If you read this blog on a regular basis, or any of the other new media blogs out there, you've no doubt heard a lot about Second Life. It's even come into the cross-hairs of mainstream media as of late as reporters who dabble in the medium flush out its weaknesses, which it undoubtedly has. (You can read Wired's accusatory article here.)
My problem with most of "mainstream" media's take on it is that they either spend too little time with it (less than an hour) or don't even bother trying. Now, I admit there are more than a few shortcomings and limitations in Second Life and like everything in new media it's ONE option, not THE option. Here are a few of the main limitations:
- It's rather slow (see the next point)
- It wasn't built to scale to the volume of users that are there today
- It's yet another application requiring yet another install
Those, however, are not the faults that the media usually finds. They target things like 'it's geeky', 'it's young', 'it's full of sex', etc. Those things are true, but Second Life is only three years old. Remember the arguments that people had in the late 90's against the Internet? Sound familiar? It should.
Remember the arguments that people had in the late 90's against the Internet? Sound familiar? It should.
Right now Second Life is experimental, but as I spend more and more time there the real power has become clearly evident. Here are a few of the things that make SL an option that should remain on the table for marketers as an option for their marketing mix.
Here I am in SL chilling out
- It's extremely engaging/immersive: This is a virtual world first and foremost. You can walk around, touch things, sit down, walk up and down stairs, jump up and down, shake other people's hands, have meetings, etc. It's as immersive as any video game and the movement and interaction are very similar as well. The designers who create areas are basically unlimited in what they can do and the laws of gravity certainly don't exist (for the most part). For the user, you can customize your wardrobe and total appearance down to every detail.
- It's more personal than email, IM or a phone call: As soon as your persona is created and you take your first steps, you become connected with them. When you walk up to somebody else you can IM and chat with them (and now you can use voice chat as well). Unlike normal chat and email, where you may be doing something else and not paying attention, the fact that you're physically represented makes you more connected and engaged.
- It bridges physical disconnect: Companies and organizations that are physically decentralized will find Second Life a powerful bridge builder. No matter where people are, they can jump on, meet up in a certain place and chat. The focus that you put on your character makes you pay attention more to what you're saying and makes you listen and engage more than any teleconference you could hold. Churches have been formed and are creating services, events are taking place to raise real money for charity, companies are holding staff meetings as well as conducting interviews, hosting/attending trade shows and putting on concerts. These are things that normally would consist of a teleconference, web streaming or IM and the virtual nature makes it a lot more fun and interactive.
- Connections are easily made: It's easy to make friends in SL since you can walk right up to almost anyone and strike up a conversation. You'll find people from all over the world there and learn new and interesting things in the process. In many ways SL mirrors life except the normal barriers of personal space are not there. You can talk to anybody, go anywhere and meet people who you normally wouldn't be able to meet offline.
- New voice feature: I already mentioned how having a physical representation in the world is engaging, but now voice has been added. You can basically talk to anybody and they can talk back to you. Think about it as an instant teleconference for free. This really just adds to the level of interactivity and makes the experience more immersive.
I hope that, before you write it off or scoff, you will take a stroll through Second Life. Heck, if you want I'll personally walk you through every single step. You can call me directly at 216-408-3312 or email me. The worst thing you can do is read the hype (or anti-hype) and believe it. You have to experience is for yourself.
Second Life may not be the end-all of virtual worlds. There may be a better one that comes along. Private worlds will surely spring up and I could totally see somebody like Facebook or MySpace adding this on to their existing network to enhance engagement. I'm available anytime to show you around (my screen name in SL is Mattanium Eros), so what are you waiting for? The worst that can happen is you find it's not right for your customers at this time, but you'll be a lot more educated in the end.
[Note] If you want to see more, check out my in-depth video on Second Life.
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