by C.G. Lynch

Second Take at Second Life

Jul 06, 20073 mins
IT Leadership

    Until last week, I’d finally forgotten about Second Life. I’d felt elated that the flurry of news reports last year had dissipated into a quiet murmur of infrequent follow-up stories. The pooh-poohers (and you could count me as one of them) smugly exclaimed that they were right: it was nothing but a fad, and it was time to move on.

    But after being sent this article in the Wall Street Journal that reports companies are interviewing prospective job candidates in the virtual world, I’m forced to take an agonizing reappraisal of the situation. In fact, I came away with the realization that Second Life might matter for business, after all.

    Even so, I still harbor some serious concerns about accepting it as a place where commerce is conducted with any kind of accountability. And a quick scan of news reports and blog postings reaffirms that suspicion:

  • Since real money does end up changing hands in Second Life, it was only a matter of time before we saw thefirst lawsuit emerge as we did this week. The only problem: the person initiating the suit doesn’t know who in real life is behind the avatar he’s trying to sue.

  • While some people are really geared up about the idea of meeting in fancy hotels in Second Life to conduct business, how safe would you feel chatting about private company information with an avatar bearing no physical resemblance to the person you know in real life? 
  • As Salon Staff Writer Farhad Manjoo shows in his analysis of a report by MIT, body mannerisms in Second Life might make it easy for avatars to lie. As he aptly notes:

 “Eye contact is an important real-world cue. When someone holds your gaze, you tend to assume a certain level of engagement and credibility — there’s no evidence suggesting that people who look away from you while they’re talking are lying scum, but we nevertheless assume so. But computers can give us eye contact without any level of engagement; your Second Life avatar may be programmed to look directly at another avatar you’re talking to, but you may actually be paying attention to something else — another avatar, your cat, the TV.”

  • Second Life might not yet be accessible for all as this sci-fi blog posting demonstrates. It also might not be much more pleasant than First Life. The blogger, S.E. Kramer, even calls out people like myself (journalists who write about it) to spend more time there. After reading this part of the posting, you’d have to concede Kramer is probably right:

“I’m convinced that most reporters who write about Second Life have never explored the world themselves. Maybe they read blogs about it or get press releases with screenshots from Linden Labs, but if they had actually “been” to the “3D online digital world,” they wouldn’t write about it as if it were a normal place, one where going shopping for Reeboks, attacking John Edwards’ campaign headquarters, or raping innocent victims are everyday occurrences.”

    I’d be curious to know what your company is doing in Second Life. While I assume it might not be quite as scandalous as virtual Watergate-esque break-ins or a day of pillaging, please enlighten me because I’m willing to take another look.