The future of Second Life

Linden exec acknowledges that Second Life isn't for everyone, and needs to be improved

Second Life developer Linden Lab is hard at work enhancing the voice capabilities, search features and navigation interface of its creation. The company is convinced that this popular, three-and-a-half-year-old virtual world isn't a flash in the pan but rather a credible vehicle for social interactions, commerce and entertainment.

Linden vice president Joe Miller candidly acknowledges that Second Life isn't for everyone and that the service needs to be improved. As well as having an internal team working on the 3D world, Miller hopes, enhancements will also come from external software developers, now that Linden has released the code of Second Life's viewer application as open source.

But to those who predict the demise of Second Life, Miller points to the millions of dollars exchanging hands every week in member-to-member commerce and to vendors such as IBM, Dell, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and American Apparel.

Some say there are technical areas in Second Life that would benefit from improvements, such as voice communication.

Voice is an area in which we're actively investing. We haven't made any announcements of the launch of an integrated voice solution but it's something we're very much involved with. Many of our customers today who need voice for what they do in Second Life use other solutions alongside Second Life. However, our approach will be much more tightly integrated.

Obviously we want voice to be an important part of the Second Life fabric, so that if you walk up to someone who is voice enabled you'll be able to just start a conversation.

You won't have to run anything else, or do anything else: just speak to someone or a group of people as you engage in a conversation today in a room. As you move through a large group of people, you'll be able to hear multiple voices, each emanating from the proper place in 3D where they are, so it makes it very much like a real experience of walking through a crowded room where there's a number of people speaking. It's an important attribute we'll be adding shortly.

Are there any other technical areas Linden is looking to expand, enhance or add in Second Life?

We have a significant initiative to make search more natural and visual than it is today. When you come in as a casual user, it's tough to find the interesting things that are happening. We want to improve the search capabilities. We also created an API (application programming interface) to let our business customers create their own front porches into Second Life.

What's Linden's take on the commerce that's happening on Second Life?

Many Second Life residents have created vibrant marketplaces. The amount of economic activity that occurs in Second Life has grown dramatically. Our goal all along was to create a platform that allowed our residents to create experiences to match their imaginations. We consider it to be a platform for possibility bounded only by the collective creativity of the people who join.

In addition to commerce, vendors also use Second Life for marketing and advertising. Is it an effective platform for this?

The established CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) metrics used in other, more traditional advertising forms on the internet serve one purpose. People who bring their brand to Second Life are looking for a different kind of return: to expose their product and brand to the Second Life demographic.

But they're not using traditional advertising means. The ones that do it effectively are providing a capability, service or product in Second Life to residents that they'll use while in Second Life. The actual proposition of creating a message or value around your brand takes quite a different form when you have a place to exhibit and make it real in the virtual world of Second Life.

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