Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Social capital in Second Life

From my HCM blog:

I hope you like my new avatars (digital characters) on the right hand column of this blog - I suspect experienced bloggers will find them extremely annoying, but I hope I'm forgiven as a newbie for a bit of experimentation. I've also been doing a bit more playing around in Second Life (SL).

For those that don't know, SL is a three-dimensional, virtual reality world where you can meet interesting people, do amazing things, and live out your fantasies.

It's also increasingly an environment being explored by businesses for commercial purposes. The Sunday Times has recently conducted an SL conference with 90 participants from businesses which included ABN Amro, the BBC, BA, Cisco, Dell, FirstDirect, Shell and Reuters. The Times explain that one of SL's advantages for the workshop is that had the conference taken place in the real world it would have cost thousands and generated somewhere between 120 and 180 and tonnes of carbon. In addition,

"3D is closer to reality than 2D. Second Life offers more interaction. When you look at a web page on the normal internet you can’t see that a lot of other people are looking at that page. But in Second Life you can see people standing around you and you can interact with those people looking at the same information.”

The use of SL for HR purposes is also being explored.

In recruitment, organisations are conducting recruitment activities virtually, presenting themselves as innovative employers and simplifying interviews and assessment processes. The main focus to date has been on IT designers, animators, virtual-world builders and the like, but this is now starting to extend. Yell has recently launched a SL campaign alongside TMP with uniformed avatars wandering around SL and talking to other avatars about the company. Yell believe that SL users may provide the 'creativity and innovation' they seek within their workforce.

In learning, many organisations are running SL workshops, providing great opportunities for experiential learning which allow people to try out new ideas and practice new skills without fear of failure and embarrassment. Some are developing virtual campuses.IBM has embraced Second Life more than any other major company — it has more than 230 employees spending time in-world, and it owns some half-dozen islands. Some are open to the public, including a flashy recruitment office that links to its internet recruitment site. IBM even has a dress code for its employees' avatars (see Jay Cross' post IBM bringing decency to the wild frontier). The company says it may also look to develop it’s own in-house virtual world for the use of employees and clients.

Despite rising concerns about SL's potential (see, for example Don Taylor's post Second Life Backlash) this seems to be a medium for which business and particularly HR applications are going to grow and grow. SL and other similar virtual worlds may never become environments where businesses can mass market their products, but they provide interesting additions to the tools organisations can use to increase social interaction, including within their workforces.

Look out for our avatars next time you visit.

Jonin and Sandrain Allen.