Working in the Virtual World

Ok, I admit it. When I first joined Linden Lab to head up Enterprise Marketing three months ago, I wasn’t 100% convinced that working in virtual worlds really works. I mean, intellectually, immersive environments make perfect sense. We’ve all heard the key messages and I’ve been hard at work writing them. Meeting in Second Life allows global and mobile teams to collaborate in ways that aren’t possible other ways—improves efficiency, creativity, communication, and keeps travel costs in check. But, seriously—does working in the virtual world work?

My first official meeting in Second Life was an important and jarring experience for me—waking me up to how powerful the medium really is. The meeting took place in the Isabel conference room, here at the Battery Lab. The physical conference room—Isabel—has a virtual counterpart that is an exact replica—Virtual Isabel. A camera in Isabel captures what’s happening in the room and displays it in the virtual space. Simultaneously, the participants in Virtual Isabel are projected on the wall of physical Isabel. The result is a seamless experience—two conference spaces, one real and one virtual, merge into one. At first, it was a bit strange, but then I became absorbed into the discussion and the lines between the physical and virtual spaces blended. Then, in Virtual Isabel, I saw someone floating outside the window with a box on his head. What was my first reaction? I looked outside the physical window of the conference room to see if there was really someone floating outside. My colleagues caught me—in a completely confused state about what’s real and what’s virtual–and we all burst out laughing. I learned something very important that day. The virtual medium is extremely powerful and the ‘sense of presence’ is real—and that’s the magic ingredient that makes a meeting truly productive.

Virtual Isabel

Virtual Isabel

To that point, I believe that the only good alternative to virtual meetings is a face-to-face meeting. It would be a hard to argue the teleconference calls or WebEx can create as immersive an experience. I mean, how many wasted hours have we all spent staring at a Polycom or ‘multi-tasking’ (i.e. barely tuning into the meeting) during a WebEx presentation? Don’t remind me.

Video conferencing is increasingly being used as an immersive meeting technology, but there are some psychological aspects that limit its potential. Caleb Booker recently blogged on this very topic. He posits two very interesting theories. First, usually when you’re in a video conference, the camera is zoomed in on the speaker and—unconsciously—we pull back because we feel we’re in a conversation with a ‘close talker.” (Anyone remember that Seinfeld episode? A classic.)  He makes the case for virtual worlds and says, “The entire virtual world phenomena works because it accomplishes one simple thing: the perception of space. This is one of the most underestimated and wildly powerful tools of the past decade. Without even needing 3D glasses, a virtual space moves another person’s “presence” to a comfortable distance while still creating a sense that you are somehow physically together.”

His second point is even more compelling. As you know, there are three types of learners—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (or experience-based). The virtual world is a perfect mix that accommodates all three. He says, “Visual folk can look around the room to ’place‘ the voice they’re hearing or the text they’re reading (critical for them if they want to remember anything that happened!). Auditory people can just sit back and chat, occasionally glancing at the typed text. As for the kinesthetic people, well, they’re in absolute heaven.”

In fact, there really isn’t any other collaboration platform that can successfully do all three for distributed teams—except for a physical meeting. And, with travel budgets completely decimated these days, the luxury of a physical meeting is no longer a viable option for day-to-day interactions.

These days, I’m spending at least 2-3 hours a day in Second Life, meeting with my colleagues distributed all over the world—collaborating, brainstorming, learning, and decorating my new office space in LindenWorld. Using Second Life as an enterprise solution is helping us get our enterprise solutions to market smarter, cheaper, and faster than we might otherwise.

Ok, I’m the Marketing gal who drinks my own Kool-Aid—true. But, I’m also a believer, and if you’re not already—you will be, too. Just try it and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

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35 Responses to Working in the Virtual World

  1. Pingback: Very nice honest post « subQuark

  2. SeanMcPherson Senior says:

    What hardware/software combo do you all use for the webcam/audio interaction in-world?

  3. Kahiro Watanabe says:

    ‘The Close Talker’…lol I forgot about that one, I remeber “The High Talker” XD.

  4. Dnali Anabuki says:

    lol…and another one experiences the “change”.

    Welcome amadalinden and be warned, it is only the beginning of how SL changes you.

    At some point we will have our 100th monkey and then I’m really excited to see how FL changes.

  5. Antonio Rocco says:

    Yeah, I know what you mean, I’m spirtually and emotionally moved by penguin avatars and virtual cubicle spaces too. Why work in a drab, boring cubicle space when you can work in a VIRTUAL drab, boring cubicle space–and have a furry avatar too!

  6. Chosen Few says:

    I love the boxhead story, Amanda! I’ve got a similar one. I usually begin it with “You know you’ve been in SL too long when…” Anyway, here it is.

