Telstra responds to questions on Second Life withdrawal

bigpond-secondlife-nov2009-3-smlAs mentioned yesterday, Telstra have announced their withdrawal from Second Life, and there’s been no shortage of discussion on it around the blogosphere.

We’ve had some passionate comments and a couple of emails from residents quite upset at the decision.

I took the opportunity to put some questions to Telstra’s media spokesman, Craig Middleton, to get some further clarity on future plans and what will happen to the content that’s been successful for their presence:

Lowell: After more than two years of operation, what are the key lessons Telstra has learnt from the experience?

Craig: From our venture into Second Life we learnt a great deal in a variety of areas, including online community anagement and how to foster event-based traffic – experiences in relation to the in world support team and management of frequent in world events .

Lowell: It’s arguable that Telstra has been one of the more successful examples of a business building a community, through regular activities, dedicated staff support and a large presence. Was the costs of delivering that service too much for the returns it provided?

Craig: We don’t discuss the commercial aspects of our business, however we were very happy with the popularity of the islands and the interaction they allowed us in-world.

Lowell: In regards to cost – how does Telstra plan to report to shareholders on any substantive outcomes from the Second Life foray? BigPond’s involvement on the face of it has been a success, so how will those successes be captured?

Craig: BigPond’s activities and investment in Second Life have been widely reported since our launch. I do not expect any further reporting beyond that.

Lowell: Are there any particular issues with Second Life that have hastened the decision to leave?

Craig: Our focus is now moving towards other social media options that are gaining in popularity and functionality on computers, mobile phones, TVs and game consoles. Watch out for such announcements in coming months. It is important for a communications company like Telstra to continue to experiment with emerging Web 2.0 applications

Lowell: What will happen to all the BigPond content? Does Telstra have any plans to archive it or even make it available for BigPond customers to use as a basis for further content creation?

Craig: There are no plans beyond helping our customers transition their inworld residences to other locations

Lowell: Does BigPond have any plans to continue development of products in virtual environments at all?

Craig: As per above.

For mine, after the impact on the community of residents, the disappearance of all the BigPond content is the biggest shame of the decision by Telstra to withdraw from Second Life. It appears they’re not ruling out further forays into virtual environments, but aside from that and anything they’ve learnt from the experiment, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy for BigPond customers who are Second Life residents.

Telstra retreats from Second Life

bigpond-secondlife-november2009-smlAs reported today in the mainstream press, Telstra have announced their retreat from involvement with Second Life.

As the Australian business with the largest investment in Second Life by far, Telstra’s withdrawal potentially has a large impact on the local case for involvement of business in virtual worlds. More importantly, there are many hundreds of BigPond regulars who are affected by the decision. Paying residents on the BigPond sims received the following notecard on the issue:

Dear Residents, Vendors and Guests,

Telstra BigPond would like to thank you for participating in Second Life through BigPond. Our creative experience with Second Life has been very rewarding for both BigPond and our members. We’re constantly looking for ways to take advantage of the latest social media trends, however, our focus is moving towards entertainment options that are gaining in popularity on computers, mobile phones, TVs and game consoles.

From December 16 you will still be able to continue your Second Life experience directly through Linden Lab at but no longer through the BigPond portal.

This will also mean that all Second Life use will go towards your download limits given that the BigPond islands currently unmetered for BigPond customers are closing. Please note that this may put you over your plan download limit sooner than you were expecting.

Please contact our in-world Social Operations Manager Peta Philbin if you have further questions and she will provide information and/or BigPond Support personnel to assist you.

Again, we hope that you continue to enjoy your Second Life experience and keep checking back at for other exciting BigPond services.


The BigPond Team

Is the announcement a surprise? Not really – Telstra’s been increasingly lukewarm over recent months in regards to continued development of new activities / events on the sims. That said, the community that’s been built by BigPond customers on the sims has never wavered and there’s plenty of them angry at the decision. The common theme from discussions with residents today revolved around the theme of only having entered Second Life initially because of the unmetered status for Second Life usage (on BigPond sims), and the subsequent meeting up with people that they otherwise would never have met.

Obviously Telstra don’t need a presence for that to occur, but they certainly created a financial and aesthetic environment that maximised the potential for new users’ involvement. It’s been one of the more notable examples worldwide of a successful collaboration between a business and its customers, with examples everywhere of that relationship:


The biggest challenge for Telstra is how it portrays its withdrawal in the longer term. It’s likely been a financial decision, and if so it begs the question of how transparent Telstra will be on the outcomes they feel they’ve got from being in Second Life, and whether they’ll make further forays in the future. We touched base with Peta Philbin, who is the ‘Pond Estates Social Operations Manager’, but she wasn’t able to comment at all, referring me to BigPond’s PR contact, Craig Middleton. We’ve sent Craig a series of questions and will post his responses in full as soon as we receive them. There’s also a farewell party planned for 21st November – we’ll publish more details on that as they are announced.

