So what's new in your second life?
Business Week has a piece about businesses trying to set up shop in Second Life, the virtual reality created by Linden Lab of San Francisco. If you've been hearing the buzz about it and wondered what it is, why it's important, and generally whether you should care, it's as good a place as any to start.
For real-life companies from Warner Bros. to Adidas to Intel seeking to brand themselves as hip and forward-thinking, virtual community Second Life has quickly become a trendy marketing and advertising outlet. Opening virtual offices or shops, selling and market-testing digital replicas of products, and creating 3D online personas or "avatars" in Second Life are becoming items on the to-do lists of those eager to tap into the nascent market. The three-year-old Web-based world has more than one million "residents" who spent $9 million in October on virtual land, products, and services. And while advertising's traditional outlets are losing eyeballs, so far this year the population of Second Life has increased 995% -- a growing potential consumer audience for marketing messages.
Second Life, of course, is still a work in progress. None of the companies spending real money to launch campaigns can yet gauge how successful their efforts will be, and virtual campaigns aren't without their own unique dangers. One problem is hackers, who periodically shut down Second Life. Linden Lab, the company behind the site, recently met with federal authorities to address this cybercrime. In addition, many long-time residents view the arrival of big brands as a threat to established mom-and-pop entrepreneurs. Annoyed vigilante residents have set off bombs -- via malicious computer code -- that destroy virtual buildings or cause the application on your computer to freeze. American Apparel has had to deal with virtual protesters scandalized by the scantily clad models in the company's real-world ads. And there is one weird technical glitch: When a space is swamped with visitors (more than 60 to 90), a bug in the system can make avatars' clothes disappear.
If you go visit Second Life now after hearing the hype, you may be underwhelmed. I've looked around a few times and it mostly seems to be avatars staring into space as people try to figure out what to do. Nevertheless, with 1.6 million "residents," it's something worth paying attention to - particularly as the technology improves.
Business Week has a tip sheet that offers some basic information. One thing they don't mention: some Second Life users are frustrated by what they see as a corporate invasion of their online world, so be ready for backlash if you're heavy-handed in your marketing efforts.
As the article notes, nobody can actually tell if they're making any money in Second Life. But I'd bet that someone will figure out how to, and be able to measure their results - eventually.