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IBM cooks up internal virtual world for confidentiality, security

IBM has created its own internal virtual world called Metaverse for corporate meetings and collaboration. Why not use Second Life?

IBM has created its own internal virtual world called Metaverse for corporate meetings and collaboration. Why not use Second Life? "If you really want to make most of these (virtual world) meetings it has to be confidential," said IBM CIO Mark Hennessey.

Those comments could indicate the beginning of a trend: Corporate specific virtual worlds designed to bridge geographies. The message: Confidentiality is everything whether your world is virtual or not.

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Michael Ackerbacker, innovation manager of IQ collaboration development at IBM, said Metaverse has been in development for about a year. For 2007, IBM's big goal was to prove the concept. Ackerbacker's comments came in a series of presentations in New York.

"We did learn a lot in Second Life, but wanted to do a world here internally where we could talk about IBM types of things securely," said Ackerbacker.

So what did Ackerbacker and IBM learn about corporate virtual worlds? Here are a few key takeaways:

Remember the users when building a virtual world. The goal is to enable collaboration not make things complicated. Ackerbacker said IBM is still noodling over how to bring the emotional connection into virtual space and get employees there easily. "Can we create a learning environment that doesn't get in the way?" asked Ackerbacker.

Cater to your culture. The avatar options in Metaverse--built on the Torque gaming engine--were distinctly IBM. For instance, ties are an option. So is gray hair is an option. And no one is some hybrid animal thingy.

Don't be exclusive. If you want collaboration you have to make virtual worlds simple. Ackerbacker said IBM stripped down its user interface "quite a bit." "We only have a dozen controls," said Ackerbacker. "Click on an icon and it'll do something--fly, teleport and dress. We're having an ongoing discussion on how to make it easier."

Don't be surprised if IBM takes these learnings an turns them into a service for verticals like retailing and hospitality.