My experience with second life was very enjoyable. Second Life is an online, 3D virtual world community, created by it residents. The residents use Linden dollars to pay for goods and services provided by other residents. The Linden dollar can be exchanged for U.S. dollars and other foreign currency. Second life is a place where you can do just about anything you can imagine. When you first signup, you create your avatar, which is an animation character that you control to move around in second life world. Your avatar can take a form other than human, such as a dog, tree, car and other inanimate objects (would'nt it be fun to be a puppy?). You can visit some of the greatest locations in the world, and if that is not satisfying enough, you can use your imagination and create your own locations. You can host community events, announce, and invite all members of the site to attend. These events can range from informal parties to formal business conferences. (IBM holds professional meetings and training on this site and reports it saves the company lots of money.) Also I might add that with your permission, friends can host events on parcels you own. This 3D world offers you the opportunity to participate in unlimited activities, like sking, car racing, bungy jumping, and there is even an academic environment there (Yes you can actually get that MBA!). Second life offers a free membership, that provides limited access, and participation, but, it is enough for you to decide if second life is for you.

Ease of Use

Second Life can also present some difficulties in navigating for those who are unfamiliar with this type of technology and interface. Navigating and interacting with others on this site is far from instinctual for the those who typically use their computers for text based applications such as email and word processing. For this population/user, Second Life provides adequate online help, but the number of features and options available to the user can be overwhelming and time consuming to learn.

Potential Uses of Second Life as a Corporate Collaboration Tool

Second Life provides companies a tool to create virtual workplaces to allow employees to do any number of activities that involves information exchange including the following:
• Hold virtual meetings
• Hold events/presentations including regular updates
• Practice corporate communications
o Real-time multi-language support and translation
• Simulate business processes
• Prototype new products
• Training development
• Conduct general training sessions in 3D immersive learning spaces
• Conduct company specific training
o Employee Product training
o User Training
o Human Resources Training
o Sales Training
o Safety Training
o Quality and Compliance Training

In health care, Second Life provides a potential opportunity for providers to consult with patients and colleagues about an infinite number of diagnoses and interventions without the time consuming activities of meeting face to face and coordinating the individual schedules of a multidisciplinary team. Second Life may have numerous implications for the behavioral health, allowing clients/patients to meet with their provider for counseling and psychotherapy in a virtual office setting. The use of virtual reality and other imagery based interventions has already proven efficacious in treating some anxiety disorders and trauma related disorders. Second Life may serve as another tool for delivering these types of interventions. Additionally, the barrier of the computer monitor may help allay some of the anxiety clients/patients face when meeting with a psychotherapist/counselor face to face. Like many other forms of telemedicince, however, there are some limitations. See below.

Issues and Limitations

The biggest issue regarding the use of Second Life in a corporate or health care setting is security and confidentiality. The limitations are based upon the management controls for processes used within Second Life. Who has access to information? Who owns the information resident there? How can we ensure the security/confidentiality of proprietary information? It is not clear to me at this point as to how these issues will be accommodated in order to allow a company to confidently use Second Life to its full or imagined potential without the fear of compromising any competitive advantage resulting from Intellectual Property.

As the security and data integrity tools evolve within Second Life and as companies develop the virtual tools for their own security and integrity, things will improve. However, companies with high risk business processes may choose to not use Second Life as a tool for activities that are above a certain risk threshold. Business simulation and product prototyping details are examples of information that companies may not want to risk information leakage to competitors in the real world.

Confidentiality is likely the greatest concern in health care. Communicating personal and confidential information on Second Life poses major risks and potential HIPAA violations for health care institutions, providers, and consumers. Although access can be limited to virtual offices and meeting spaces, this only partially limits the access of other users/registrants. At this time it is unknown how securely this information can be protected from potential hackers. Additionally, it is unclear how effectively an institution or firm can protect confidential information from the creators of Second Life, Linden Labs.

A second issue, that may have legal implications, arises from the use of the virtual universe within a “real” methodology such as the product development life-cycle. Do the product user and safety requirements as developed in the virtual universe translate directly to the real world of product development? What testing and validation must be done in the virtual world and subsequently in the real world in order to meet regulatory and/or contractual obligations? Who has process ownership, responsibility, and liability? Furthermore, as the virtual controls mature, there will be a need for harmonization of standards and regulations between the universes.

A major issue that has arisen with the use of second life is the legitimacy of a virtual world where there is no governance beyond the corporate architecture that created it and the international laws that corporations are reluctant to violate. After the perusal of the 10+ page Terms of Service, one of many manuscripts of by-laws employed by Linden Labs to "gove3rn" their virtual realm, it is very clear that the code of conduct in the virtual world is written to prevent Linden Labs from being found liable for anything that occurs "in-world" It is also very clear that Linden Labs has written themselves a "complete ownership" clause into the terms of service that gives them "..a royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, reproduce and distribute your Content within the Service as permitted by you through your interaction on the Service…" suggesting that by using this service you are granting them the entirety of your work for their use. Such a broad based governmental ownership is of little consequence to those who use Second Life as an entertainment outlet. But to those virtual moguls, the idea is very frightening. The ability of this Linden Labs 'government' to grant itself "…the absolute right to manage, regulate, control, modify, and/or eliminate such Currency as it sees fit in its sole discretion…" deters possible virtual entrepreneurs when real-world money is required to build business in virtual space. The recent activity of many real-world companies and the in-flux of educational institutions indicates that the private contracts these entities hold with Linden Labs are under different terms and conditions.

Another issue that erodes the legitimacy of Second Life as a genuine opportunity for real-world business in the virtual environment is the plethora of unorthodox and outlandish characters and activities there. One of the more obvious deterrents is evident after only moments in the environment. The majority of characters are not of appropriate appearance to conduct professional business. As is often the case with censorship protest and dress-code violation, the need for a professional code of conduct is very difficult to maintain in a virtual world with no controls over interactions, character visual appearance and activities. The attendees of a meeting may be animals or animal-like, or in-human, personified inanimate objects like trees. A famous example of an unorthodox character invading the fledgling corporate presence in Second Life involved a real-world CEO's speech to his workforce interrupted by a large fantasy creature. Such interruptions, combined with an unending variety of often-distracting, non-mainstream behaviors make business in a virtual world with no boundaries very risky when large sums of real-world money come into play.

Second Life Summary

While the potential is almost limitless for Second Life in the corporate world, there is a huge need and a lot of work to be done to develop and implement the process governance and management controls to confidently use Second Life as a tool that is integrated with the real corporate world. This will take time but as people learn to exploit the tool more effectively, confidence and use will increase in ways we can now only imagine.

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