Does Second Life need a corporate makeover?

I got on the virtual world bandwagon a few years back and tried Second Life, but it didn’t stick. It was too much work, too confusing, not enough motivation, so I gave up. Recently, I decided to give it another try, so I logged back in. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the UI is sleeker and it’s not as confusing as before, that being said, the learning curve is still darn steep.

Secondlife 

LA Times recently did a great story on companies who are on Second Life and they all seem to be veteran technology companies. It’s obvious from the home page that SL is serious about pitching to businesses, and they have managed to get some well-known brand names IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Intel among the major brand names on the platform.The marketing/business strategy for SL is to bring on businesses who leverage it for internal communication and drive traffic by pitching the site to their employees and customers. However, in order to make it a sustainable success, SL needs to bring more businesses on board.

Few years back, SL had created a huge buzz as the coolest place in cyberspace and consumer companies were flocking to it in droves. However, the companies soon realized that the virtual world audience was more extreme than the mainstream. The LA times story says,

Where people are, marketers want to be. Two years ago, companies such as American Apparel and footwear maker Adidas started filling Second Life with stores and buildings. The virtual world’s early inhabitants, who largely disdain anything with a corporate tinge, rebelled by launching terrorist attacks and starting gunfights in the shops. Faced with empty storefronts and ridicule, many companies pulled out.

The first time I logged in a few years back, I was confronted by a gal who asked me if I had any money. Then I ran into another gal who warned me against hitting on her boyfriend. WTF?! This time around, I got invited to a sex dungeon and I don’t even want to know what’s coming the next time I log in. Since organizations have their own private island/location, they are ‘protected’ from the riff-raff of the surrounding worlds but it doesn’t help the site’s image, if it continues to be associated with insidious content.

Secondlife2_3

I think, Second LIfe would drive a higher rate of adoption if they cleaned up their risque image. There’s a serious disconnect between the audience they are trying to woo and images portrayed on the site. The tattoo-covered gangsta-looking dude right above their pitch on ‘Your Organization in Second Life’ on the home page doesn’t exactly evoke warm-fuzzy feelings. How conducive are corporations to let their employees slink around semi-nude and replete with piercings, even if it is in the virtual world?

I think someone at SL should take a serious look at:
a) Make it easier for mainstream businesses (the non-geek companies) to get started on SL
b) Yes, sex sells and that’s what made SL so notorious in the first place, but if that’s not the business it wants to be in, SL should either get rid of the sexually explicit content or launch a new brand/site with a cleaner image.
 

Creating separate worlds/islands helps corporate-types avoid having to deal with rest of the chaos that is SL, but until it cleans up its act, SL’s risque brand image will always work against it, especially when it’s trying to bring on new businesses.

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8 responses to “Does Second Life need a corporate makeover?

  1. Very difficult for Second Life to address the “extreme” nature of its inhabitants, when its major selling point is as a portal where the users create the environment.

    Better I think to work on easier navigation and more effective policing of “safe” areas. The biggest problem for corporate in SL is that there’s no real way for people to find them unless they’re already looking (in which case why not just look on the internet).

    SL needs to create genuine communities that are more generalist, where people are likely to spend time. The kind of virtual high-street where you might stumble across an Apple store, for example.

  2. Companies haven’t pulled out because group of kids started a gunfight in their shops. That is, it is not the gunfights that made those shops empty. Scenario (http://metaverse.acidzen.org/2007/corporations-sux-in-second-life) is pretty common. A company see that there are people in the SL, start their place there and then complain that nobody comes to see it. Well yes, but have they ever thought that maybe, just maybe, their place is not interesting at all. They maybe amazed by the 3D environment, but their wanted audience is not. They already seen 3D shops and spaces, spent there a while and now wants to see something new and original. And simple shop of a big company which only aim is to advertize is certanly not something new and original. So, it is not the gunfight, it’s the lack of understanding the place and the audience, it’s the lack of creativity. Probably, that gunfight was the most interesting thins that ever happened there.

    Other thing that is important here is about sex and piercings. Sex is not in SL becauise Linden Lab thinks that sex sells. It was not them that made poseballs and naughty underwear. It was the residents. LL understood what many other companies in this virtual worlds biz missed: so many people are bored with being offered to just consume, they want to create. And possibility to create the content is what made SL what it is now (in both positive and negative terms). having that in mind, SL is a great place to learn about the audience. Just look around, roam the popular places, you don’t even have to talk to people (though it surely helps) to find out what they want and need.

