Business in Virtual Worlds, Education in Virtual Worlds, Second Life

It’s All Talk: Linden Lab, Mercedes Benz, and Golgothica

Linden Lab is in communication over-drive it seems. Mark Kingdon’s recent interview, Ginsu talking about where the technology is headed, and Tom Hale asking Second Life residents to help with product development.

And now, a flurry of thanks and spotlights on residents, including, I was pleased to see, Keystone Bouchard who talked about his work on Wikitecture.

Now, for some, it’s all talk and no action. But just to spotlight how the concepts being prototyped in places like Second Life are finding a home elsewhere, Mercedes Benz just announced a partnership with Speak2Me to provide “conversational marketing”:

The three-month “Smart Cities” campaign will launch in May 2009 to coincide with the introduction of the smart fortwo line in China. The campaign will allow users to engage in a virtual world tour, beginning with Paris, Rome and San Francisco. In each city, users will be guided on an insider’s tour by a virtual native. Using Speak2Me’s unique interaction platform, the users will speak to their guides in free-flowing conversations, helping them learn about the city’s attractions and culture, pick up a few phrases in the local language, and improve their conversational English.

How “virtual” is virtual? No idea, really, the press release mentions avatars, but those can just as easily be Flash-based cartoons as 3D or 2.5D characters.

But the announcement comes just as Linden Lab spotlights the Language Lab’s work in Second Life:

“Today Languagelab operates exclusively in Second Life and has invested a significant amount in terms of R&D and testing to provide an unparalleled virtual learning space where students can be paired with highly qualified, innovative language teachers from around the world.

It’s long been known that immersion in an environment with native speakers is the best way to practice and learn a second language. And as David realized early on, the virtual world environment naturally lends itself to language learning, due to its immersive nature and ability to make learning contextually relevant to both situations and locations.”

What strikes me is that the Mercedes announcement, a year or two ago, would have been IN Second Life. There’s already a language community, a platform for this kind of thing, and there are already virtual environments.

Which begs the question: will new models for branding emerge in Second Life? Will it all be about education and collaboration? If that’s true, then why is M Linden insisting that 80% of its investments are in the “consumer” applications of Second Life?

Maybe the time will come to take a fresh look at the branding opportunities in SL. For now, however, the cynicism continues, I guess. And it’s not that I blame anyone. Nor do I think Second Life is “brand ready” at the moment. On the other hand, when I connect the dots of the above, or when I think about the incredibly rich branded experiences of places like Loco Pocos or Golgothica, I wonder if it’s at all possible for the tools, technology and creativity on the Grid to support a next wave of “conversational marketing” or “brand stories” in the coming years.

I mean, if this isn’t a branded experience I don’t know what is:

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