I have decided to use this blog to out-gas on things I am thinking about. Aren’t you happy about that?

I have spent some time looking around the popular virtual world platform Second Life. In a virtual world, you assign yourself an avatar (basically a cartoon character representing you) and walk around this large simulated space and interact with other avatars and objects. There is a fun and coolness factor to it all. There are museums to explore, historical location recreations, science fiction universes and dance floors. Lots of dance floors. But what really intrigues me is the very presence in Second Life of large Fortune 500 companies like IBM and Cisco. What are they up to there?

I spoke to some people experiencing and supporting those companies’ Second Life presence in impromptu discussions “in world” (as they say). The conversations often left me with more questions than answers.  While the Second Life experience promises a high degree of interaction, it comes at a significant cost.  A user needs to become conversant in the use of the proprietary viewer (a special-purpose browser to connect you with the virtual world), the methods for creation, manipulation and animation of  objects and the utilization of the on-line chat facility or its voice-based interaction mechanism.  The primary question is: given all of these costs and barriers to adoption, what is the benefit of this experience over say, WebEx (which Cisco actually owns) or Telepresence (which Cisco also heavily promotes) or even a standard teleconference?  The common answer was either that Second Life was “cool” or “fun” – just what I experienced.  But is that enough?  Does that constitute “the killer app” for virtual worlds? It’s “cool” and “fun”?

There are also, however, some intangibles. People hiding behind their personal (and anonymous) avatars tend to be a little bolder. They tend to speak more openly and honestly. That can allow for more compelling and fruitful interactions and in collaborative circumstances result in better outcomes and solutions developed. Some studies have even shown that this boldness is transferrable to real life. So maybe, these companies are engaging in a little social cognitive therapy for those legions of techies they employ expecting to elicit better human interaction as a result. And that makes it all worthwhile.