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New Forrester Report on Virtual World Marketing

September 30, 2008 , ,

I have read with interest the evolution of SecondLife and other 3D venues as a marketing and conferencing tool. Companies that dipped their toes in two years ago got burned, but a new Forrester report claims that improving technologies and higher adoption means corporate marketers should consider (or at least watch) virtual worlds again. Claim the authors:

More useful functions like voice chat, embedded video, better authoring tools, and improved  visuals are helping make many of today’s virtual worlds virtually unrecognizable from their
incarnations two to three years ago.

I am keenly interested in seeing how virtual worlds develop utilities for meetings and synchronous collaboration—and whether companies like GoToMeeting (which has been expanding their product line aggressively) will ultimately offer virtual-world meetings. Gartner’s report on this phenomenon was pessimistic, saying hype over virtual world applications is in the “Trough of Disillusionment” phase. In an interview, Gartner’s Jackie Fenn says that while interest is high in corporate applications, truly “figuring out what the environment is and how to develop and use the technology to make people at least as productive as they are in face-to-face meetings–or more productive, since you should be able to get there—is challenging.” She goes on to explain,

You ask people what their favorite collaboration tool is, and they still say email, even though there are so many other things that we could be using. Even the richer social platforms  that have replaced email in some demographics, the corporate world is slow to adopt those. It’s not all about utility, part of it is security and compliance and all those corporate things that involve tracking robustness of  technologies that take off virally in the consumer world, but pose challenges when the corporate world tries to adopt them. So there’s usually a lag there. We’re seeing companies investing in and experimenting with virtual worlds, but I have to say it’s still pretty much at the experimental stage for most organizations and will be for the next few years.

True… but adoption rates for web-based collaborative tools like GoToMeeting and WebEx will likely double between 2007 and 2011, with US businesses spending $1.6 billion in web conferencing technologies in 2007 (says Gartner). And I have to say, there are some types of meetings and trainings that truly do lend themselves to virtual worlds (assuming that face-to-face is too expensive). Take the example of IBM, which uses 3D worlds to introduce large groups of new hires to the company and to each other:

And while face-to-face meetings might be preferred, introducing people to the company through a 3-D experience is far superior to a conference call, webinar, or other 2-D e-learning event, he says. “All things being equal, people want to work with their friends. Most meetings don’t build collaborative friendship.” But with Second Life, Hamilton says, the No. 1 benefit in terms of onboarding is “building friendship circles.” One reason: “You can see me; you know more about me,” says Hamilton, also noting that “there’s something about the playfulness [of Second Life]. People are more open and free talking to each other.”


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