In the meantime, it’s over to you: are you surprised by the announcement or has it been a long-time coming? Will this be a set-back for Second Life in Australia and for business more broadly?

Telstra BigPond launches customer service centre in Second Life

Telstra today took the next step in the ongoing evolution of their significant presence in Second Life with the launch of a staffed customer service centre. There’ll be Telstra-employed avatars available between 11am and 10pm Monday to Friday AEST to answer “service-related queries”. Obviously there won’t be too many queries from those whose connection has gone down but it’s a worthy expansion of customer service in-world.

A launch party was held from 5pm today:

There’s plenty of space to wait if it comes to that:

With sixteen sims, Telstra are a corporate behemoth in Second Life and a successful one at that. It’ll be interesting to see how many people utilise the service. The press release states that “this initiative was driven by the popularity of this virtual world with BigPond customers”. We’ve asked for some figures on this – the common assumption behind Telstra’s popularity is that BigPond customers have their Second Life usage unmetered and it’d be good to get some solid figures behind the claim.

The natural reaction from non-Second Life residents would be to ask why you’d bother logging in to ask a question when it’s easier to phone or email the query. To some extent this is valid but it misses the point of the exercise (beyond its PR value) – it’s one of the few corporate experiments in actual virtual world customer service. Whether it’s successful is only part of the equation – it’s useful research for the future when virtual worlds more successfully enable business transactions. This sort of exercise is fodder for that future.

Check it out in-world.

Telstra responds on first anniversary in Second Life

Today I was contacted by Craig Middleton, BigPond’s Group Manager, Corporate Affairs, after seeing our story on Telstra’s first anniversary in Second Life. He’s provided his list of Telstra BigPond’s achievements in Second Life:

* We have built and maintained a leading position as the most popular real life brand presence in SL in the world, which has continued to reach record levels in early 2008.

* Approximately 85,000 registered users through the registration process.

* We have continued to grow the estate creating the opportunity for the community to take up residence and have recently added a further residential island called ‘Pondune’ which will be available for rental shortly.

* We hosted an in world extension of the Samsung advertising campaign for their new mp3 player during November 2007 (also reported in B&T)

* We have moved from a limited in-world support model to a more organic model made up of volunteers from the community. The community is now monitored 24hours and there is always help at hand. Further, a User Forum was launched on March 10 providing community members the opportunity to share knowledge between themselves and other members of the BigPond and Second Life community.

* We launched SydSIM – a virtual Sydney CBD – in late 2007.”

It’s now over to you – what would you add as far as further achievements or other observations on Telstra’s first year?

Telstra in Second Life: one year on

It’s actually just past a year since Telstra launched its Second Life presence. The reason we haven’t covered the anniversary until now is due to having a request for a comment in to Telstra on the first anniversary. There’s been no response, so I’ll reply on my observations and hopefully your comments on Telstra in Second Life.


The first theme that comes to mind is expansion – the initial eleven sims was significant but there are now sixteen in total plus the two Telstra Experience sims. Aside from geographical expansion, evolution in what’s offered on those sims has also changed, with the opening of rentals for individuals one landmark event. The SydSim virtual Sydney CBD expansion was also launched with some fanfare but is yet to be completed.

The second theme is learning – mostly on the part of Telstra. In the initial couple of weeks after its launch, The Pond sims were inundated with new and excited Australian Second Life users – the trouble was they weren’t getting any guidance. Not long after that, volunteer and paid staff started giving support in-world and that support is still pretty much in place. Another key learning was around what an effective social space was. The Pond sims have numerous activities and spaces – clubs, pubs, sport activities and sandboxes. And what’s the most popular? A bunch of wooden boxes out the front of the Billabong Bar. There’s nothing fancy – just the boxes to sit on and a campfire. And no matter what time of day or night it is, you’ll usually find a handful of people there chatting whilst the nearby club is deserted.


There’s no doubt Telstra have succeeded in Second Life – their traffic is considered one of the best for a corporate presence. They’ve been responsive to feedback and have had the resources to implement changes where needed. Whether they’ve succeeded in engaging the wider Second Life community is something to be judged by you. If you’re a regular Pond frequenter, what is it that keeps you coming back?