    I was coming out of a Friendly’s restaurant, where I’d just had breakfast, and I noticed there was a church across the street. I took one look at the brickwork on its front facade, and thought to myself “Wow, what an amazing texturing job.”

    D’Oh! Yeah, I’d been amazed that they’d managed to make real bricks look real. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I suddenly found myself reminded of the two dogs I grew up with, who would bark at the front door every time a doorbell rang on TV. Now I know how they must have felt.

    So yes, the immersive experience of virtual worlds does seep into your consciousness, and sometimes it even follows you far into the real world.

  7. Mitzy Shino says:

    I often catch myself trying to cam around on the 2d web, get a better look at an image etc…

    and it’s soooo damn annoying when I can’t!

  8. Eva Ryan says:

    Sometimes, late at night, and tired, I log off to go to bed, I expect to see pink and blue pose balls hovering over it….


  9. ToThePoint Garfield says:


    And what does this learn ?
    That you create your own world. That it doesn’t matter if its RL or SL.
    You have created your own experiance and thus all is true.
    I am deluded and confused, that i know but after all i am a human.
    Having a ball in this lifetime experiance and what an excellent adventure all is.

  10. Antonio Rocco says:

    Ahaha, I know what you guys mean, sometimes I confuse real things and virtual things too! Clearly this means I have only a very healthy grip of the world outside computers and the Internet!

  11. Sierra says:

    If it was so productive and fantastic why doesn’t your own devs use it more? They are always on mailing lists, email, webapps, IM etc.

    Marketing maybe able to eat their own dog food but when push comes to shove and you need to put the pedal to the metal to get something done in a technical environment, I bet you won’t be seeing the Second Life client being used unless you’re debugging it.

  12. primperfect says:

    The immersiveness grows …

    We have meetings at the Prim Perfect headquarters. Usually, in the summer, we sit around tables in the open air cafe opposite the offices and hold our meetings there. There’s no reason not to – if we need to demonstrate a texture or an idea or even run a presentation, it’s easy to rezz the tools we need right there in the cafe.

    But at the moment, there’s snow on the ground in Oliveto. And by one accord, we’ve shifted the meetings to the upstairs conference room in the main office.

    Because, you know, it’s just too cold to be meeting in the cafe.

  13. Deira Llanfair says:

    Being able to control your own camera position in a virtual conference room makes all the difference. I hate teleconferencing – I always slide my chair back so I am out of camera!

  14. midnyte decuir says:

    well nice…but why cannot i teleport easily from place to place anymore? why are certain commercial locations seemingly “closed off” from tp?…must drive the operators nuts!!!!!
    when is this damn viewer that is so bugggggy going to get replaced?

  15. Catherine Cotton says:

    “Linden Lab has announced a strategic partnership with Rivers Run Red to sell a product that makes it even easier for enterprises and educational institutions to construct collaborative work environments on the Second Life Grid. The Immersive Workspaces product pre-configures workspace options and wraps the Second Life Grid solution in a web-based framework rich with familiar tools and interfaces.”

    I told you so.

  16. In the real world I am a corporate software trainer for Europe, the MidEast and Africa. There is no possibility I would ever suggest SL to clients, or to my company.

    The era of flashy fun or cutting edge environments to attract clients is dead. It died when Lehman collapsed and it’s not coming back anytime soon. There’s a credit crunch, jobs are being cut and the few left working are working hard under huge time constraints. I could not ever suggest SL as a training environment for many reasons, but topmost is the HOURS it would take a N00B to learn how to move when I am trying to train them on my content. Second, I have no feeling of comfort that vital corporate information could/would be protected.

    SL’s greatest growth potential (in my view) is from gaming. We need a better engine for questing & fighting. I’d MUCH rather have blog posts with new horizons on that front, my friends.

  17. Poppy Linden says:

    SIerra, we do use SL. Developers frequently have meetings and pair-programming sessions in-world. Our usage of other online services (notably, there are a ton of Lindens on Twitter, and some devs using our open-source IRC channel and mailing list) doesn’t mean we don’t show love for the home team. We use different internet tools for different tasks.

  18. Meade Paravane says:

    Skye, if the people you train take hours to learn how to move in SL, I think they may be beyond help…

  19. Pingback: NINJALAND » Blog Archive » SL Needs To Change Direction

  20. Wellie K says:

    Well done. This is a keeper that I will bookmark and share with colleagues.

  21. Argent Stonecutter says:

    OK, I have to say something.

    What would make SL totally useful, technically, for me… is to be able to put programs on prims.

    Not “HTML on a prim”, I mean take any arbitary program I’m running on my desktop and map it into a prim face on SL. I wouldn’t even need to interact with it, or share it with other people (though that would be cool, if it was something purely optional that both of us had to agree to), but being able to toss the terminal window I’m doing a compile in into SL so that SL *consumes* my desktop, at least for monitoring purposes, would mean it would become a true 3d desktop… or in UNIX/X11 terms a 3d window manager.

