Civic technology

Second Life Targets Existing Branded Web Communities

(re-post from my Corante blog)

Second Life, the apparent runaway winner in the emerging niche of online virtual worlds that are not (according to their publishers) games, passed a major milestone last week with a successful second annual developer and user conference. Much of this conference focused on how consultants and companies are leveraging the commercial and intellectual property regimes of Second Life to build successful businesses around Second Life as a platform.

Major companies such as Major League Baseball, and institutions such as The University of Southern California, have already turned to Second Life to host virtual events synched with live real-world events.  Organizations such as the New Media Consortium are using Second Life to convene meetings and conferences.  Wells Fargo is teaching kids about finance in an engaging manner through Second Life.  Clothing designers are using the community to prototype their designs and get community feedback and build buzz before they have to manufacture.

Next up: full-fledged web communities augmenting their online experience with a virtual world. A white paper by Linden Labs distributed at the conference (not posted online yet unfortunately) lays out some early ideas about how this might occur.  While the value proposition and methodology for doing this still feels to me as though it is in an early experimental phase, I think it has immense potential. 

Imagine a wiki-based web community now being able to collaboratively design detailed 3-dimensional objects, complete with nuanced permissions, instead of just text documents.   Imagine the 699,000 of 700,000 DailyKos political blogging community members who will NOT make it to next year’s YearlyKos conference in Chicago being able to "attend" online side by side with other virtual attendees, complete with live streaming video of speakers and somewhat analogous social interaction opportunities to those at the conference, all without having to spend any money or travel time to get to the conference… 

Imagine a dark horse political candidate with a virtual campaign headquarters in which campaign volunteers can collaborate regardless of geographic location and be trained personally by the avatars of real campaign staff, and where the candidate can conduct a virtual whistlestop tour to test new stump speeches and conversations with highly educated, affluent, and socially networked focus groups (the average age of a Second Life "resident" is 32)…

I’ve long been a skeptic of the utility of virtual worlds beyond the realm of MMORPGS, but buzz about Second Life is exploding, and after digging into the possibilities a bit myself, I’m a convert.  In the political space in particular, where flash animations, podcasting, and YouTube are still all the rage, I think we could see virtual worlds emerge as a "next big thing."

Next step: someone please demonstrate an effective mashup of Second Life with a successful Drupal, Joomla, or Mediawiki web community.   Then get a darkhorse political campaign to invest in its use.  See what happens. THAT would certainly make the unofficial list of Second Life’s lists of "firsts".  It might just help the campaign too.

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