One of the most interesting and
controversial discussions currently taking place amongst the virtual
world cognoscenti is also one of the most vexing for the companies and
government agencies hoping to capitalize on the growing communication
power of virtual worlds.
Despite the best efforts of
developers like Cisco, the Department of Energy and a mix of other
public and private organizations, many more corporate/government Second
Life installations fail than survive and thrive.
Pixels and Policy takes a look at why.
A Feast for Virtual
turns out, NIC decided to expand its business by promoting its e-government
solutions through an expansive and beautiful Second Life island.
only problem? No one seems interested in discussing government IT solutions
when there’s a dance party only a teleport away. We spoke with NASA’s Learning
Technology Project Manager and Second Lifer Greyark Hightower about why so many
government islands are isolated museums.
Second Life office is divided into three main regions: A marble-domed structure
resembling the U.S. Capitol, NIC’s virtual headquarters and a building called “Innovation
Hall.” What catches the eye is just how complete
the place looks.
Starving for Customers
flags are fluttering on either side of a paved walkway, and a virtual tour
guide application provides commentary on every region of the sim you enter. NIC
spared no expense on interactivity, as the myriad state information panels
sim with two conference halls and a beautiful building or two won’t make a
difference to Second Life users. “Most orgs like the idea of having a Second
Life island,” Hightower says, “but they don’t budget or plan on having staff
in-world. They’re just pixilated museum pieces.”
who heads up NASA’s seven Second Life locations, has a point. NIC’s island is
vacant except for a few curious eyes that quickly teleport away. There aren’t
even any company representatives to welcome potential customers.
is a problem most corporate sims have. Take NASA, he says. “If no one from NASA
is at the sim, why should a visitor stay?” Hightower argues that companies and
governments are viewing sims the wrong way. Instead of viewing them as
self-evident tourist attractions, islands should be run “like a store,” with
staff always on duty.
portals with data on state populations won’t matter if there are no
professionals to personalize the experience. If companies want Second Life eyes
to remain focused on their facilities, they should take a note from overflowing
dance clubs and offer a continuous flow of interesting events and giveaways.
A Failure to Communicate
We've written about how companies like American Apparel just don't seem to understand the nature of marketing in the Metaverse.
Real-world companies develop static installations and expect users to
visit them out of sheer brand loyalty. What they find is little more
than a "curiosity bump" in foot traffic, followed by a flat-line.
is because virtual consumers want to be engaged. Corporations seeking
to open installations in Second Life would do well to first create a
library of engaging content to be rolled out over the course of a year.
This will likely require a full-time content team responsive to
changing trends and fashion memes in-world. Few companies are willing
to shell out for this, and attempts to build a presence on the cheap
ask for failure.
online presence is increasingly important, as consumer trends shift
away from old advertising outlets like television. Companies need a presence in virtual worlds
in order to tap a growing market of consumers with disposable income,
but few seem to have any clue how to market. Second Life is littered
with the empty husks of corporate failure.
Casual browsers of the Second Life landscape don't need to look very hard to find corporate sites in a state of disrepair. Cisco's virtual hospital is now a ghost town that gives away a creepy free ID tag to anyone who steps through the busted doors. Reuters also has a mothballed office for its short-lived foray into virtual news, InfoWorld's article notes.
interestingly, several major government operations sit in various
states of completion, their projects indefinitely mothballed due to a
mix of economic recession and general disinterest. The Department of Energy's otherwise impressive island is little more than abandonware now, and users can enjoy the experience of having an entire government energy facility all to themselves.
Changing Course for Corporate Success
Even the Navy's project –
complete with nuclear submarines and some cool lookout points – is
doomed to the footnotes of Second Life history. In over a dozen visits this week, no one was ever there. Its foot traffic hardly ranks in Second Life's search feature.
corporations and ambitious government bureaucrats, every business is an
island. It'll take quite a bit more than a compelling initial build to
keep foot traffic and user interest going and growing. Perhaps
companies and agencies should take a page from some of Second Life's
more successful discussion sims. Pooky Amsterdam's Studio Dome attracts
a consistent and growing crowd through a variety of constantly changing
in-world television shows. The same goes for Metanomics.
Another option for corporations
or agencies bent on developing a virtual presence could be to go their
own way by developing a standalone virtual platform focused on their
project or company. After struggling through Second Life for years, IBM focused resources on its web.alive-based virtual conferencing center.
Cisco followed suit. Sure, the web.alive platform may be more
restrictive than Second Life, offering only a few avatar customization
options and a limited scope of exploration, but it achieves the goals
IBM can't meet in Second Life. That should be a major gauge of success.
As virtual platforms become an
increasingly important part of business conferencing and prototyping,
companies like IBM are also discovering that there are more options
than operating solely in Second Life. This could be the major
revolution in corporate virtual communication – a move away from some
of the big social players towards more specialized, single-purpose
worlds. That's not a bad thin