Inside This World has just completed a Second Life proposal to a company suggesting they follow the IBM model. IBM have committed a heresy, building their own multi-island facility using their own employees*. The result is a messy and incomplete build which challenges the orthodoxy of Second Life and threatens to succeed and set some precedents.
The beginnings of corporatisation in Second Life followed the agency-client model made famous by J Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather and Leo Burnett and BBDO; that is to say, the client needs an image and by virtue of its introspection and inherent lack of creativity is unqualified to construct it. An agency is a specialist in strategic thought. They are custodians of the Menorah of creativity and the sacred maps of the media landscape.
In the tradition of this model, Second Life developers have brought many significant corporates into Second Life, influencing their strategy by virtue of their specialist knowledge of the Second Life culture and using their creative skills to produce slick, impressive looking buildings.
Readers of this blog know that I have been critical of some of these, arguing that there has been perhaps too much emphasis on a pretty shopfront and a press release and not enough on working out exactly what they’re doing here.
I spoke to a couple of the people involved in building the IBM environment and what was striking was their pride in their achievement. There was a real sense of ownership of the project and I’m telling you right now, this will be a thriving community. These people have a stake. On IBM 7, (okay they need an agency to give them a hand with the island-naming) there is a virtual community comprising IBM employees and ex-employees. It’s called Greater IBM.
This is a very sensible inititiative with or without Second Life as it extends the reach of the corporation among a very powerful alumni but it is an absolutely perfect application of Second Life, which generates sympatico like it’s going out of style. All that is necessary for this to succeed is to provide some social activity and allow people the space to collaborate on projects; doesn’t matter much what they are. I notice a machinima competition already exists.
So for companies such as IBM who understand the concept of a virtual community, are committed to a long term presence and have people with a relatively advanced skill set (my client has the same situation) this is a far better approach than an island handed over by a developer with a set of keys. Who has a stake? The developer has been paid (“call us if you need anything”) and the company don’t have the skills to evolve the facility. The buildings sit there like mausoleums but a Second Life site needs new content to an even greater extent than the web. You need new products/events/attractions/traffic to make people return.
If the IBM approach is as successful as I think, where does this leave the developer community? Will they cater for the less sophisticated companies? It’s a moot issue currently. Because of the Second Life growth rate all developers are in demand and for a couple more years there will be enough companies wanting impressive edifices to keep those with professional design credentials employed. I think that for some clients though, there is already sense in developers guiding, mentoring, consulting and training rather than developing, implementing and handing over.
IBM’s new Virtual World division will be doing Second Life development for their industry partners; Circuit City are an early sign-up. IBM’s stated goal is “to be a recognized leader in virtual world solution development”. I think the approach they have taken to their own islands shows that they are on track and it will be interesting to see the degree to which they apply their own approach to other companies’ projects.
* I note that Aimee Weber is assisting IBM with the House of Horizons project, which is not yet public.