Virtual worlds and business: 2010 overview

A little over a year ago we created a short discussion paper on the potential impact of virtual worlds on business. Since that time literally hundreds of people have downloaded the paper, so we thought it was worth updating it.

It remains a fairly succinct overview of the opportunities presented by virtual environments in the enterprise, as well as identifying some of the misconceptions around. The updated version now contains some discussion on trends for the coming 12-months (partly based on our 2010 predictions post) as well as a wrap-up of the major platforms to watch.

You can download Virtual Worlds and business: 2010 overview for free by going to this page.

As always, if there’s omissions or alterations needed, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Immersive environments and the enterprise: new report

Erica and Sam Driver from ThinkBalm have released a new report. Titled The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide, the focus is obviously virtual environments suitable for business applications. For those not aware of ThinkBalm, they have a growing stable of reports on the state of play in virtual worlds industry, particularly from a business perspective.

Aside from detailing nineteen vendors out there, the guide provides some useful strategies to assist in choosing a virtual environment for an enterprise. It’s pretty standard project governance and needs analysis stuff, but tailored well to the topic.

One of the key points from the guide for me revolves around the regular question of “which platform is best?”:

The vendors come from a variety of backgrounds and have different specializations and strengths and weaknesses. They are not all targeting the same use cases. Just as office productivity suites today now include separate-yet-integrated applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more, immersive software product suites will evolve to focus on groups of related business problems. Eventually, we envision an immersion layer developing that will integrate with multiple enterprise systems and applications. But this is years away.

I’m a little more bullish on the ‘years away’ aspect. Two to three years, sure, but I’d be surprised if more widespread adoption took longer than that.

Overall, the guide appears to be a rigourous, well-researched piece of work that should provide a useful base for enterprises looking at integrating immersive environments into their operations.

You can view the full report here

Second Life offers enterprise solution

It’s been rumoured for months now, but Linden Lab have finally confirmed that they’ve entered the alpha phase of “a server solution that is completely disconnected from the main Second Life environment with all of the rich functionality in the box.”

As far as virtual worlds and enterprise, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. The announcement has a bunch of significant implications:

1. Key security issues / intellectual property issues minimised

The ongoing and legitimate criticism of Second Life for business is its limitations in ensuring security of information. I constantly cite the power of Second Life for prototyping, but most businesses aren’t going to put key intellectual property on the public Second Life grid. The new solution will allow all the development to occur internally, with the company then potentially able to do some more public testing if desired.

The more obvious security benefits come around improved monitoring of activity and on-site backup of key data. I’m assuming the ability to do roll-backs will come with the package, which gives business greater peace of mind that they alone are ensuring their own information can be retrieved in the event of problems.


2. Enterprise virtual worlds now have a crowded marketplace

The proposed new product is far from assured of being the dominant player in the enterprise marketplace, but its brand recognition will certainly help it get a substantial foothold. OpenSim is the obvious competitor on the face of it, but no-one would be claiming they have a viable enterprise solution yet. The more realistic competitors are platforms like Forterra’s OLIVE, the open-source Project Wonderland and business function specific offerings like NoviCraft. The advantage most of these incumbents have is an ability to argue direct business outcomes, whether it be improved remote training, better team-building skills, or some other outcome negotiated as part of the enterprise-specific installation.

Where the new Linden Lab product will gain true traction is where it’s able to compete on ease of installation and the all-important price. It’s hard to imagine Linden Lab will launch something that’s more expensive than current offerings unless they can make the case for markedly superior features. I’d also expect some third-party vendors like Rivers Run Red are well underway in their preparations to offer development services for enterprise once this launches, and there’s probably a bunch more that will seriously look at expanding into development in the space now that the uptake is potentially more widespread.

3. Another nail in the mirror world coffin?

If the Linden Lab solution does gain traction, it really starts to squeeze out any enterprise arguments made by mirror worlds such as Twinity. The ability for business to run a grid internally and the large user base of the public grid to leverage from makes the smaller worlds vulnerable to losing the businesses they may have already attracted. That said, enterprises that are in the virtual world space for purely marketing purposes may still find worlds like Twinity a worthwhile investment.

4. The unknowns

At this early stage there’s more not known about this new product than known. The key questions I’d like to see answered are:

a. What interoperability will there be with the main Second Life grid?

b. Will there be off-the-shelf capability to connect to other enterprise grids?

c. As mentioned above, what will this cost, and will there be discounts for educators or other non-profit entities?

d. What support mechanisms will be in place. Will those mechanisms be Linden Lab driven or outsourced?

5. The sum up

It’s hard to put anything but a positive spin on this development. At worst it may lead to some loss of variety as smaller players have difficulties. At best it may be a catalyst for more widespread adoption of virtual worlds for enterprise. The most likely outcome in the short-term is slight growth in interest by business and some strong encouragement for Second Life developers.

What are your thoughts? Do you see the announcement being a game-changer?

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