Applications and Tools, Business in Virtual Worlds, Collaboration, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Immersive or Open Spaces: What Tier Are You In?

Following an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Justin Bovington, CEO of Rivers Run Red, I came away encouraged: virtual worlds are ready for business, for collaboration, for all the stuff that I wish was a part of every work day – mind maps or quick collaborative team sessions with folks from around the world, 3D data visualizations, and social networking tools.

And if you’re a long-time resident of a virtual world you might know what I mean: it’s just plain easier, more engaging, and ‘deeper’ when you connect with people, plan, share, and create in a virtual world. I mean, sure there are social tools, and Web meetings, and corporate Nings or whatever – but it always feels somehow LESS than it could be, and virtual worlds clearly show the power of immersion.

Wouldn’t it be nice if some of that collaborative feel we get when we’re rezzing prims or listening to music in world translated to the rest of our lives? Not to say it doesn’t for some (and I consider myself lucky that way, because of the people I’m surrounded with). Let’s just say that many businesses could, if you ask me, use a good sprinkle of innovative virtual world fairy dust.

And Immersive Workspaces(TM), the product launched by Rivers Run Red in partnership with Linden Lab, proves that the adoption curve is a lot slicker, and easier, and more effective than I believed. And with the parallel innovations on openSim or Raph’s work on Metaplace, we’re about to enter a new Renaissance in which virtual worlds become part of the fabric of both play AND work and the result, I believe, will be unexpected, filled with serendipity, and will reinforce the trend towards a massive change in the nature of work.

Linden Lab and the Open Space Price Increase
But against the backdrop of my interview with Justin, Linden Lab announced that they were increasing prices of open space sims. Vint Falken is one of the people summarizing the response, and it hasn’t been pretty. She picked up one comment, by Gally Young:

‘I’m surprised that nobody speak about the Immersive Workspace solution recently launched by Linden Lab for the enterprises… . Hmm. Guess that’s because we don’t think they are that impressive, and so no real use and are just more or less ignoring them? ‘I won’t be surprised to learn that the real reason of all this stuff about Openspace was to avoid to see Openspace competing with their Immersive Workpace (whose the prices will be probably higher than full sim and on which LL put a lot of hopes for increasing their profitability…). But I’m maybe paranoiac :) ‘ Yes, Gally, maybe you are. But you would become that for less than a 66% price rise because of vague reasoning that keeps being changed.”

Now, I’m not much for conspiracy theories. My own theory is a lot simpler, and is more in line with that of Dale Innis: Linden Lab often suffers from accidental incompetence, which couples fuzzy decision making with an appalling lack of sensitivity to effective PR and communication.

So I don’t see any connection between the Linden’s latest PR disaster and the plans for Immersive Workplaces. EXCEPT. Because the ‘except’ is that decisions ARE being made now with an eye on two balls: because as Justin made clear, the Grid is split, and the Lab has more than one world to consider as their macro decisions trickle down into what might seem to THEM like reasonable business decisions but which to residents seem like one more slap in the, well, wherever it would hurt the most.

These Grids Are Not Connected
OK – so tomorrow I’ll post the full interview with Justin. His insight, history, and some of the specific examples he gives about what Rivers Run Red has learned from virtual worlds, why they’re still betting on Linden Lab, and their value proposition to enterprise is fascinating and often visionary.

So I’m trying to straddle both sides of the world here, I suppose: first, as a resident of Second Life, I’m curious as to how Immersive Workspaces might impact the rest of the Grid. Second, as someone doing business in virtual worlds, I’m interested in it’s wider implications, and I’ll deal with those tomorrow.

And I suppose the first thing to understand is that Rivers Run Red has placed their bet on the “platform on which Second Life is based” because, well, it’s still the best thing going. And when Rivers Run Red is out pitching it to clients, the proof that it works is a key step in selling the solutions that can be built on it. As Justin explained:

“What we’re trying to sell here is solutions to people. We don’t have to talk about the code, we just have to talk about what it can do for you as a business. Second Life is the incredibly successful platform…is the platform we’re using to bring this to market. And so people are happy, because it’s proven.”