The Telstra Experience Centre in Second Life

You may or may not be aware, but early to mid March marks two significant Australian anniversaries in Second Life: a year since the Telstra BigPond and ABC presences in Second Life launched.

We’ll be writing more on both in coming days, but today I stumbled across another Telstra presence in Second Life. Two islands, Telstra Experience and Telstra Innovation aren’t part of the BigPond islands but they do come up in Second Life’s search functionality.


The Innovation island isn’t publicly accessible but I had a wander around the Experience island, and as the notecard offered on arrival says, it’s a replica of real-llfe Telstra Experience centres, one of which is nearing completion in George St Sydney. It’s very much an enterprise and government focus versus the BigPond end-user focus of the larger presence.


Because the build is a replica of a real-world one, it’s far from an immersive, creative experience, with standard corporate office-space containing multiple video viewing areas. My guess is it’s also being used as a prototyping tool for the real-life builds in Sydney and Melbourne. There’s nothing wrong with any of that and it does demonstrate the growing awareness by the corporate world of the utility of virtual worlds in non-consumer, non-brand awareness applications. I doubt we’ll see the islands launched with much fanfare, if at all. And that’s the way it should be.


The full text of the in-world notecard:

“The Telstra Experience Centre (TEC) is a new state-of-the-art facility built for our customers, now replicated in Second Life.

The TEC has been designed to provide business and government customers with hands-on experience with Telstra’s world-class technology, service and media capabilities. Customers will be able to see, touch, feel and use Telstra’s products and services. Most importantly, this centre allows customers to explore solutions using Telstra’s Next IP™ Virtual Private Network and Next G™ high-speed wireless broadband network.

This Telstra Experience Centre in Second Life is designed to give visitors a taste of what to expect from the RL centre. It also allows us to experiment with the use of Second Life for RL collaboration and projects across business and government applications.”

Check it out in-world.

Virtual Sydney CBD slowly taking shape

As we’ve previously mentioned, SydSim is Telstra’s replica Sydney CBD that started development in November 2007. In December I was critical of the build’s nature.


I dropped in again this week and there’s been some significant progress i.e. a lot more buildings and other objects. It’s starting to show some potential although I’m still uncertain as to how engaging it’ll be. That will probably depend on the rental aspect – if the right sort of tenants move in then a momentum of its own will develop.

I contacted BigPond’s media contact for comment on the build’s progress but haven’t received a response as yet. What are your thoughts – is SydSim something you’d like to be part of or is it too much like a mirror world?

SydSim – is that progress?

We covered Telstra’s new islands a month ago, but I thought it was worth paying another visit to see what progress had been made on what had been touted as a Sydney CBD replica. Here’s what I saw:



I think the pictures pretty much speak for themselves. Telstra deserve plaudits for their work to date in Second Life, but SydSim is looking increasingly like an exception to that rule. There’s a real risk of failing in any sort of engagement with the Second Life community when you have a maze of virtual roadways and tall skyscrapers to navigate. Telstra’s own building on SydSim is the pick of the small bunch but even it is nothing more than a promotional shopfront. Obviously, the whole build is far from complete – I’m unsure why the two islands are even open to the public given the state they’re in.

Have you had a look and what do you think? My impression so far is that SydSim is an extremely poor competitor to its Melbourne counterpart.

Australian business interest growing in Second Life?

In the next two weeks I’m involved in two separate events that have the same purpose – to raise awareness of the opportunities that Second Life presents. The first has a corporate focus and the panel discussion involves key people from Telstra, REA and the ABC involved in their respective Second Life presences. The second one is also business orientated with a communications flavour.



In both cases, there’ll be up to a hundred representatives from Australian businesses, most of them medium to large operations with varying understanding of virtual worlds. A while back we wrote about Australian business taking a ‘wait and see’ approach – this may still be the case but there’s certainly no shortage of forums where SL is being presented as an innovation option.

And they’re off – The Pond Cup

Today I received notification that Telstra are running an event to coincide with the Melbourne Cup on their Ponderosa sim. Direct from the announcement:

” – Ten virtual horses racing for a prize of $5,000 Linden, plus 2nd and 3rd place prizes
– The ‘Pond Car Park’ where punters can park their cars, lay out a picnic rug, enjoy food from around the world and toast the day with chilled champagne
– A carousel
– Intimate dining for two, complete with carriage ride through The Pond island

The action starts at 7pm AEDT.”

We tried to gain access to Ponderosa this afternoon but it’s off-limits. At least equine influenza isn’t going to be an issue for this race meet.

Check it out in-world

Previous Posts