Fortune magazine: Why tech leaders think SL could be a gold mine

We mentioned an article earlier by David Kirkpatrick, senior editor of Fortune magazine. This is a different one. It continues the trend of a thoughtful examination of Second Life, neither media hype support nor naysayer put-down, but realistic consideration of how MUVEs and the 3D Web might be developing, including the implications of research-supported trends.

As Kirkpatrick notes in “Second Life: It’s not a game,” IBM has made a significant financial and time investment in Second Life, believing it to truly be “the next big thing.” IBM has certainly made errors in market judgment in the past, so this is no guarantee. More importantly, their experience in these early months gives an indication that the 3D Web is genuinely useful in ways that are hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it beyond newbie stage–just as it’s hard to explain the Internet to my mother, who has never touched a computer.

By early January more than 3,000 IBM employees had acquired their own avatars, and about 300 were routinely conducting company business inside Second Life. “The 3-D Internet may at first appear to be eye candy,” [IBM CEO Sam] Palmisano writes in an e-mail interview, “but don’t get hung up on how frivolous some of its initial uses may seem.” He calls 3-D realms such as Second Life the “next phase of the Internet’s evolution” and says they may have “the same level of impact” as the first Web explosion.

Kirkpatrick says that the ability to use SL as a platform for a whole new Net is what has caught IBM’s attention, as well as that of serious venture capitalists.

“Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist with Benchmark Capital, says he invested in Second Life because it’s like Microsoft or eBay – a venue in which thousands of ancillary businesses can sprout,” Kirkpatrick writes, noting that other investors include Mitch Kapor (creator of Lotus 1-2-3, whom many credit with launching the PC revolution), eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft chief technology architect (and inventor of Lotus Notes) Ray Ozzie.

To say the least, these are people with a track record for accurately spotting trends and opportunities.

“We’re all used to teleconferences,” says [IBM executive Ian] Hughes. “But in Second Life we gather and mingle before the meeting, and when it finishes, some people stop and talk again. We start to form social networks and the kinds of bonds you make in real life.”

It is exactly that sort of difference in experience that leads us to expect similar benefits for education, an expectation that so far is confirmed by the early research.

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