Selling Second Life as a platform this way is a welcome evangelizing for a world that has had its fair share of knocks over the years.

I asked Justin to explain, however, the idea of firewalls, and whether there’s anything different about how the Immersive Workspace(TM) sims are deployed – trying to get a sense of whether we’d see an influx of business types headed over to the Mainland pubs after a day at the office.

“We’re under a very strict NDA,” said Justin. “I can tell you that we’re on a very level playing field with everyone else who’s out there in terms of developing things.”

Which, of course, didn’t answer the question, and left me a bit confused as to what this firewall actually meant.

A Sim in a Box
Zha Ewry, however, was kind enough to answer my question at Orange Island during a panel discussion on the future of virtual worlds. I asked him whether IBM had worked with Rivers Run Red on the firewall application.

“No we did not. As far as I know that’s a separate piece of overlapping work. The distinction there for what it’s worth is the Rivers Run Red stuff is effectively disconnected from the Grid. It lets you get what people effectively describe as ‘Grid in a Box’ which is that you get your own little Grid and it doesn’t connect at ALL to the Second Life Grid.”

And this is really no big surprise. Mark Kingdon alluded to it, in fact, in his keynote presentation at Virtual Worlds London, as reported by Virtual World News:

“”In the second wave,” said Kingdon, “We see enterprises thinking about virtual worlds in a very different way. Instead of experimentation, we’re seeing businesses ask for solutions that work. We’re starting to see that the virtual world is not a substitute for the 2D Web experience. It’s what I guess you could say is the assimilation of the virtual world into the 2D Web space. And it’s a change I very much welcome.”

Customers are looking for out-of-the-box solutions. Linden doesn’t want to get into the content development business, which is why it’s partnering with providers like Rivers Run Red for products aimed at specific use cases, like RRR’s Immersive Workspaces, which announced version 2.0 today.”

Now, whether this solution is fully deployed I’m not sure. But what’s important about Immersive Workspaces isn’t just that it provides a proof-of-concept for the use of virtual worlds as a platform for business collaboration (and, I should add, their integration with Web-based tools), but that it’s also (or will be) a proof of concept for stand-alone Linden Lab simulators.

This was the end of the “frontier” that Mitch Kapor famously proclaimed. But it’s not just that Second Life will be overrun by business types. It’s that business will now be able to set up their own little worlds: separate, distinct, and with, no doubt, their own tier structure.

Welcome to the Present
Justin argued that we need to stop thinking about virtual worlds like we’re still reading the press from 2006. I asked him how we know whether virtual worlds are ’successful’:

“It feels very much like people are talking about Second Life, and they talk about virtual worlds as if it’s 2006…(But) there is Second which is the public park if you like, which is very ‘roll up, start a business, buy some land’, and then there is the Second Life Grid, which if you like is the more private part. And that’s 100% of our work we’re doing on the Grid now and the problem is they still take the temperature still as an overall temperature, not realizing the split.”

And so, in Justin’s estimation, it’s important for business and residents to understand that the two communities have decidedly become separate. And in his view, this is healthy: there are opportunities for cross-collaboration, for content developers, and as businesses get used to avatars and meeting in world, maybe they’ll sign up to the main Grid as well.

“I think obviously with the split now, if you like, between virtual worlds for fun, and social virtual worlds for secondary income, which is what Second Life has been about, to suddenly being virtual worlds for business, we’re definitely going to see I think people needing to use technology to keep their travel costs down. But really what’s happening at a larger level, companies are investing in alternative technology to keep them more productive, and it’s not just virtual worlds.”

This is good news for virtual worlds and their uptake by business.

Whether this split has also left the Lindens scratching their heads over how to support both the lower and moderate use of what, in the end, are just servers, and privately deployed versions that can run off the same equipment is only something the Lab can answer I suppose.

What my interview with Justin pointed out is that there’s gold in them ‘thar hills. It might be hidden away and disconnected entirely from the main Grid, but it’s an important step in the journey to the ubiquitous metaverse, and proves that for big business at least, it’s ready to ship.

My full interview with Justin will be published tomorrow.


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