Because they can
January 6, 2007
Why real life businesses are and should be looking at Second Life.
Dell, IBM, Circuit City, Intel, Sun, Sony, what do they know that you don’t? By their sheer size the answer is and must be “a lot.” What do they know that’s brought them into Second Life? Partially it’s a search for what’s new, a desire to not miss the boat on what is either “the new web” or precursor thereof. But even given the ability of these companies to take risks they can’t just try everything all the time.
So why are they trying out Second Life? Ignoring the controversy of how to interpret it, 2.3 million registered accounts is a hard figure to ignore. For that reason alone they obviously had to take a look, and probably assign a person or two to keep an eye on it. When they did, they probably found some of the same figures that Gwenyth Llwellyn did. There is however another reason, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else, they can. Aside from some very interesting viral marketing from Sony, most of the “New Internet Boom” has not been for sale. Circuit City cannot open a store on MySpace, IBM cannot offer consulting via YouTube, and Sun cannot hold press conferences on eBay. Maybe Microsoft could buy all of Google, but they can’t hold meetings on the search for “freedom to innovate”. The industry giants above have, at times, acquired access to new Internet trends by forming strategic partnerships. Within the limits of the business models they combine, strategic partnerships can benefit and direct trends, maybe even turn a profit, but they are still limited. Second Life, however is much more like the web itself. Companies can build just about anything they want.
The same applies just as well to smaller companies. While their vision may be less grandiose than Dell’s four sim complex, a coffee shop with a dream can create it in Second Life and present it to a world wide audience. In Second Life however, our supposed coffee shop with a dream can buy in too. They can pick up a 2,000 square meter plot and build a shop. The owner can build the shop themselves and pop over to Kitchen Korner for some appliances or pay a builder a couple hundred bucks to build it. Much more easily than in the real world, the shop can be shaped to fit it’s business model. If the shop is a social place, plenty of seating can be installed with message boards and games, if they want to sell espresso machines and beans, a table with information or vendors to exhibit the products can fill in the walls. If custom blends are the specialty of the house, bean bins can hold the blends of the day. It’s not just a matter of being able to rebuild a real world location in Second Life, a coffee roaster in Nebraska who doesn’t want to leave their hometown can build a coffee shop in Second Life and reach a world-wide audience that they couldn’t otherwise.
So sure, user numbers matter, and sure, not everything attempted will work, but the flexibility of Second Life makes it attractive to businesses for the simple reason that they can build there without being constrained to an existing technology. -CF
PS: If you are a coffee shop, or any other business that wants to build in SL drop me a line at Ciemaar@gmail.com. Especially a coffee shop, I’m almost out of beans.