I attended Crayonville's Virtual Branding event on Second Life (SL) this morning - naked!
For those who need a little background on SL before I go any further - it's a virtual world and is designed so that anything you can do in the 'real' world you can essentially do in SL. There are other virtual worlds (Active Worlds and There.com to name a couple) but businesses in general seem to have gravitated to SL as the platform of choice and use it as another medium to communicate with people. SL has it's critics and it's supporters - based on my experience I think I'm somewhere in the middle.
Okay, let me back up and recap my naked experience. When I first tried to join the event I had to log off my company's VPN which blocks SL due to security reasons (I don't really know the details of that). Then as I started the application I was prompted by SL to upgrade my platform which meant I had to restart SL. That took a few minutes but then I was finally in - but I couldn't see anything. I looked like a flashlight in the dark so I thought my screen was still loading but after a few minutes of walking around blind I realized that the app just opened up with a layered window that was covering my view.
Finally I'm in - and I can see. But now I don't have any clothes on! And my avatar looks pretty life-like, so I'm a little embarrassed. On top of that people keep asking me where my clothes are. All I know is that they're not on me! I figured out how to join a private chat and get some help but the function to put clothes on wasn't working - apparently it's a known issue that might be resolved by restarting SL (again) but I decided that I wasted too much time already and wanted to do what I came here to do - listen to the event.
The general message of the event itself was that virtual branding should complement what you're already doing (in the real world) and that measuring it is difficult. The event panelists explained that you need to look at SL as another way to engage in conversation with your customers - where they are. So if your customers are here, so should you. But are they here? Well there's a lot of debate on that one but one thing is for certain: the corporate community hasn't been too shy about building virtual worlds of their own (Cisco , Sun, and IBM to name a few). I know Cisco holds press conferences here, seminars, executive briefings and soon job fairs!
One of the cool things about SL is that while I was listening to the panelists I was able to participate in chat conversations - one person explained it as being able to talk to your neighbor as if you were in a live event. I have to admit that was pretty cool. And it was much easier to start and participate in a conversation than it is in the real world - plus you’re not limited to talking to the person to your left or right - you have the whole room.
I think SL has a ways to go and that Linden Research needs to focus on simplifying the user experience. If they can ensure a consistent and positive experience for users I think we'll see an uptake on the adoption rate. Personally I'm not convinced of the ROI but in any case SL isn't going away any time soon. As a marketer I think it's worth spening time to understand so I will be looking forward to the monthly events that Crayonville is going to host in SL as a way to get my feet wet.