Second Life Brings New Life to Web 2.0

I’ve been hearing more and more, and becoming more and more intrigued, by the multi-player game-like virtual world of Second Life. This Popular Science article literally dives into the phenomenon and alludes to some of its local advertising potential.

Here are a few notable excerpts from the article:

… Although no major brick-and-mortars are doing business from within SL yet, they are taking note. The banking giant Wells Fargo built its own branded island inside SL, designed to train young people to be financially responsible. Wal-Mart, American Express and Intel are looking at using SL for their corporate training. And why not? With its natural interactivity and open platform for creation, Second Life, or some­thing like it, may very well be the next generation of the Web. For example, if I was online banking in SL, I wouldn't have to browse through several static screens of text. I could just walk into a virtual bank, stroll up to a teller, and deposit real-life money the newfangled, old-fashioned way: by talking to a person …

… To spur development early on, Linden Lab offered financial incentives in Linden dollars to residents who created areas that became popular destinations. This laid the groundwork for SL's now-thriving economy, which currently has an annual gross domestic product of $64 million (U.S. dollars). Residents buy and sell Linden dollars for real money (Linden takes a small cut of all currency exchanges) and can do a brisk business peddling everything from developed real estate to exotic body parts for residents who don't want to design their own. There are at least 3,000 entrepreneurs making $20,000 or more a year on SL businesses; BusinessWeek devoted a recent cover story to Anshe Chung, who earns hundreds of thousands of (actual) dollars as SL's biggest real-estate mogul …

… The next version of Second Life will be seamlessly integrated with the Web, making it easier for real-world businesses to sell items through SL. For example, a retailer like L.L. Bean could have a "door" to an SL store on its Web site, inviting people to jump from 2-D browsing into a 3-D saunter around, where an avatar with your exact mea­surements could try on clothes for you. Or a consumer-electronics company could offer in-person technical support from an avatar who had a precise 3-D replica of, say, that new digital camera you couldn't figure out, and could show you which button you needed to push. As the wall between the Web and Second Life grows thinner, having an SL account might become as common as having an e-mail address …

… Rosedale says the next frontier for SL is work, not play. In the past year, several companies have built replicas of their conference rooms in SL so that far-flung employees can meet and exchange information, and even collaboratively build prototypes of real-world projects. A company called Electric Sheep recently began selling its services as a kind of virtual architecture firm. Corporations and universities pay Electric Sheep to create office buildings in SL for meetings, events and special projects. Working in SL will only become more appealing as graphics become more detailed and SL adds voice chat, eliminating the keyboard-and-bubbles bit …

This is something that takes the user interaction, characteristic of Web 2.0, to a new level. And it could likewise have the same commercialization potential for real offline businesses. This is something to watch closely for its advertising possibilities and for the sheer techno-cultural phenomenon factor.

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