Jesse Cravens

Building Modern Web Applications and Teams that Deliver

Stopping to Smell the Synthetic Roses: Exploring the Virtual World Marketplace

Last week, I mentioned writing this post, and then I got sidetracked, yet I have been ponderig the virtual world marketplace for sometime. Today, I came across Max Kiesler’s post Stylehive’s Virtual Showroom in Second Life, and I was reinspired to further continue this thought pattern.

To put it simply, there appears to be something brewing in virtual reality. I am envisioning a fusion of all the ‘Web 2.0’ technologies we have all become so sick of hearing about. As the web becomes saturated with social bookmarking, digital file sharing communities, virtual worlds like Second Life are becoming more and more interesting. Why? Complete immersion into the world, complete cusomization/personalization of oneself, and a natural extension of the real world marketpalce. 350px_Appearance_modify.jpg

Who has time for a Second Life? I know I can barely keep up with my first one.

It is my guess that if more people had time to try a world like Second Life, or, they would get hooked, or at least see some value in it. I personally don’t spend much time inside Second Life. I did try it for a month or two, but it began to take too much time away from my First Life.

So why am I so interested in a technology that I rarely use myself? Currently, the Second Life client is heavy, and one needs a decent graphics card. Not all users have these cards and the world gets a little choppy. In other words, it takes too long to fire the thing up, and then when I am there it takes too long to get anything done. Interestingly enough, an ajax world, Hive7 has been built. Obviously Hive7 is in no way comparable to the complexities of an evolved offering such as Second Life, but it may not be that far off until it is. So what is it that I find so interesting?

Stopping to Smell the Synthetic Roses: Why not take some time and explore these virtual worlds and see for yourself; There is something brewing in virtual worlds, and there has been for sometime. I know some of you are quite aware of the concept. Some of you may even make a common folk’s living selling Elvis–style lamb chops to synthetic representations of your cyber neighbors in the ocean side cantinas of your favorite virtual fantasy land, but others may have a difficult time understanding or even accepting this as a viable entrepreneurial pursuit. Here are a few more interesting links:

A recent Business Week interview with economist Edward Castronova

A radio show about Virtual Debt

Naysayers, Pessimists, and Neo-Luddites Bah! It is hard not to imagine armies of mole-like humanoids momentarily emerging from their one room studio apartments to walk to the nearest Starbucks equipped with mobile technologies enabling them to keep up with the latest trends in multiple virtual real estate markets.

I say…way cool, well except for the mole-like part. But think mobile. Think exist in there ( and exist here at the same time. Think new and exciting markets. And even cooler…think virtual dollars that can be traded for authentic currency like the American dollar. After all currency is currency, and income is income.

So, I suggest extending the virtual presence. I suggest joining in on the development of the virtual browsers – you know the browser that exists on the virtual notebook – the avatar handheld. I suggest billboard space in high traffic areas within the virtual world, and sponsored events like contests, and parties. To some, this is old hat, and they have probably already moved on to the next blog, but to the others…have you considered the possibilities?

Complete Cusomization/Personalization of Oneself Once inside Second Life, you are given the controls to customize your appearance. This is closely related to the concept of personalization…again, nothing new. Many large businesses have understood the power of this for sometime. For expample,the recent Nike Bodi Miller site, Toyota, Dell, Wendy’s, the list goes on…what these companies have done is provide their customers with the opportunity to personalize their products– what they have yet to achieve is the opportunity for customers to personalize themselves.

In my opinion, the psychological attraction to the virtual worlds is the personalization of the avatar and the avatars experience. We are talking about the personalization of oneself, or in other words, the reinventing of oneself. An idea that may not be all together healthy if taken to the level of what some are calling ‘Toxic Immersion.’ Yet, in moderation our lives can be greatly enhanced by a healthy, escape from time to time.

What about the artist, the small business, the entrepreneur? Can value be created or enhanced for your customer by extending your online presence into virtual worlds?

Second Life is not your typical ‘one-man shooter’ online game. Second life is a virtual world for a more sophisticated virtual citizenry.

-An article related to this topic; High-Profile Authors visiting Second Life.

Some might argue that this is exactly what my database-driven online community already provides: a graphic interface that allows customers to experience my business and interact with the interface, and other customers. Well, this is different. I am describing a separate, yet connected reality.

I eventually have to ask myself – “where am I going with this?” It is cluetranian philosophy – so in virtual worlds like Second Life that I have no ultimate goal of conquering the 78th level Boss…what is there to do? Talk, Express, Vocalize, Chat, Gossip, Just hangout and build and buy cool stuff.

If a business can leverage their products and services by providing an online demo of the product, or tap into an additional network by meeting new people in an alternate reality, there may be some value in spending part of your 24 hours in a differnet world. Nevertheless, stop and smell the synthetic roses. If you don’t you won’t know what you are missing.