    Just let me select 10 textures that I can map a program on my own computer on to. Every OS that runs SL supports this, to some extent, though of course X11 makes it easiest. Please. Pretty please. With virtual sugar on top of it?

  22. amandalinden says:

    Hey all, Thanks so much for the comments–all very interesting, helpful–and reassuring. 🙂

    And, for those folks that have technical suggestions, the best thing to do is to log an issue in the issue tracker. We carefully consider each suggestion and they can have a big impact on our development road map/planning.

    Again, big thanks and looking forward to many more lively dialogues ahead.

    – Amanda Van Nuys (SL: Amanda Linden)

  23. Pingback: Real World Meetings In A Virtual Office « It’s All Virtual

  24. Ishtara Rothschild says:

    THIS we may comment on, but not on anything that really matters?!?

  25. Pingback: Really effective: There’s nothing virtual about virtual meetings « Memories From The Future

  26. Lloud Laffer says:

    I would also like to see some way to share real-names on the mainland. Seriously, I’ve been participating in real training in SL, but our forced silly names undermine the sense of who we are learning from.
    Why can’t we have a real name field on the 1st life tab of our profile, and have an option to show it on our avatar? Really, we do need this to move forward in the business & educational space.

    James in RL!

  27. This is very interesting, I love the idea of a connected mirrored meeting room. I’m curious about how people behave in these meetings. Do you find people in the virtual Isabel will occupy the same physical space as person in the virtual Isabel? Is the same behavior exhibited in the reverse? Do people ever bring a laptop to the real world Isabel and have a dual presence?

    Thanks, I love hearing about how you guys use this stuff for real work.

  28. Pingback: Oh Lawd: Make Yourself A Giantess! - SLUniverse Forums

  29. les says:

    hiya Marketing Gal.

    Don’t forget to mention to business’ that anything they make can be coppied freely by fresh made annoymous acounts via copybot like they just did to the bike I spent a #()$*$ MONTH making.


    So, what is the point of SL again?

    Why do you allow unknowns to make accounts and have edit rights?

    Why does ANYONE bother to make stuff here?

    I look forward to this warning being deleted.

  30. Blue says:

    @ Sean: Looks like we’ve got the following over there in the Isabel room….

    * ClearOne Rav series conference mics
    * Toshiba TDP-T100 DLP Projector
    * AXIS 212 PTZ camera (they came with the building but we shut them all off except Isabel because they’re creepy and big-brothery)
    * Some 3Com networking stuff
    * Bose speakers

    @ Lloud: Agreed. Allowing the display of real names would be very helpful.

    @ Karl: I haven’t seen anyone bring a laptop to Isabel lol….wouldn’t that generate existential feeback?

    I think everyone here at the Battery St Lab has had a WOW moment when having a meeting in Isabel. In the interest of “eating the dogfood” I sometimes sit at my desk up on the mezzanine looking down at those in the RL meeting watching my SL self projected on the wall. Mixed reality hijinx!

  31. Pingback: Rezzed and Confused - 16 - Love in at the Video Conference | SLPN

  32. If i were a Linden i would sell the same story… afterall, it’s commerce LOL.
    Sorry, i am not a believer with this very buggy sl program which is almost unusable for down spec computers which are mostly used in offices. Sorry i see this is as too much school play time and we just don’t are at school anymore; we have a hard business these days.

    I use skype and a very good quality webcam to contact my Chinese contacts… for 1 to 1 conferences. That’s quick, easy and simple.
    For group conferences i personally have no bad experiences with video conferencing at all. It depends on how it is setpup.

    SL could have added value certainly, but to recommend this now to my relations? Oh dear lord i would be scapegoated.
    SL has a serious image problem ( at least here in Europe ), and it is too slow and unreliable. Too much unproductive time will be spend for just setting it all up… While other techs are very fast and more simple to implement.

    I agree that it has potential when it:

    1 Looses it’s bad image
    2 Is fast
    3 Not buggy
    4 Is severley more adepted world wide
    5 Has a 3D desktop capability
    6 Let us choose our real names without extra fees
    7 Is much simpeler to use and to learn it

    But maybe for some it is a start now… i don’t know, but to recommend it now for this purpose… eehmmm no.

  33. Ohh.. and better graphics without overheating my pc LOL

  34. Cairo Serevi says:

    Give me tools to really collaborate in here.

    Am a CEO of a software company…and we are really abroad sometimes…and phone conferences don’t work really well…with say 3 of us overseas.
    So what is your plans on giving us the chance to share desktops, applications and so on?

    If you can offer this…glad to rent a SIM here….until then, this is just a “game” (it is not, sorry folks, and sorry for being so harsh, but waiting for years on this)


  35. Pingback: Real World Meetings In A Virtual Office « InXpo

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