RED HERRING EAST 2007: Virtual Worlds in Business

Recently, the Enterprise Irregulars, a group of analysts and bloggers covering enterprise software of which I am a member, have been discussing so-called virtual worlds, such as Second Life. An important aspect of this discussion has been the applicability of virtual worlds to business.

Recently, the Enterprise Irregulars, a group of analysts and bloggers covering enterprise software of which I am a member, have been discussing so-called virtual worlds, such as Second Life. An important aspect of this discussion has been the applicability of virtual worlds to business. It was against this backdrop that I attended a panel discussion called Living Virtually: Evolving Ways to Play and Do Business (see Wed. 4:30pm for details) at the Red Herring East 2007 conference.

The panel consisted of one VC and three people from companies supplying tools for building and working with virtual worlds. The panel presented examples of how virtual worlds can be used for more serious applications than mere entertainment, such as medical education. One panelist mentioned that a large company has used Second Life (or something similar) to hold Board meetings.

This surprised me, so I asked the question, “Why is this better than phone call or a video conference, for conducting a Board meeting?”

The panel responded that a virtual world is much better than a conference call, because the avatars (which represent meeting participants) can interact in meaningful ways, beyond what is possible in a conference call. What exactly these interactions might consist of, and why they are significant, was not made clear. Next, the panel said that virtual meetings are better than video conferencing, due to the quality problems associated with most video conferencing today. In addition, according to the panel, virtual worlds represent a fun environment — for example, you can attend the meeting with your avatar dressed as a penguin.

I then made the point that this “cute” stuff interferes with communicating, and would wear thin very quickly. The panel responded to this comment, but didn’t demonstrate any specific benefits regarding the use of virtual worlds to conduct formal business meetings.

Conclusion: If the experts can’t articulate the benefits of virtual worlds in the workplace simply and clearly, I assume the technology is not ready for prime time.

(Note: interactions and comments described in this post are my impressions from memory and are not taken from a transcript.)

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