Remote intimacy and musical underwear

Clients are starting to ask their ad agencies and digital ad agencies about Second Life. Last week I did a series of presentations to Australian agencies about the virtual world, trying to explain it to people who in some cases have not yet experienced it. In those cases it was like trying to explain television to Sitting Bull. ‘No, listen to me again. The people are not INSIDE the SCREEN’.

The presentation covered what people actually do in Second Life and how their involvement changes over time. But it also addressed the fundamental: What is Second Life? Here is a summary of that section.

Firstly, it is a new medium. You can argue about how fast it will grow and how big it will get but be very clear that people relate to this medium in a different way to any other. Given that it is a commercial platform, is growing quickly and is more immersive than television or the internet, it should be of interest.

Secondly, the thing that distinguishes Second Life from other media is that it provides a shared sense of space. This gives rise to remote intimacy, the glue for virtual sex, social networking and rapid business relationships. A digression: one of the happy accidents of Second Life development was that server constraints limited most events and clubs to 40 or 50 avatars. Research by Christopher Allen into group sizes of online groups shows that 40 to 60 people is the most common group size. I believe this accidental limitation has helped preserve intimacy and has been important in the formation of early Second Life culture.

We’re up to thirdly. Thirdly, Second Life is an international micro-economy. Real world limitations brought about by transaction costs do not apply in virtual worlds and products can be sold profitably for fractions of a dollar. More so than on the Internet where financial institutions take their cut and where delivery charges apply to physical goods.

Fourthly, we have here a whole new structure under which business models can be tested. Reseller network structures can be tested. Different ways of product sampling, different ways of involving your customers, different models of product support…

Fifthly, Second Life is part of a broader trend towards user-generated content. But whereas MySpace and YouTube have pre-defined structures for the content, Second Life is much more open-ended.

Sixthly; the compelling social experience. People also form very strong social links in computer game environments, but games are goal-driven and limited by the parameters set by game designers. In Second Life, the social experience derives from shared real-world experiences (eg groups of real-world librarians) or shared in-world experiences (role-play, concerts, clubs, controversies). The lack of an objective gives people time to pursue whatever interests they have – people have been known to flirt here. Self-expression, anonymity and beauty are key factors in the equation. Are you reading between the lines yet?

Seventhly. Interactive information. The ability to walk around a piece of mining equipment, press the button, watch the chamber fill with liquid and see the consequences of not correctly matching the PURGE and the FILL rate. Educational institutions and non-profits are pushing the envelope here. There are implications for business in how to communicate more powerfully.

Eighthly and I just love the way that word is spelt: Second Life in its early stages is a replica of the real world. People unthinkingly duplicate the way that things work in the real world, not understanding that the physical limitations which caused us to act that way do not exist in a virtual environment. There is no need for Sony to sell music packaged like real world CDs. They could sell you underwear that plays music. Through the imaginative use of this creative medium, real life companies can add value to their brands. Give me a call if you’d like to discuss. 714 656 4001.


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