The recent informative Bookseller seminar in London, ‘Reaching Readers Online’, focused on the use of social media in general, and social networking sites in particular. Specifically, their use by book publishers wanting to reach niche markets and interest groups though viral marketing. You’ve probably come across MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. Far more radical, and less explored, is the virtual world Second Life.
One thing Second Life is NOT is an online video game populated by geeks logging on from their parents’ basement. Behind the avatars are real people, meeting other real people, doing real business. Major corporations are opening offices there. Reuters have a news bureau. Sweden has announced it’s opening an embassy. And there are opportunities for publishers to use it as both a content delivery platform and a marketing tool.
Second Life is a 3D virtual world, created by Linden Labs in California. Visually a bit like a multi-user video game; conceptually a bit like The Matrix. ‘Residents’ upload themselves, via an avatar, and interact with – and create – the world around them. They build, buy, create and learn. They make money. Real money, converted from virtual Linden dollars. In the last 24 hours, US$1.9m was spent by some of the 5.6m residents. Check the stats for yourself.
There are gaming regions – even ‘adult’ regions – but also shops, universities, offices. The easiest way to understand the world is to see it for yourself:
How can this be useful to publishers? Well, how about holding a virtual sales meeting? Sponsoring a conference? Hosting an author event? There is already a precedent for this. Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, was interviewed in-world last year, at the New Globe Theatre. Appropriately enough, since his theory of ‘the long tail’ (what we used to call ‘the backlist’) lends itself to social media marketing. He even signed copies of his book:
Businesses have sprung up to help with PR in-world, with ‘metaverse marketing’ becoming the buzz word of choice. Here, global technology public relations firm Text100 explore some further business applications of Second Life:
So much for marketing. What about content? There are universities in Second Life, delivering content via learning kiosks. These aren’t made-up universities. They include virtual campuses of well-known institutions such as Harvard. Here’s a promo for the University of Ohio’s virtual campus:
What are the implications here for academic publishing? If you’ve been busy digitising your content, creating digital archives and online learning objects, how might they be employed in-world?
The Internet is little more than 10 years old. Second Life has been around for less than four. We’ve barely started. What will the next 10 years hold? The sound, graphics and bandwith potential of Second Life can only increase. When we stop typing and start speaking, Second Life will become both more like real life, and fantastically different from it. But it is not an escape from reality any more than is using email or MSN. It’s just another way for people to interact, albeit on a greater scale and with a richer graphical interface.
We’re some way from the virtual reality of William Gibson, the post-human existentialism of The Matrix or even the metaverse of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash – widely credited with envisioning the whole thing in the first place. But it’s going to become harder to ignore in the next few years.
I won’t be joining Duran Duran in owning an island there. But I will be opening an office. Not because I expect much business to come directly through my virtual door: but because it’s still a disruptive, provocative, attention-seeking thing to do. It will become far more pedestrian in the future.