It hits my feeds today that at NMC Campus they’re introducing Skype to Second Life. Apparently it sounds like a lot of people saying “Can you hear me now?” but it could be as prescient as Bell’s “Mr. Watson, come here” message.
I remember, over ten years ago, setting up my first Quake server with the tech bod at Imagination Technologies. Logging on for the first time, we had to test whether it was working so we called each other on the phone and next thing you know, we were virtually running around a series of caverns while virtually chatting to each other on the phone. One of the first things I said was “Isn’t this weird?” “Yes, it’s weird,” came the reply.
(We ended up with over 20 people playing regularly at lunchtime so unless we commandeered the company’s phone system to provide a voice platform for every player, we couldn’t continue do this. I mean, it was possible, but the CEO would have picked up the phone and heard loud explosions from BFGs and a lot of whooping.)
It was a seminal moment, the combination of voice and (very pixelated) graphics proving much more immersive than just one or the other. And now, although NMC might be doing the same thing for much the same reason we did – for a blast – it’s on a much, much grander scale.
Big companies such as IBM are already populating the Second Life, and even though it’s not the biggest MUD it seems to be the one that’s captured public imagination. And this is where PR companies come in. Text100 was the first to establish a presence in Second Life and others such as Edelman are using it to promote virtual competitions to win virtual islands. Where the public go, public relations follows.
Is this just gimmickry or a significant development in the way companies do business? You could argue that companies have had a prominent web presence ever since they started taking websites seriously, but you can bet those first sites didn’t grab as much attention as entry into Second Life. Websites are now part and parcel of corporate life: they’re just another channel for business to communicate. In the fast-moving world of tech, today’s gimmick could be tomorrow’s channel. If the communication is more effective, then all the better.
If it works out, they’ve staked their claim and are ahead of the game, literally. If not, everyone will forget, because that’s what they do, eventually. What’s to lose?