chair Dr John Riley said he felt virtual worlds were on the verge of becoming something really big and exciting and it reminded him of the early days of the Internet when attitudes were much the same. He urged the room to watch China's Virtual Economy District.

Online Information 2007

So one company that is serious about virtual worlds is IBM whose "Metaverse Evangelist" is Roo Reynolds.

The alliterative Roo (who I note is - like me - an Andrew. I may change mine to Roo, too. You couldn't get angry with a boy called Roo, could you?) spends his days extolling the virtues of metaverses within IBM and beyond.

He describes World of Warcraft as "the new golf": a place with many rules and strange clothes where people build relationships. (Incidentally, IBM has published a study regarding leadership and online games.)

Why get involved in virtual worlds? Roo says there is something about "the power of presence" which makes them more engaging than merely, say, watching a video. He cited the example of the CEO of IBM speaking at a conference in Beijing and simultaneously in Second Life (but presumably only to 39 other people unless he was standing on the intersection of four squares).

Second Life is not the only virtual world, of course.

IBM is playing with QWAQ a lot at the moment:

Qwaq's virtual space solutions increase the productivity of distributed teams. Designed for the enterprise, Qwaq Forums is a virtual workspace application that delivers immediate benefits by bringing users and critical resources together in virtual spaces. Easy to set up, highly interactive, persistent, and secure, Qwaq Forums enables users to work, to collaborate with others, and to identify and solve problems in ways that weren’t possible before.

And Forterra's Olive is a virtual training system which can be used to train in situations which are too risky for real life (e.g. medical, road traffic accidents).

Forterra's software and services enable organizations to train, plan, rehearse, and collaborate in ways previously considered impossible or impractical. Using the OLIVE™ (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment) Platform and industry standard PC hardware, customers can rapidly generate realistic, collaborative, 3D Internet solutions that easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users.

IBM also has an internal virtual world based on Garage Games' Torque platform.

Roo warned businesses not to treat people in SL as eyeballs. You have to be more engaging. He cited the instance of Starwood hotels which created a prototype of a new hotel in Second Life to get feedback from visitors there. Changes were incorporated as a result of the feedback.

Roo's presentations are available here.


Roo Reynolds said...

Thanks for a detailed and thoughtful writeup.

Re Warcraft as the new golf, while I did talk about it, I didn't coin it. In fact, I think I mentioned that Cory Ondrejka (CTO of Linden Lab) is credited with that. Here's Joi Ito talking about it:


RanOh said...

I was also at the CW 500 Club and found it a fascinating evening. Whilst I agreed with the majority of Speaker X's critique of Second Life, I felt he focused overly on the technical failings rather than the failings of the concept of virtual worlds. Whilst there is no doubt SL has many issues with its infrastructure, scaleability, and so on, these are all issues that can be resolved through better use of technology and do not of themsleves, imo, invalidate the business case for virtual worlds.

For a well-thought out glimpse of the future, I highly recommend the Metaverse Roadmap ( and the site associated with it. I completely agree with Dr.Riley in his comparison of virtual worlds to the internet in the early '90s and if the rumours about a Google presence in this space are right ( then I think Virtual Worlds will be garnering a lot more attention in '08.