Unlocking Your Market Potential

SVPMA Presentation, Nov 5th 2008

Write-up by Keith Rayner

How Innovation and Collaboration is Shaping
the Evolution of Virtual Worlds

Jim Yang, Director of Product Management, Linden Lab

The online virtual world Second Life has now become an established element in the current mix of social networking and gaming. Most people have an opinion about it, many people have visited briefly out of curiosity, some people (and corporations) use it actively. Perspectives range from “I have a real life, why do I need a second one” to Second Life “cheating” in a relationship with avatars leading to divorce in real life.

So it was fascinating to get the inside scoop from Jim Wang, Director, Product Management at Linden Lab and see first-hand what makes people at Linden Lab tick. It turns out that the Linden folks drink copious amounts of their own Kool-Aid, conducting business meetings, IM chat and even job interviews within Second Life, and use Linden as their own last names at work (although Linden is the street name in San Francisco where the offices are located, not a real person).

But interestingly, the inflexion point for Second Life came when Product Managers gave use of the tools and scripting language for the creation of avatars and environments to their community - the whole thing then took off exponentially with Second Lifers expressing themselves in ways that the product folks had never imagined.

And it’s this freedom for creativity that obviously inspires Jim Wang. As he played a five-minute video of a whole town being built in a Van Gogh-like impressionist setting, with Don McLean’s “Starry Starry Night” playing in the background (Watch the World, Robbie Dingo), Jim looked as enthralled as the rest of us.

Adding this creativity to an already 3D world gives what to me is the key differentiator for Second Life – total immersion. Whereas other social networking sites are engaging, they are still very two-dimensional, with no real visual immersion, interactivity or expression, but now we have Second Life taking the still two dimensional web 2.0 up a level to a richer, deeper 3D immersive web.
We all know corporations and advertisers love to engage their audience. So how is the business world leveraging the potential of immersion? Advertisers and branders haven’t quite made the leap yet as the Second Life community is not large enough to qualify as a mass market, although I suspect there are many niche opportunities. But for businesses (and politics) the possibilities are endless. Barack Obama held town hall meetings in Second Life, and companies hold presentations and multi-way conversational meetings with on-the-fly language translation. Architecture firms use it for interactive, rapid iteration prototyping and design meetings. Banks test new branch office layouts with customers. Auto companies show car concepts, HR train employees, and First Response teams can run through virtual emergency rescue scenarios.

So what’s left to do for a Product Manager or Developer at Linden if the users create the environment? Well plenty, actually. Your avatar is born with a set of pre-built capabilities, and the tools Second Lifers use to enhance their avatars need to be themselves created and developed, including LSL (Linden Scripting Language.) The land and islands needs to be managed, and the environment controlled. If you build a house, inherent properties built in to the product mean you can’t walk through the walls for example.

Fascinating. As one quote goes, “It’s just like your first life except you can fly.”

Keith Rayner, Kemarra Inc: April 2009


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