Getting a Second Life

It is hardly surprising that Australian companies are beginning to enter the brave new world of Second Life.

Australians are early adopters of technology. Think of the rapid rate of take up of ATMs, mobile phones and flat screen TVs. So, it is hardly surprising that Australian companies are beginning to enter the brave new world of Second Life.

Second Life, with population of almost eight million (according to some sources), is changing the way businesses think about what their customers want, and whether "virtual" is a viable way to give it to them.

In Second Life, US presidential candidates are snapping up real estate, musician Jay Z is performing online, and the American Cancer Society is generating hundreds of thousands of dollars through in-world fundraising drives. It's clear that the virtual world is 2007 is the place to be.

Second Life is still in its nascent phase, and the commercial returns on such sites remain unclear. That said, it's important that this doesn't sideline Australian companies.

When Telstra is offering to remove the cap limitations for broadband used to explore SL by its customers, when the tax office is releasing commentary about how to assess in-world earnings, and when legal firms such as Deacons are writing white papers and client briefings outlining the legal risks of undertaking business in-world -- then places like Second Life are no longer a game or an experiment.

Gone are the days when a business can disregard an emerging technology until it is completely mature. As Gartner analyst Steve Prentice warns, "Don't ignore this trend. It will have a significant impact on your enterprise during the next five years."

By the end of 2011, Gartner predicts that 80 percent of active Internet users -- and Fortune 500 enterprises -- will have a "second life" in one virtual world or another.

Industry analysts are predicting that collaborative and community-related aspects of virtual environments will soon dominate and that the majority of active Internet users and leading enterprises will find value in virtual worlds.

What Australian companies need to understand is that Second Life is a global micro-economy -- and that there has never been one before. It may take time, but this is going to change the way companies relate to their customers, and change the way people relate to brands.

Second Life provides companies with an opportunity to be at the leading edge of technology and marketing. It's no longer good enough to be a follower -- the emergence of the Internet has demonstrated that you can be left behind. To make it in the 21st century global economy, you need to be a leader, and that means embracing new technologies like Second Life.