Business in Virtual Worlds, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Philip Rosedale’s Second Round: Second Life is a Terrarium, Interview with New York Times

Yesterday, I covered Philip Rosedale comparing the immersive qualities of Second Life to World of Warcraft in order to explain what makes it different from, say, Google’s Lively.

Today, Second Life is a terrarium and in fact IS representative of the small world - just that it’s not that the virtual world that’s small and room-like, it’s the real one that’s shrinking.

In an article in the New York Times, Philip talks about the properties of Second Life as a site for collaboration and as perfectly fitted to the wider trend of collapsing geography. Philip says that Second Life helps to drive the great challenge for business, which is “turning creativity into productivity”.

While the days of large may never be over, small has its charms:

“After spending decades growing and merging themselves into their behemoth proportions, big businesses are rediscovering the charms — and the innovative side effects — of thinking small. By breaking huge business units into smaller, nimbler teams, companies stand a chance of rekindling the creative spark that got them rolling in the first place. After all, “small is the new big,” as Seth Godin, a prolific blogger and author, puts it in his 2006 book of that name.”

Virtual worlds play a key role in rekindling that spark, according to Rosedale, enabling productivity from innovation:

“Optimizing a company for creativity also optimizes it for small-group collaboration. And that opens the door to new information technology that lets team members work cooperatively from anywhere on the planet. “That’s the revolution that’s making all of this possible,” Mr. Rosedale says.”

Rosedale claims to be seeing these trends in Second Life.

“In a way, he says, Second Life can be used as “a terrarium for looking at these changes.”

It is time for real-world executives to learn from their virtual counterparts, he says: “They’re going to figure out that they don’t need to control this from the top down. These companies will still get put together, but they’re only going to be connected at the balance sheet and at the level of finance. Information technology levels the playing field.”

These are far more compelling examples of how virtual worlds play a role that may be substantially different from small worlds, Web-based worlds, or Web conferencing.

I’d argue that the future of education in Second Life may be more limited than the folks at the Lab believe. First, new education methodologies that run counter to what the students want won’t bear fruit in the long run - and with the median age of your average Second Life resident running above 30, it’s not a place for the university set. Teachers are thus more likely to adapt video mash-ups and social networking applications in the short term than they are to get power from virtual worlds. Now, I mean this is a very broad sense - there are still some amazing things happening in Second Life, I just don’t see education as the killer app. As well, the technology hurdle is too high for many institutions to handle - the system specs are a notch or too above baseline.

But Rosedale is on to something here with collaboration. And he’s on to it because he ignored the “let’s meet and save the ozone layer” meme and is running with the deeper value that SL offers which is its ability to help companies conceptualize new ways of working and innovating.

It doesn’t replace Web conferencing. It facilitates innovation. And brands and companies shouldn’t come in to learn by setting up an office and holding chats, they should learn by partnering with in world companies who can set up innovation test beds.

So, round two goes to Philip - he still didn’t entirely close the sale, but he got a lot closer than simply drawing attention to the shadows.


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