    Yes, they have created sex places but they also created many other tings. There are so many “clean” and straight entertainment places, small businesses and educational sims. None of those corporations are complaining on the sex industry of the web. Now, suddenly they are disgusted that there is sex in SL. That’s bigotry.

    Speaking that LL should get rid of sex is dangerous idea. It is an attempt to introduce consorshp which never brought anything good to anyone. beside that, that is not going to work. Even that age verification they were forced to implement is not working.

    It would be much better for companies to start learning about the new medium than ranting around that their customers are not behaving the way they would like them to. SL, and virtual worlds in general, is very young medium, there is a lot to learn and find out. It is pity to lose time and energy in pointless complaints.

  3. Hi Robin,
    Great comment! I couldn’t agree more. Currently, the way SL is structured, if you don’t know where you’re going, you are very likely to end up somewhere you don’t want to be. That’s where I find myself very frequently when I am exploring the site. Creating some mainstream communities would definitely broaden its appeal, however, by courting the mainstream, SL risks alienating the ‘early adopters’ who have given the site its notoriety.
    Cheers!

  4. Hi there Dandellion!
    I like your perspective and totally see your point! If the content is so dull and uninteresting, why would anyone visit your ‘shop’? There is a disconnect between corporations and the audience they are courting in SL. To effectively market any product, you need to have a good understanding of your target market. In SL’s case, I think they are missing the boat. SL is neither an artistic/creative site nor is it a mainstream ‘clean’ site. It has ‘sanitized’ (corporate) private islands right in the middle of shady ‘neighborhoods’ replete with sexual content. SL needs to pick a position, it doesn’t matter which one it picks. If it wants to court businesses, it should clean up its site. I love that it enables creativity but I also believe that self-expression without boundaries is the path to utter chaos. If SL wants to stay true to its essence that’s okay, but it risks being dismissed as just another niche site that caters to an extreme audience.
    Cheers!

  5. What is usually misuderstood about SL is that it is not a site, it’s a platform, a tool, something you use to develop and host a site. In that matter, it is more similar to Apache than to any particular web page. One doesn’t say that Apache is bad because of the content of some sites that use it as the server. Same goes for SL. What you make of it is your own business, be it corporate island, music club, a game or a sex place. And all of those can work on the same platform, with the same engine under it. Where you go is your own problem. One can use SL and never notice there are porn places (providing that ‘matire content’ checkbox in search is unchecked) or do all the nasty things or play games not caring there are corporate islands somewhere on the grid. Expecting that LL “pick a position” would be to expect the tool manufacturer to sy how that tool is to be used and for which puroposes. And, that is exactly what would make SL a niche site not a platform open to all. And, of course, self expression with boundaries is called censorship and is not something we celebrate in modern society.

  6. Hi Dandellion,
    I agree that SL is a platform where folks can create their own reality but I disagree that it doesn’t have any influence on what happens on its website.
    Let’s be clear here, I am not arguing in favor of or against censorship. SL is not some tax-funded or charitable organization. Linden Lab/SL is a for-profit entity funded by investors and as such can do whatever it wants to do with its site. It already has policies that prohibit violence and ‘indecency’, so it’s not like I am suggesting anything new. http://secondlife.com/corporate/cs.php
    If you look at SL’s homepage, it’s obvious that it’s wooing corporations. My point is that, if SL’s strategy is to get more businesses on site, then it should do it the right way. If ‘cleaning’ up the site makes it more attractive to its target audience, it should do that or set up a separate brand that’s not sullied by its current extreme image.
    Cheers!
    Mia

  7. Ops, sorry, I was thinking about the actual grid on the place you were thinking about web site. Yes, it should be different. Trick is, LL is aiming different niches with secondlife.com which is never a wise thing to do. They do have the other site secondlifegrid.net which presents platform ans is more oriented to business and developers but entry point to all of us is still secondlife.com.

    Another things about their PR service is that it hardly satisfies any side. There is a lot of ranting over LL and most of it comes from non-biz residents and aims PR department. I guess we would be all much happier if they set their position and keep it.

  8. No worries, Dandellion! 🙂

    I agree, clear differentiation is the trick. Thanks for the comments, you offer a great perspective!

    Mia

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