By Janet Martin
Ernest Cline recently wrote a novel called “Ready Player One.” Among many other things, the world within this novel is slowly falling apart due to the nation’s obsession with the virtual world known as OASIS. Rather than go to work, go on dates or really exist at all in the physical world, the characters prefer leading their avatars through this extensive virtual world, thereby allowing the world to fall into decay. Virtual worlds, where people interact and essentially live their lives, are part of people’s everyday lives right now.
Second Life is a virtual reality world founded by Philip Rosedale. Cline’s story has come to life, but there are some key differences in the real-life application of this virtual world. What makes Second Life more like an actual second life is the fact that businesses can choose to create avatars for their employees and conduct formal, professional business within the Second Life universe. Rather than lead to the destruction Cline predicted, Second Life is helping businesses.
What is Second Life?
Second Life website, Second Life is an online virtual world launched by Linden Labs in June 2003. With the help of viewers, free client programs, and residents, Second Life users, personalized avatars explore the 3-D world known as the grid. The world can be manipulated and changed through external and imported software as well as the procedural scripting language called Linden Scripting Language. Accounts are free and allow you to create an avatar that can be human, animal, vegetable, mineral or anything you want and they travel by walking, running, flying or teleporting. Should your avatar choose to buy something, there is an internal economy and currency known as the Linden dollar. Simply purchase Linden dollars with real life currencies and you are on your way to the lap of virtual luxury. But this alone would make Second Life no different than countless video games. By allowing companies to conduct business gives Second Life an edge.
How businesses are using Second Life as a digital forum
In an interview with Fast Company, Rosedale stated that 200,000 people use Second Life a little under 1 million hours a day. Of these users, 15 to 20 percent use Second Life for business. Companies like IBM, Cisco and Intel Corporations use the online world for meetings, interviews, guest speaker events and training for other employees. The people at IBM are embracing the virtual world they have created for their employees. Chuck Hamilton, the virtual learning leader at IBM’s Center for Advanced Learning, claims that Second Life is ideal for the company. Hamilton recently told Hypergrid Business that “At IBM, we have over 400,000 employees and 70 percent or so are outside the Americas and 44 percent of the population works outside a traditional office — we are virtual by nature.”
IBM is more than ready to label their time with Second Life a success. Their first event held in Second Life was a Virtual World Conference for over 200 members and 75 percent of them thought the event went well. IBM and Linden Labs would have to agree. An article on the website of Engage Digital, a company that produces technology focused industry conferences, claims the event saved IBM $320,000. So, needless to say, they do not share Cline’s anxiety over the growing interest of virtual reality. Cline’s novel worries about empty buildings and a lack of trust (How do you know if your co-worker really looks like that?), but IBM is less concerned.
Overcoming the Obstacles of Virtual Meetings
For IBM, the problems lie more with ownership of intellectual property and a proper display of professionalism. They recently released a set of rules and guidelines designed to regulate the 5,000 employees who use Second Life and other online universes. IBM and Intel told PC World that they will be releasing tip sheets for their virtual employees. One such tip regards avatar appearance. The avatars of IBM must be “dressed” in a way that is professional, or at the very least, not distracting, and they must not share intellectual property with unauthorized people. They must also refrain from any sort of harassment or discrimination. In other words, they must follow the same set of rules that would be expected in any office in the real world because moving online in no way affects an employee’s ability to work.
The biggest anxiety felt by Cline’s characters, the fear that you never truly know who you are talking to, mostly applies to personal relationships as opposed to business relationships. If you never know for a fact what your loved one looks like, or if they are even the gender they claim to be, it can create some tension. But in business, looks are secondary to skills and experience. A virtual world like Second Life allows looks to take a back seat, especially if the company tries to regulate the image as IBM has. International business is easier to coordinate with virtual worlds and now workers do not have to travel from their homes in order to fulfill their obligations to the company. That means they can work and do all of this in their pajamas.
So while “Ready Player One” may make for a great summer read, it is fiction. Second Life manages to create an extensive virtual world without the apocalyptic catastrophe mentioned in Cline’s novel. If Second Life continues on its current course, it will help smooth out many of the problems that come with running a business, especially if employees need to interact, but live in different areas.