Second Life Enterprise and the Business-Oriented Virtual World

B2P-Fall-Conference_Gwyneth-Llewelyn_01.jpgOn the day that Linden Lab launched their major business-oriented product, Second Life Enterprise® (formerly known as “Nebraska”) and its companion site, Second Life Work Marketplace®, Google links to it went up from zero to 14,000 in a few hours (there are now almost half a million as I write this!). Not only the SLogosphere reported on this very thoroughly, but the major news media didn’t miss the opportunity to talk about it either, from the Financial Times to Information Week. According to Amanda Linden, who lead the incredible effort of promoting this new product with her team, during the official launch, done as a mixed-media event in San Francisco and Second Life, the physical location was so crowded that they had to project the session to the exteriors, where many more people were eagerly awaiting the news but unable to enter the room. Inside Second Life®, partnering with Metanomics, the session was viewed live by over 300 residents spread among many locations (I found it very amusing that Metanomics’ Dusan Writer was picked to talk “in the flesh” in San Francisco as the host of this event; then again, who better than Dusan to explain what business in Second Life means?). The video stream apparently peaked at 2,500 viewers or so at the same time (but will probably have many more downloads in the next few days). So, overall, the product launch might have been followed live by some 3,000 people.

This is no mean feat. Obviously there is still some way to go to beat Steve Jobs’ keynote speeches once or twice a year. But nevertheless I believe it was a huge success (Amanda Linden calls it the largest promotional event ever run by Linden Lab in their decade of existence) — it’s no mean feat to have a product launch with 3,000 users. In real life, on a “traditional” product presentation with a press conference, getting 3,000 people to attend is quite rare! It’s also true that huge countries like the US will attract more people — I’m sure that any product launch by, say, Microsoft, will probably feature a similar amount of viewers — but I’m more used to audiences of 30-300 (and the latter number for Fortune 500 product launches!) for a new product. Your experience might be different, but in any case, we’re contrasting the launch from a relatively small company to a big, huge launch by a Fortune 500 company, which is a bit unfair to Linden Lab 🙂

Another surprise (for me at least) was the incredibly positive feedback throughout the SL community. I expected that most residents would frown at this, shrugging it off as merely hype, or irrelevant to SL (since LL admits that there are really only 1,400 organisations — corporate, academical, or otherwise — in SL), or simply something no worth wasting any time over: a gadget, a gimmick, another cool thing from the cool kids in the ‘Lab, but too expensive to make a difference, and too limited for anyone’s purpose (more on that in a minute). Actually, however, although some people questioned the business model behind Second Life Enterprise, overall, with the possible exception of Prokofy Neva (who complains mostly about the SL Work Marketplace anyway, which hasn’t been brought up yet, and not about the Second Life Enterprise solution), most residents are happy or at least intrigued by this new product. I think, once more, that this is quite a good sign — on one hand, Linden Lab’s Enterprise team did a thorough job in putting the product out; and on the other hand, residents view it as a sign that Second Life really starts to be taken more seriously outside the sphere of the “early adopters” and spills over to the mainstream — in this case, the corporate mainstream — which will make all our hours spent in-world much more worthwhile.

What is Second Life Enterprise?

B2P_OA_photo_5.jpgBut let’s unravel first what Second Life Enterprise actually is, and what it will be used for. There are always the inevitable rumours and plain misunderstanding around anything that Linden Lab launches. The most vocal residents come from different backgrounds, often without any business experience (or rather, lacking the experience on how corporations evaluate and buy technology for their workplace) or technical experience, or having only one of those, and this makes them misunderstand the purpose of such a product. We also project expectations upon things that are told us, and based on those expectations, we create a mental image on what we think it is, instead of understanding what it really is. I would say that’s unavoidable, it’s part of human nature. Amanda Linden and her team can only go so far to explain things properly to her target audience: corporate CIOs and MIS who will be evaluating products for their workplace.

YouTube is a great place for content marketers, as it’s already a prime search engine destination where people go to consume content. What’s special about YouTube, however, is that it’s all about video and, as you might’ve guessed, many content marketers are often hesitant to get involved with creating video content. Engagement goes both ways: if you want people to engage with you, you’ve got to engage with them or get a marketer from Bergen. This can mean responding to comments, subscribing to other users’ channels, creating response videos, running contests for viewers, collaborating with other brands, and anything else you can dream up.

Second Life Enterprise is the equivalent of a company’s intranet. It is supposed to work in complete isolation from the outside (virtual) world, and be used only for the workplace. The “behind-the-firewall” description is sometimes misleading, as many people imagined that what this means is that somehow your region would be more protected from the menaces of the Second Life Grid. This description is, indeed, misleading. Second Life Enterprise is not connected to the SL Grid; it doesn’t even share the same set of asset servers.

Instead, it’s a physical box, shipped to a customer’s office, including two servers, which have higher specifications that the current grid servers. One server is a voice server; the other, with 2 GBytes of RAM and 8 cores, will run 8 regions (sims) and have its own set of central servers, where the customer will be able to create their own avatar names (up to 100 on the standard package, which is the one that costs US$55,000 for the first year; subsequent years will apparently be charged at US$150/avatar, but this is not quite clear to me yet). The software is still closed and proprietary, and the regions share exactly the same specifications as the ones you get on the Second Life Grid: regions are still 256x256m with 15,000 prims and allow a maximum of 100 avatars in it, for instance. You cannot change those settings even though you “own” the box 🙂

In a sense, the best equivalent of the Second Life Enterprise box is a product by Google called the Google Search Appliance. Google is the world’s leading Web search engine developer, as everybody knows. Now imagine you’re a corporation with a lot of information in your enterprise — for instance, product and specification data — and would love to make it searchable. Publishing it to the Web and letting Google index it is out of the question: these are private documents that are not supposed to leave the corporate network. The solution that Google has been selling for a few years now is simply to put their search engine inside a box and ship it to you, so you can set it up inside your network, behind the corporate firewall, and only let employees use it. It’s not connected to the outside world (unless you wish so, of course). Although it uses the very same technology that Google employs on their publicly-accessible search engine, it has no connection to it — your documents’ indexed data won’t “mysteriously” be shown on the public engine. They will remain just inside the GSA and never leave it.

That’s the model Linden Lab has used for their Second Life Enterprise box. They pretty much copied Google’s own example. That shouldn’t be very surprising: after all, if you haven’t noticed, the in-world Search engine that you use every day on the SL Viewer is actually powered by a Google Search Appliance as well 🙂