Not to be left behind in the recent corporate uptake of Second Life, BigPond has launched a group of 11 in-game islands, and is now offering its users un-metered access to content in its virtual headquarters, as well as selected Linden Lab downloads.
Dubbed "The Pond", BigPond claims it to be Australia's first major corporate presence in the online virtual world. The cluster of islands is estimated to cost in excess of $20,000 in real estate alone, according to fixed island prices currently listed by Linden Lab.
Jason Romney, BigPond's national manager of commercial strategy, called the virtual expansion a strategic experiment that is expected to enhance the ISP's brand, while providing potentially valuable experience in community and content management in the virtual space.
"Second Life is relevant to us because it represents the intersection of some key media trends, for example, user-generated content, the creation of communities, the strong growth of games, and so forth," he said.
"We see this as something we should experiment in ... and there's a good fit with our real-world media activities, because we can both bring those [real-world] things into the virtual world, and we can take things from the virtual world out to those [real-world] activities."
While he did not think it possible to put a dollar-value on the business potential of virtual worlds, Romney expects Second Life to offer opportunities in distributing content, liasing with customers, conducting meetings among a globally located workforce, and trialing prototype products.
On the other hand, the as-yet unpolished nature of Linden Lab's metaverse has given rise to issues from virtual terrorism, to recruiting suitable developers, to negotiating licenses for audio and video content.
Owing to its status as an incumbent Australian ISP, BigPond is meticulous in obtaining licenses for all content and trademarks appearing on its islands - and the licensing process can be tedious.
"This is a wild west without any inhibitors or fetters - unless your virtual presence has an effect on your reputation in the real world," Romney explained. "Unlike other places that stream pirated music, we have to obtain licences for all music, which takes ages because we have to negotiate with content owners and explain what a virtual world is."
Similarly, initial negotiations with executives to enter into the virtual world proved to be a challenge, Romney recalled.
"It was a challenge to explain the nature of virtual worlds, because clearly we're talking about something that is on the cutting edge of innovation and something which perhaps for people who weren't brought up on games, is more of a stretch to understand," he said. "But the proof is in the pudding."