Virtual worlds and social networking

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in 1996. Picture perfect for a funeral.

We buried the Mexican pot beneath the Yucca tree in the back yard.

Our daughter wept uncontrollably. Her mother consoled her.

Her brother looked on disgusted and bored.

We mumbled a few words, slapped the dirt with the shovel and our daughter’s beloved Tamagotchi was put to rest. The Tamagotchi is a small, simple egg-shaped computer that swept the globe after its introduction giving kids (and adults alike) “someone” to be involved with…feeding, playing, caring. But like all things they eventually die. That’s tough on adults and kids.

She had faithfully fed it, played with it, cleaned it and took care of it’s every want and need.

Still the damn thing died!

Fast forward 11 years.

We just learned that our son has two avatars on SecondLife.

He had already dropped a few Linden dollars for new clothes.

He’s thinking about buying a few acres of land for them in the virtual world.

Boy…we never saw that one coming !

But should we have been surprised?

Probably not.

We saw both Matrix movies – twice. As a kid we regularly watched Twilight Zone.

It was all laid out for us.

All we had to do is develop cheap, high-powered chips, build out an inexpensive to use, large-piped sensory path and let fertile, creative minds do the rest.

SecondLife is the mash-up of personal/competitive gaming, multimedia PCs, Faith Popcorn’s projections on cocooning, interrelationships and…entertainment.

Until recently the focus of research on the growing market has been on the activities of teens and tweens: What’s your kid doing, because that will show companies where to invest for products and services that will be in hot demand tomorrow!

For the most part this still holds true.

The great thing though is that adults are “getting it” more quickly today. And adults are the ones who really have the bucks!

Younger kids may have been the first to rip digital music and enjoy it over the internet on their PC. But adults, including the 24-40 category, listen to it with greater frequency.

The same is true of game play. Sony, MS and the game developers targeted their sweat and blood entertainment to the “hard core” gamers.

Nintendo blindsided the kingpins (and the reviewers) with the Wii and its initial cache of games.

Who gives a crap about bowling, tennis, baseball, golf?

Turns out darned near everyone, including your grandma, grandpa who probably didn’t even touch an Atari 2600 joystick!

Neilsen/NetRatings found that about 37 per cent of adults own a game system and 16 per cent have a portable game console.

Around the globe it appears that few people are cutting back on their game play. In most countries game play has even increased.

As Neo (Keanu Reeves) noted…”It’s strange… the code is somehow different.”

With broadband to the home increasing and $500 computers now becoming more of the norm we also see a logical extension for the MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games).

MMOGs like WoW (World of Warcraft) and Everquest still dominate the online gaming world.

Traditional logic (such a dangerous thing) said the boys would rush away if the games weren’t totally violent and destructive.

Another gottcha!

Not only are girls playing the games but according to comScore, females account for 52 per cent of the gaming audience, she’s 41 years old and has an income of $55,000. Darned good thing 84 per cent of them have broadband!

The Web 2.0 part of the mash-up has been the logic growth of social networking.

For kids with their WiFi notebooks in the backpacks this was just another way to stay in touch with friends and develop new relationships.

With the introduction of locations like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and the amazing variety of horizontal and vertical sites the demographics again shifted. Today 60 per cent of the users are 25 and older. While many of the social networking sites are country-centric, many are going global – reaching, touching and entertaining people who have specific subject and avocation interests.

For the social network sites, new entertainment/gaming options are easy add-ons. We’re now seeing Neo pet rearing games (yes including the evolution of our daughter’s Tamagotchis), MMO puzzles, international sports.

Is that all there is? Games?


As The Oracle said… “What do all men with power want? More power.”

So feminists, don’t get in a bind. We believe he meant men in the overall human race term…not just men. Better?

To prove to Neo that we control the machines rather than their controlling us, SecondLife and similar virtual worlds have emerged.

In many ways they are an extension, a dramatic enhancement of the power and capabilities of the Internet.

The internet after all are simply pipes and computing power spread around the globe. For the most part it is barren except for the hundreds of spam emails you get daily. Certainly people go to chat rooms, use lists and similar horizontal/vertical locations to “talk,” exchange information and get assistance.

But they are simply words streaming across the screen. People think to themselves… “I suppose the obvious question is how can I trust you?”

You want to interact with people you go down the hall, you go to the mall, you go to (gasp) meetings.

SecondLife and similar virtual worlds are bringing people together.

SecondLife claims more than four million residents and usually there are 20-30,000 of them hanging out at any given time.

As with any brave new world, it is far from a success and still a work in progress. But already leading firms have “bought” land and opened storefronts. That includes IBM, Intel, Toyota, Cisco, Sun, GM, Reuters, Circuit City and other commercial and retail businesses have staked claims in the virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds like and SecondLife aren’t being used by these firms as online retail outlets but rather business locations that can lead to real world sales or to quickly solve real world problems.

Granted firms like American Apparel sells virtual jeans while Toyota and GM sell virtual cars. But most use their virtual businesses to give people an undisturbed view of their products. They test store layouts, production facility workflow layouts and market test future product concepts.

Other organizations like IBM and Cisco use their virtual locations for “face-to-face” global meetings –sales meetings, customer conferences, shareholder briefings and departmental staff meetings.

As with most social networks, people step into their virtual worlds also to hang out with friends, visit new places and even build new relationships.

A number of marriages have already been reported by people whose avatars met each other in their virtual worlds.

In the virtual world as in the real world Neo emphasized … “Choice, the problem is choice.”

The citizens of the virtual worlds are finding out just how much Matrix Reloaded mirrors our two worlds.

Vandalism, shootings and skirmishes have already occurred in all of the online virtual worlds.

We admit that there are a lot of times you’d like to simply say “To H*** with it! I’m packing up and moving to the brave new world.”

SecondLife, and the other virtual worlds offer a gold mine of opportunities for companies and individuals to test ideas, products and concepts that can be sold/implemented in the real world.

There’s a lot of potential out there for really creative people.

We just hope nothing bad happens to our kid’s avatars in SecondLife.

In the back of our mind we believe Councilor Harmann… “These machines keep us

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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