After a few IBM staff members were put off SL thanks to too many normal punters approaching them with offers of virtual intimacy, IBM now has its own personal orientation trail away from the prying eyes of the public. Which leaves me thinking “ooo, get you”.
Other things they’ve been mucking about with include, making presentations available in SL for customers and IBM staff, trying out real world stuff (turn on a fan in SL and it turns on in the real world, for example) and a translation service that lets you instantly translate conversations in SL so you can talk to foreign folk without any language barrier.
I’m a bit late with the introductions, but the IBM people doing most of the talking are: Roo Reynolds “metaverse evangelist” which has to be the best job title ever; Rob Smart, “emerging technology specialist”; Holly Stewart “infrastructure architect” and Andy Piper “software services specialist”.
Some firms are using virtual worlds as marketing tools, taking real brands and creating billboard ads etc. IBM’s ambitions seem to be more about system tools and making services available to SL users and customers.
Current chat in the room is focusing on the limitations of SL. A lot of people are going into SL thinking they can make money or run businesses inside the world, but actually just discover it’s a good place to communicate and not much more. So businesses like Channel4, Wimbledon, the BBC etc, have good reason to go in there because it’s an excellent medium for communication. There’s also the problem that SL has a strong anti-corporate feel to it, which makes it an unfriendly terrain for big brands. Personally, I’m not sure communication is the only useful thing you can do on there… and I’m not just talking about the naughty things that go on in some of SL’s less salubrious parts.
What does IBM see as the main faults of SL currently?
Answer: That it’s hosted on someone else’s server so they can’t talk about sensitive subjects during internal meetings. That’s why they also have a phone link up in the real world running at the same time. So privacy is their major issue with SL at the moment.
Incidentally, it’s not the only virtual world IBM is interested in, but because their CEO is on there it has received the most press and most internal interest.
There are minor niggles as well: having to update the software so regularly, the little technical glitches. If they Open Source SL, IBM will be very keen to run it on their own servers themselves.
As one of the European journalists just pointed out, its limitations haven’t stopped a lot of companies from using SL as an easy way to get some PR, however. Since there’s so many opportunities to do something that seems hugely innovative – hold a concert, give a big speech, etc – it’s not hard to get a bit of press for that.