When was the last time you were in Second Life? It has been a while since Mitch Till (my Second Life Avatar) has added any value to the online virtual world community. It doesn't mean I don't think about online virtual worlds or the tectonic shifts I think it will bring to the online world, I've just been beaten down by a highly powerful Sony Vaio laptop that still seems to grapple with a strong Second Life connection. This tells me one thing: that we're not there yet with virtual worlds - in terms of mass acceptance and usage - but that should not stop any Marketer from understanding the huge opportunities that lie ahead in Second Life (and other online virtual worlds). The technology (and speed) will get better and this type of online experience will supplant current two-dimensional text/images browsing. It has to.
I had a keen slap in the face wake up call to the power of online virtual worlds on a flight today. I picked up the September 2007 issue of Report On Business Magazine and read with with excitement the column by Doug Steiner, who works in the financial services industry in Toronto. His editorial piece (on page 30) was called, This, Too, Is Reality - So what is the difference between online virtual worlds and "real" electronic markets.
"...then I asked myself: What do I do at work? I build and deploy electronic trading systems for investors whom I've never met, to move money they don't touch into stocks they only view as an accounting entry. I'm building virtual worlds in which investors can interact... In a very real sense, for many of us, money is becoming a largely abstract concept. It's no longer gold and silver, or even paper notes that represent precious metals. A vast amount of the money in the world today consists of electronic book-keeping entries that people flip back and forth. And they'll accept these digits as payment for goods and services."
I've never thought of it that way, and it does make a strong case for online virtual worlds and what the opportunities that lie ahead. My guess is you'll now have second thoughts about Second Life. In a way, is buying a virtual couch for your kid's Habbo Hotel room any different than paying off that leather couch in your den - especially if they both provide some level of comfort?
Finally, let me leave you with another thought that Steiner brings forward on why Virtual Worlds are (and will be) more important as time rolls on:
"The scary and intriguing thing is, the financial markets I work in are amateur hour compared to the expanding virtual worlds many mere 15-year-olds now 'live in' online. I'm at the leading edge of online investing, yet it's already looking ragged and obsolete."
Maybe we should get those IT and Marketing departments working a little more closely.
When I think about how real world money is, virtually, virtual... it makes my brain melt.