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The Marketing Reality of a Virtual World

Kelly Abbott
The Marketing Reality of a Virtual World Kelly Abbott

I don't get it either. Why someone would want to spend their days and nights in a virtual reality is something I can sympathize with but not necessarily enjoy myself. I'm a big fan of imagination. I'm an equally big fan of reality.

Second Life is not about me. It's about being creative and having fun. Second Life taps that addictive part of our personalities that still likes to play make-believe.

Second Life, or SL for short, is a place for the imagination. The world is built on the efforts of thousands of individuals. Every landscape you visit in Second Life and every thing you do is socially engineered. Second Life is virtual reality of the user-generated kind.

On the one hand, you can think of it as a social network. Yes, you make friends and you chat in real time and you spend the better part of your days improving on your cache among other members. You upload content and spend time creating and consuming things in this space. But more than a social network, Second Life isn't limited by two dimensions and webmasters. In a sense, Second Life is a new dimension to the internet itself. Is it any wonder that it's swiftly getting co-opted by commercial interest?

Ads are an inevitable part of Second Life
For consumers, if they want to avoid advertising altogether, their last resort is Burning Man. After that, any place that has enough eyeballs and can be cost-effectively reached with an appropriate message will be marketed to. Second Life is no exception. That's why you have everyone from Nissan to the W Hotel to the Creative Commons setting up outposts in Second Life. Reuters even dispatched a reporter to Second Life.

While Second Life at times resembles the red light district of the film version of "Total Recall," it nevertheless has a very non-studio feel-- much like News Corp's hot online property MySpace. Like the social media super-site, Second Life's landscapes feel very low tech. Navigating can be cumbersome. And the vistas -- even the truly impressive ones -- do little to inspire this member. But the same was true of the early days of the internet.

My first experience of the internet was as mundane as it comes. I was a big fan of GOPHER and read all of my film news online from the computer lab at The Ohio State University. It was all just a bunch of text written and read anonymously. None of it was very good and most of it was un-inspiring. But when websites with ads were touting the same scoops some of the news subscribers were writing, one got the sense that a buck was being made where it should not have been. That was 1996. Ten years later, not much has changed.

Although Second Life will inevitably have a strong advertising presence, that doesn't mean the ads have to be bad. By and large, as long as the experience of SL residents is respected or enhanced by its commercial residents, there's no problem. You're not just offering a service (like Toyota providing me with a car to drive around in-world) but you're also raising the tide of quality. Commercial presences might seem a little more polished, and that's fine. Try to get recognizable designers to help contribute to your SL presence. Offer 'lifers a new level of experiences to expect from their gameplay. In short, don't be afraid to show off and have fun for fun's sake.

Once a world ruled by geeks (I use that word affectionately, as only a geek himself can), Second Life is poised for a commercialization phase which, if done much like the post-GOPHER internet has been, won't suffer wholesale degradation of quality for the benefit of the few. I can only see a Second Life whose infrastructure will be better supported, its "rez's" made clearer and more compelling and the cost subsidized almost entirely not by the enterprising actions of its members but by the good citizenship of its participant enterprises.

Kelly Abbott is CEO of Dandelife.com. .


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