|Professional Services||Second Signal||Presentations||Andrew's Blog||Support|
If I were to arrive for a meeting at IBM’s Palisades headquarters, it seems unlikely that I’d be accosted and harassed by a pale skinned woman in a black leather bikini with wings and carrying a bull whip. IBM’s security presence would not tolerate behavior like that for long on their campus. Nonetheless, when I connected to Second Life to see IBM’s growing investment in that space I found exactly that going on at their “Theater B” – a gathering spot patterned after an amphitheater. The character in question – more likely a young man than an actual female demon – was annoying the two or three other people who’d found their way to that location. I figured out how to “mute” the person, and then explained the trick to the other people who were likely also new to the virtual world having been invited by IBM. Of course, this didn’t really please our not so entertaining acquaintance. Muting someone doesn’t actually make them go away; it just means the stupidity they type stops showing up on your screen. They can still annoy you, and even push you around a little bit.
IBM ‘owns’ this virtual space within Second Life and presumably their designated people have the power to ban a character who refuses to meet their standards. Where were they? IBM seems to have spent serious time and money building a very impressive site with many buildings, meeting rooms, open spaces, artwork, and information spots for their products. That’s the fun marketing and engineering work. What struck me was that I found no evidence that they’d hired a virtual security guard – or enough of them to make a difference. That isn’t sexy for the technology centric people putting the site together. It took me more than 20 minutes to locate anyone at all with an IBM moniker and of course it was an “architect” – one of the engineering types making buildings and working with the environment. He wasn’t able to locate the individual and I wasn’t able to share my transcript of the conversation – though that may be possible in a way I haven’t yet discovered.
As a customer and business partner, I expect that when entering an IBM space – virtual or otherwise – I’ll find a professional and secure environment conducive to business. That wasn’t my experience. First, once I logged in I was completely unable to find any kind of link to the place I was going. I was looking for the “Lotusphere” conference virtual presence but no such term exists within the Second Life search tool. I did run into someone who works for Oracle and we chatted a bit, but ultimately I had to go outside the virtual environment to find where to go. Once I’d found a link on Lotus’s web site, I found IBM’s site but didn’t find many people from IBM. I met one sort of greeter person who offered me a t-shirt (a virtual one for my character) and there were a couple of other neophytes wandering around but that’s it. I’ve been back a few times both during daytime hours and nighttime ones and had similar experiences each time.
IBM isn’t alone in misunderstanding the technology. I visited a virtual “Sears” store and found that in a world where you can fly around, where movement is clumsy and best done on a gross scale, they’d built a sort of store replica with interior spaces, doorways, elevators, and display stands. I spent most of the time bumping into walls or finding myself situated with the camera view that follows my character on the other side of a bush or wall from the character. To leave, I couldn’t just fly away. One thing I didn’t find at all was anyone from Sears. I did a search and found a Microsoft location but couldn’t go there. It was private and unavailable.
The technology does work. It took me about 20 minutes to figure out how to move around smoothly, and another half an hour to make an avatar that looks enough like me that people who know me will see the resemblance. I must say the options are more limited if you want to create a 40 year old with a bit of paunch and gray in his hair than if you want a heavily muscled and perfectly tanned movie star. With some extra work, I was even able to re-create a fire department t-shirt that I’m frequently seen wearing, though this had to be done outside the virtual environment and I have the advantage of a good bit of experience creating graphical things (including t-shirts) within those applications.
From what I can tell, Second Life is an interesting platform for trying out new meeting spaces. The paradigm is useful for large gatherings and may grow to be a good place for looking at things in a sort of 3D way. I can see concerts and political meetings working well there in a few years. For now, it’s an extremely high bandwidth version of a chat room which will appeal briefly to technology people and a bit longer for young men with a taste for bad graphical pornography or a need to cross dress.
It isn’t sexy to hire a roving security patrol staff yet that’s clearly needed. I expect that if I walk into a store there will be someone who works for that store there to talk to. Can you imaging walking into IBM’s Lotus offices at One Rogers street in Cambridge and finding nobody there from IBM? If IBM, Sears, and others plan to have a presence in places like this they need to start taking it more seriously from a customer standpoint rather than a marketing and pretty pictures one.
Please wait while your document is saved.