Peak ICT industry body the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) will join the gold rush into the virtual world of Second Life with the launch next week of an official "island" representing the organisation.
The move, which will be announced at the group's iAwards on 30 May, will see the AIIA join constituents IBM, Dell, Intel and Telstra Big Pond as well as independent and commercial organisations like the ABC in setting up a presence in the Linden Lab created virtual world.
CEO Sheryle Moon said the decision to embrace Second Life reflects the AIIA's belief that such environments, whether Second Life or another competitor down the road, will become an increasingly important way of enabling companies to interact with customers.
Given the AIIA's membership of IT vendors and its leadership role within the ICT industry, Moon sees the AIIA as being in a position to stimulate its more than 500 member organisations' exploration of the ways virtual worlds may make this new interaction possible.
"Fewer than eight percent of Australian enterprises trade online," she said, "[but the Internet] lets them get efficiencies and get their product out farther than their local suburb. There is no doubt we will see a revolution in the way e-commerce is conducted: If I can make my avatar look like me, for example, I can go and do proper online shopping for clothes and shoes [and know they will fit] -- and do things I can't do now."
Linden Lab's recent addition of voice capabilities to Second Life offers another important method of communications in the virtual world.
Yet despite its technological capabilities, it's not clear just how large an audience may be dropping by the AIIA's island. Linden Lab claims 5.98 million registered users, but various analyses have suggested suggest a churn rate of up to 85 percent and an Australian population in the vicinity of just 3000.
Nonetheless, Second Life is a global phenomenon, and participation may give Australian companies a broader profile in a cutting-edge medium than they could obtain through conventional means. Moon sees these sorts of initiatives as essential for guiding the local industry towards understanding the potential of the Internet economy -- particularly since Second Life also incorporates its own virtual economy and transaction model.
Linden Lab figures released in February said user-to-user transactions increased 37 percent, to 6.1 billion, in January compared with the rate in December. The company's latest figures, for April, suggested rapid growth had continued: the number of discrete "islands" grew from 372 in March to 434 in April, while the number of Linden dollars in circulation increased from 1.67 billion in January to 2.57 billion in April.
Despite the growing commercial presence within Second Life, Moon said the environment's heavy technical demands are raising issues about Australia's broadband inequity: "If metaverses like Second Life are going to be the places where e-commerce happens, you need to have a pipe," she said.
The AIIA's Second Life presence will evolve over time, but Moon said the island could "absolutely" play a more important role in efforts to facilitate ICT industry recruitment, communication with entrepreneurs and, later this year, the staging of an ICT skills summit run completely within the boundaries of Second Life. "We've got to use this technology to benefit the industry," she said.