Thursday, April 24, 2008

Speaking of virtualization

The kids in my High-Tech Marketing class at Babson got me thinking about the impact of Second-Life like technologies on how we communicate with the market.

We were discussing a case dated way back in 2002 – before 25 million people created an alternative persona and started wandering around the virtual desert – back when it was pretty cool that you could buy a program that would let you build a simulated dollhouse or roller-coaster.

They pointed out that since Pong went on sale 34 years ago, the public has shown an insatiable appetite for improved interfaces, richer gaming experiences that move inexorably closer to simulating every bit of our sense and sensibility. Remember when Doom was cool?

There is a chilling snippet on YouTube for the PS-9 – a multi-sensory gaming experience best described as a handheld Holo-Deck – that puts this melding of mind and machine in perspective. Take a look.

It’s easy to dismiss Second Life as a bunch – ok, a huge bunch - of losers in first life looking for something virtually better in another try at the wheel. The story of the guy in NY who dumped his real wife for his V-wife is pretty sickening on the surface, but it’s no different than women falling in love with prison pen-pals and abandoning their families to pursue jailhouse marriage – which has been going on decades. It’s not the medium that makes nuts act nutty.

The recent CSI show about Second Life stalkers becoming First Life murderers was a great story, but it's unfortunate that millions of viewers who had never heard of SL were exposed to it as a dangerous playground for nut jobs and assassins – and as an aside I found it annoying that the writers twisted and abused the actual technology and interfaces for dramatic effect, but I digress.

I have a different perspective on where this is all headed. We’ve had chat rooms, Notes, and bulletin boards for-virtual-ever. Stripped of the gaming aspect (primarily economic competition) virtual lifespaces are simply a better way of interfacing, albeit much, much, much more useful and interesting.

The opportunity to communicate in this medium is becoming irresistible to marketers – me included. I want to hold all my tradeshows in SL – giving away virtual tee shirts at my massive and brightly colored virtual booth. I want every sales call to be made online. I want prospects to come into my SL store and demo my products (and please buy them in 1st life, thank you).

Already schools like Babson are holding classes in SL. Why not do our product training in SL? Virtual installs, including virtual screwdrivers…today we need to ship a truckload of gear to teach an onsite class…

Remember ‘Brickbats and Bouquets’? Live sessions at user group meetings like DECUS where customers ganged up on the vendor to tell them all the things they were doing wrong and a few of the things they were doing right…

Imagine how much richer the experience would be if we held online SL virtual vendor stonings…

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