Think Second Life is over? IBM doesn’t. Yesterday Big Blue announced it was integrating support for Second Life (and a few other virtual world platforms) into its Lotus Sametime corporate instant-messaging product.
Why? IBM thinks if an engineer has to walk a customer through replacing a part on a computer server, the two can meet in Second Life and together manipulate a 3D model. Or, Sametime users could collaborate in a virtual world to review a Powerpoint presentation as avatars, which is better and easier than old-fashioned text IM or the telephone because… well… we’re not sure either.
The push to integrate Lotus Sametime with Second Life is the latest move in IBM’s full-throttle embrace of virtual worlds. The company has been working closely with Second Life parent company Linden Lab to develop a set of protocols that allow avatars to move between virtual worlds, and became the first company to host private Second Life regions for internal use.
Does integrating Second Life with Lotus Sametime make sense? The above example showing how to repair a computer server via a virtual 3D mockup looks cool, but there are several implicit assumptions we don’t have a lot of faith in:
- Both Lotus users need high-end computers with state-of-the-art (and expensive) graphics cards. Second Life simply will not run on most consumer-grade machines or cheap office workstations.
- Both Lotus users need to have already been trained in navigating Second Life’s notoriously clunky user interface. The fundamentals of Second Life — how to walk, how to communicate, how to manipulate the camera angle — take a few hours of practice to master. This is supposed to increase productivity?
- To show a customer how to fix a computer via a 3D model, a company needs those models pre-built and ready to go before a customer ever comes to them with a question. So the cost savings of a virtual world meeting (if any) needs to factor in the significant initial investment of building an inventory of virtual objects to support every customer case.
We’ve already seen one wave of corporations enter Second Life, then leave. Google (GOOG) hasn’t been able to make the “virtual worlds as a business platform” idea work either — early efforts in Lively haven’t worked well. Can IBM succeed where others have failed? We’re not holding our breath.
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