In five years, enterprise versions of online virtual
worlds like Second Life will be just as important to
business as the Web is today, and the trend will make it
useful for companies to begin experimenting with 3-D online
environments for in-house collaboration projects.
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That’s the message in a new report by Forrester Research.
Erica Driver, the Forrester analyst who authored the report,
says it might take businesses a little while to ready
themselves for a foray into virtual worlds. It is very large
organizations that the report cites as leading adopters;
projects at places like IBM, BP, Intel and the U.S. Army are
going ahead. For many others, it will take not only resources,
but much training for users to make virtual worlds
“I do foresee a time when I have four monitors on my
desk, one of which is my virtual office,” Driver says.
“But for most people right now, it’s still too
difficult to use.”
Unlike social networking sites like Facebook, blogging
software and other online applications, participating in a
virtual world takes both know-how and practice (think of
learning how to create an avatar, manipulating it in the
virtual world and more). It’s no wonder that virtual
worlds haven’t been quite as widely embraced. A
Comscore report in May 2007 said that
the most popular virtual world for consumers, Second Life,
counted about 1.3 million active users.
While Driver says it’s not too difficult to navigate
virtual worlds with some practice, it still takes time and
needs to be easier to use.
But as developers make these online applications easier to
use, Driver says virtual worlds will become attractive for
organizations that have distributed staffs and many remote
These workers now connect through collaborative tools such
as Web conferences, video conferences and teleconferences,
which can work quite well. But they lack the interactivity and
freedom of movement that can be found in a 3-D environment,
Among the reasons to start considering virtual worlds, here
are a few key points and examples Forrester listed:
• Travel is as expensive as ever.
Couple that with the need to lower your carbon footprint, and
finding more viable options for distant workers to collaborate
interactively (not just on a static webpage or a
teleconference) becomes attractive.
• In many training environments, purchasing
complex equipment can be costly. Such costs could be
curtailed by shifting some training to virtual environments.
The U.S. Army, for instance, asked a company named Virtual Heroes to create a virtual world
that will allow the Army to train soldiers to handle
“dangerous situations and new environments to be
explored in a risk-free manner.”
• By replicating the experience of working
alongside others, brainstorming becomes more natural
than it would feel during, say, a teleconference or regular
chat room session on a static webpage.
• Role playing exercises. The
University of Maryland, in conjunction
with the I-95 Corridor Coalition, created a
virtual world simulation where they can plan for emergencies
by having participants role play (firefighters, emergency
medical staff and police).