We’ve been rather harsh in our coverage of Second Life in the past, the sad truth being that this year Second Life has provided a range of tabloid fodder that we’ve seen fit to print.
Of late our coverage has started to change. The initial rush of “build it and they’ll come” corporatism has given way to something with more useful substance. Companies including IBM, Cisco and Amazon are now using Second Life as a corporate collaboration space, and conferences such as the Metanomics Series are bringing serious discussions on the benefits of virtual worlds to the virtual space.
Voice came to Second Life in early August, and although it wasn’t widely popular, particularly with old-time Second Life users, it radically changed Second Life in terms of functionality.
Lately I’ve discovered the benefits of voice in Second Life in its ability to be used as a spontaneous web meetup space. Last Saturday night I noticed that Australia’s answer to Robert Scoble (in a good way) Microsoft’s Nick Hodge was in Second Life chatting to The Podcast Network’s Cameron Reilly via Twitter. I jumped into Second Life to join the conversation, making it the three of us. I Twittered my presence and provided a link. Within 30 minutes three had blown out to around 15 people, or 20 different people over 3 hours. With voice in Second Life we discussed a variety of topics, from Second Life itself, to Web 2.0, politics and the environment.
The natural comparison is to the conference facility on Skype, but as a long term Skype user who built a startup that relied on Skype I’ve long known that any more than 4-5 people on a Skype conference call is a recipe for unusable. Second Life on the other hand never skipped a beat at 15-20 people. The visualizations and point of reference speech (SL delivers audio from the point of reference, so if the avatar is to your left you hear the voice from the left of your headset) made for a workable meetspace.
The ability to join and discuss anything in Second Life delivers something between a Barcamp or Podcamp, and a discussion at your local bar (or pub) amongst friends. I’ve read elsewhere suggestions that people who spend time in Second Life are sad; to that I can only respond: married with children. Whilst my wife was catching the latest episodes of America’s Next Top Model (streamed over the home network on a Zensonic Z500…which is probably pretty geeky) and my son was asleep I participated in a virtual recreation of many a good blog meetup or barcamp, and better still it was spontaneous. Over time more will see these benefits in Second Life and other virtual worlds as a useful meetspace. No longer is it necessary to hold a discussion in person in a real world meeting venue when you can have the same discussion via Second Life, at no cost and with virtual reach.