Tips for Establishing a Presence in Second Life
November 13, 2008, 2:48 pm
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As I roam the virtual frontier, I’m occasionally asked for advice about establishing a presence in Second Life, and I share the same bits of advice time and again. I thought I would share a summary of these points here for any readers considering the same, and invite comments, corrections or additions to the list from those with more experience.

Here are some general tips to get you started:

  • [updated addition, per colleague inquiries] – Start with Second Life. It is, by far, the most advanced virtual world platform that offers in-world building tools for user generated content. In my opinion, this feature is where the true game changing new frontier of virtual worlds lies, and what makes Second Life so unique among competitors – which don’t even come close. Plus, Second Life is still where the strongest community lives, and that means a lot. I realize many of us are patiently awaiting a stable version of OpenSim – and many are already working there. But I think we all recognize that it has a long way to go before it can become as stable as Second Life.  I think that will be the case for at least another year or two. By then, I would like to believe Second Life will be that much farther ahead. In sum, get a good start in Second Life before considering any alternatives.
  • Start small, with a few others in your organization who are also interested in exploring Second Life. Don’t waste your energy trying to convince people who aren’t interested! I consistently witness that some people ‘get it’ and some people not only don’t get it, but are seemingly opposed to it. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground between these two polar extremes, and its best to focus on working (at first) with those who appreciate it at first glance or after a brief introduction. Demonstrate the value to the others by proving success with a small group before trying to expand support.
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money! Enjoy the fact that its free! Use the sandboxes (we just opened a new one, HERE!) to learn the ropes, and get to know others
  • Read the blogs! There is a great list HERE.
  • Don’t use Second Life as a business collaboration tool for mission critical work! Focus on what Second Life is already good at; not as a replacement for other tools, but a means of augmenting those tools. If you reach a point where you really want to push the Second Life interface to a new level for business collaboration, consider Linden Lab’s and Rivers Run Red’s new Immersive Workspaces solution
  • Get to know the Second Life community – join groups, attend meetings, read blogs. Use the ‘search’ function to look for keywords for topics you’re interested in. Because everyone accessing Second Life is able to be in immediate contact with each other, you can meet some of the highest caliber individuals you’ll ever meet. The opportunities for networking and cross-disciplinary innovation increase exponentially if you reach outside the bounds of your own immediate plot of land!
  • Participate in the community, if you have time. Help organize meetings, set up your own group if you don’t find the one you’re looking for
  • Start an internal skunk-works group for anyone interested at your organizaton. Again, approach it as an experimental application, not as a replacement for your existing communication tools, but as a means of augmenting those tools
  • Use any/all of the great collaboration tools already available, at very low cost – use or
  • Rent a small plot of land for a more permanent location, as needed – populate it with content you and you colleagues build, or prefab buildings you can purchase at the links listed above
  • Gradually prove the value of Second Life to your colleagues over time – share screenshots, machinima and appropriate links to resource materials to prove the value of Second Life to your colleagues over time. Record machinima and transcripts of your meetings, and post them to an internal location for them to review. It helps to show those who aren’t involved what they can expect to experience if they decide to join in the action. Machinima and screenshots help perforate the perceived boundary between real and virtual space
  • Use Second Life to engage long distance or remote workers. This is a great way to provide the perception of everyone working together in the same ‘place’. I’ve written more about that here, here and here.
  • When you do get a budget, you don’t necessarily need to spend it by hiring a ‘solution provider’ to build a bunch of stuff. Instead, try establishing some guidelines and let others in your organization generate most of the content, or obtain content created by the community. Just about everything you can imagine is already available at a very modest expense.
  • Instead of hiring a content creator, invest in the advice of a consultant who can provide ongoing and regular guidance to your team, be available to answer questions, teach newbies, give building classes, etc.
  • If you have specific buildings that need to be custom built by a content creator, use Second Life’s directory of ‘Solution Providers‘ to find the right team for your projects. The vast majority of my own clients found my listing within this directory, where you can find the right group for your project.
  • Don’t try to control the project too much! I really don’t think unique dress codes or strict rules governing behavior in SL is necessary on a formal level. It seems logical that if you’re representing a professional organization, your avatar should have an outward facing profile that reflects the same professional standards as that organization.

I’ve also observed three common mistakes or misconceptions that are worth mentioning.

  • First, is what I’ve called ‘the fear of being a newbie‘ – and being afraid to try anything or make mistakes. I already wrote about that on Clear Ink’s blog.
  • On the other end of the spectrum are those who want to do way too much, too soon. It is incredibly important to have realistic expectations, and to understand what can, and cannot be done in Second Life.
  • Finally, I’ve noticed lots of potential clients who are ready to hire a content creator, and have a budget – but struggle to even operate their avatar. I’ve made a point of avoiding projects altogether under these circumstances, and instead sharing some resources and links that will help them get up to speed before investing in a build. So often, people are excited and motivated by an article they read somewhere, and see Second Life exclusively as a marketing tool – or an opportunity for some PR. Second Life can certainly be great for both marketing and PR, but it has to be done properly, and will never succeed as an exclusive goal. These should only be bi-products of a more comprehensive multi-faceted strategy.

That’s all I can think of. What did I miss? What did I get wrong?

Second Life’s Enterprise Boom

Here are a few tremors from this week’s roundup from the virtual frontier:

BusinessWeek – “Moving beyond Second Life marketing, many companies are infiltrating virtual worlds for employee meetings, mixers, and recruiting.”

“To save money in these tough times, universities, conference planners and global firms have started holding gatherings for far-flung employees and students in the online world known as Second Life”,0,2472150.story

“…all those who dismissed Second Life out of hand on the basis of those earlier reports slowly realize their rationale has eroded out from under them.”

“Today I set a new virtual work record, spending six hours straight in Second Life doing what could be described as work.”

The employee-centered virtual workplace: “I have started to imagine a workspace where I position near me the offices or desks of people I interact with (or would like to interact with) most frequently.”

National Center for Telecommunications Technologies has recently purchased a Second Life Island and are in the process of partitioning and building out… “We believe virtual world use will continue to grow – especially as the price of fuel continues to rise and travel costs grow.”

Other good reading I have yet to link (via NWN): Forbes article “How to Spark Remote Learning” and “Virtual Innovation

In a post on Cisco’s blog this week, Dannette Veale comments on the BusinessWeek article by pointing out that, “Cisco Sales Associate Program (CSAP) at Cisco is using Second Life as a meeting place for their globally dispersed team. The CSAP folks get together in this virtual environment regularly to ensure synergy with their program and to talk about the latest in technology such as WAAS and virtualization. The team is also leveraging the virtual environment for team building activities like global team photo days. This leads to a sense of belonging to something greater than ones self, to a sense of being part of something.”

Yet, with all of this excitement and positive energy building, I was alarmed and a bit saddened by Christian Renaud’s well-reasoned prediction that Second Life will fade into the sunset in the next 24-36 months. Read more here:

We’ll see about that.