Don’t write off Second Life

second-lifeAfter the initial buzz around Second Life three or four years ago, the initial hopes that it would prove a valuable tool for business have apparently been disappointed. Commentators have criticised it for being clunky to use, for suffering from technical problems and for being nothing more than another way for Internet geeks to waste time.

Yet Second Life hasn’t gone away. A number of global businesses such as IBM, PA Consulting and BT have set up shop there, though mostly on a small scale. IBM is the company that has put most resources into the technology, using it for training sessions, collaboration between people in different geographies, and for modelling particular scenarios for its customers.

As usual, however, it is the young who will determine whether the technology fades or flourishes. Universities and colleges have been discovering the value of virtual classrooms: at Leicester University, archaeology students have walked round a virtual recreation of a Sami society in Second Life, while paramedic students at St George’s Hospital tackle simulations of real life accidents. In examples such as these, Second Life has demonstrated its usefulness by letting participants do things that simply can’t be done any other way.

Despite its current small-scale use, my prediction is that Second Life – or a similar virtual world – could, in a few years’ time, be as popular as Facebook is now. Why? It’s not just that the technology will improve and become more user-friendly. It’s that the next generation will be ready for it.

While a lot of media attention focuses on Generation Y and their liking for Twitter and instant messaging, if we want to know what the future looks like, we should study the under-12s. And they’re all using Club Penguin, Bin Weevils and Runescape – mini virtual worlds that are as natural to them as writing an email is to the over-40s.

Don’t believe me? Come back in 10 years and tell me if I’m wrong.

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