Home Could Struggling Economy Help Second Life?

Could Struggling Economy Help Second Life?

Forget taking a class in social media, how about taking a class in social media? Specifically, virtual worlds. No, not taking a class about virtual worlds, but actually donning an avatar and going to see your professor (who very well could be dressed as a unicorn) inside Second Life. That’s a reality for some students of San Jose State University, which has a 16 “acre” virtual campus for their Library Sciences department. In tough economic times, universities and companies are starting to return to the virtual world as a cost-cutting measure.

“When I teach with Second Life, I think of it as an experience generator,” SJSU professor Jeremy Kemp told the AFP. Kemp is using his Second Life course to help his students overcome the “terror of public speaking.”

A couple of years ago, when Second Life-hype was at its peak, businesses flocked to the virtual world. But last year, the LA Times reported that as quickly as they had set up shop, many of them were leaving Second Life due to lack of interest. We reported a couple of months ago that Second Life’s user numbers had plateaued, saying that the much-hyped virtual world “may have already proven itself too inhospitable to scale.”

But could that trend be reversing? The same Los Angeles Times is now reporting that companies are taking a second look at Second Life in order to cut costs. Companies “are creating employee-only islands and office buildings, then encouraging their staff to meet there,” says the paper. “Compared with plane tickets and hotel bills, it’s not that expensive: A 16-acre private island in Second Life costs $1,000 plus a $295 monthly maintenance fee.”

“Virtual worlds are relatively inexpensive, don’t require a great deal of start-up technology infrastructure, and provide a naturalistic, immersive approach to simulating space, people and objects,” according to Forrester Research analysts Erica Driver and Paul Jackson in a report entitled “Getting Real Work Done in Virtual Worlds.”

Intel, Sun, and IBM are just some of the big name companies trying out work environments in Second Life.

Many companies that left Second Life the first go around did so due to vandalism, however. Can you really create a good learning environment in a place where giant, flying penises could attack at any moment?

“This is an adolescent technology that’s lurching and pushing in different directions and getting a sense of itself,” Kemp told the AFP. Of course, even while schools and companies attempt to figure out how best use Second Life to promote good professional and learning environments, some schools have already figured out how to exploit the technology for educational gain. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for example, are using Second Life as a cheap way to test out artificial intelligence for robots.

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