CNet, IBM and being taken seriously

CNet and IBM are in Second Life. IBM have a full time employee who is researching Second Life for its business applications and is promoting virtual worlds within IBM. CNet is the first major commercial media group to take a permanent slot. It has covered Second Life more closely than other outlets and this step shows that they understand its significance.

Add to these the heavyweights already involved; Toyota, Adidas, Amazon, Starwood Hotels, Yale, Harvard, Warner Bros, and you start to get the feeling that the cat is out of the bag.

Despite this, and despite that present rates of growth would see over 30 million people in Second Life by July 2008, you still see the eyes glazeth over when you talk to middle management about it.

Second Life is hard to explain to people, precisely because it is a new medium. Gwynyth Llewellyn has blogged about this in her usual incisive manner.

And SecondLife looks like a computer game. Historically, any animated content struggles to get taken seriously. Blame Disney, who targetted animation at children, the censors who prohibited animated adult content and the difficulties of lip sync in the medium.

Second Life might look like a computer game but this is not people being entertained by passive, illustrated characters. It is the use of animation to provide real people with a mask of anonymity and access to a fantasy world. Relationships form very quickly and are very powerful. Because of this and because it is a commercial shopfront, business needs to take Second Life very seriously.

The apparently frivolous interface makes marketing Second Life difficult for its owners, Linden Lab . The problem is this: show people footage of Second Life and they relate to it from what they know. “Oh, this looks like a video game. Or, “this looks like The Sims.” Or, “this looks like The Simpsons.” Our visual response is, I’ve already seen this stuff.

Nonetheless, apart from being in Second Life, video is the most effective medium for describing the environment.

So if you don’t know anything about Second Life but are curious, have a look at the NMC video which presents their vision for education in Second Life. It’s a damn fine piece of machinima with a killer voice-over but when you watch it, keep in mind that every animated character you see in it is a real person.

And if you are a business or institution wanting inside knowledge of the medium, contact me for a personal tour.



  1. Excellent article, Biscuit 🙂 I wonder if there was any chance to interview this lone IBM employee that is studying Second Life. Do you think that he’d be available for something like that, ie. what is IBM looking for in virtual worlds (besides the obvious)? Or perhaps he could be gently persuaded to talk about his experience in “selling SL internally at IBM”, an experience that, if he were willing to share it, could benefit all of us who are doing the same, and so very often, like your article so well puts it, “Second Life is hard to explain to people, precisely because it is a new medium.”

    So, how does he handle IBM? I’d love to know 🙂

  2. Both Ian Hughes and myself are full-time ‘Metaverse Evangelists’ for IBM, usually based in the Hursley laboratory in the UK. We’re part of a small team (managed in the US) which has the mission of understanding virtual worlds and helping IBM adopt them both internally and for external events. Ian and I both contribute to the group-blog at

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