Second Life can find niche in virtual events

Virtual world pioneer faces competition from specialty virtual worlds, but can explore niche areas such as virtual events, says analyst.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Virtual world pioneer Second Life can leverage its 3D environment to explore niche markets such as virtual event hosting in the face of competition from specialty virtual worlds, said a Forrester analyst.

In an e-mail interview, TJ Keitt, analyst at Forrester research, said Linden Lab's Second Life will not disappear anytime soon. However, it is facing stiff competition from specialty virtual worlds such as Disney-owned Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel, as well as business-targeted virtual worlds Teleplace and ProtonMedia.

Keitt believes Second Life will be able to find its niche as an avenue for virtual events. Virtual event hosting is an emerging market which was spurred on by the recession's effect on business travel, and is currently led by On24 and InXpo.

According to the analyst, many virtual event solutions are in 2D. Second Life can provide extra functionality with its 3D environment, such as allowing its avatar to represent presenters and attendees.

Another area Second Life can explore is a simulation platform for scenarios that are dangerous, expensive or difficult to carry out in real life, such as in the military, healthcare and emergency responses.

However, the success of Second Life as a simulation platform depends on the company's ability to prove itself as a secure enterprise solution, added Keitt. For example, in a military situation, the level of security which Linden Lab is able to provide will be critical, he pointed out.

Educators embrace Second Life
Asked why there is hardly any marketing evident on Second Life, Keitt noted that virtual worlds are still considered a niche activity. Forrester's last survey found that only 2 percent of North American consumers are involved in virtual worlds.

"Companies that plunged into Second Life initially failed to sell products or generate much buzz beyond the press," he added. "So, taken together, the fact that not many consumers dabble in virtual worlds and that marketers didn't do a good job with the technology before, [meant that Second Life] hasn't really warranted a lot of marketing activity today."

However, Keitt applauded Linden Lab's efforts to morph its product by creating a development platform as well as tailoring the platform to education and businesses through its Second Life Work.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, a Linden Lab spokesperson noted that there are approximately 750 educational institutions using Second Life and Teen Second Life. Educators employ the platform for activities such as hosting global classes, sharing and presenting research projects, graduations and other activities.

Linden Lab also offers discounts for educators and non-profit organizations, as well as shares ways for educators to learn from each other through its SL Educators (SLED) mailing list, said the company.

Singapore tertiary institution the National University of Singapore has had a presence in Second Life since 2008. Chew-Goh Swee Wah, senior associate director at the university's Computer Centre, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that the school chose Second Life for two reasons. The platform is well-established, and the virtual world provides an ideal place for users to deliver academic resources and collaboration as well as experiment with learning pedagogues, she explained.

The school now has six "islands" in Second Life and has conducted a total of 25 academic tutorials ranging from language simulation to computing, she said. NUS Second Life has 4,000 registered members to date.

Introducing the virtual world did have its glitches, Chew-Goh noted that during the initial phase, the school had to manage users with different IT skills. However, the past two years have seen the user experience improve with higher levels of awareness and acceptance of new media as a learning platform, she said.

As a whole, students have responded positively to using Second Life as a learning platform, said Chew-Goh. Some were happy to be able to attend classes from home, some found attending classes using different avatars a refreshing experience, and even quieter students contributed more actively in Second Life classes.

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