Second Life: Virtual Worlds and Realities:

The other day, I decided to go to Paris. Once I arrived, I sat right on top of the Eiffel Tower drinking coffee with a friend and dwelling on our interesting conversations while admiring the view. Going back to my friend’s house on the Champs Ely-see, the scenery changes to a more unrealistic environment, where house-sized birds were roaming the skies and people were flying without unaided machinery. What I just described is not a realistic situation, but another life many people choose to partake in once in a while. It’s most commonly known as Second Life, virtual reality simulation software created by Linden Lab in 2003 to support a variety of applications and efficient results. Adding on, we shall come to see how Second Life would be beneficial to corporate organizations (businesses, universities etc.), research development and an efficient social/educational tool for any subject wishing to progress in our present technological era (process).

Ever since its creation in 2003, Second Life has gained a prominent standing within the virtual and realistic world, this can be seen by the exponentially growing numbers throughout the years and as of March 2008, the number reached up to 13 million accounts (though many accounts are inactive). Second Life enables its users, or “Residents” to interact in a social network through a metaverse that simulates various multiple environments and places that the user inputs in its search engine. The way that Second Life works is through the use of 3D creation software and the use of the Linden Scripting Language. The basis of the language supports Apache and MySQL to program certain behaviors and changes what the user wishes to enhance or create. Moreover, the use of a second underlying grid is used as a testing center where employees from Linden Lab can constantly re-adjust and improve the program itself. According to Wikipedia.org, this type of system is used “to eliminate the short amounts of time between real updates, and increase its overall quality” (A.1). Adding on, what makes Second Life appealing are the multitude of tasks one can accomplish from real estate, businesses, healthcare, and education.

Second Life residents bring about the necessary revenue and profitability that the company gets by its users spending time online. A statistic done by the National Geographic has determined that “players spend $350,000 (US) a day or $130 million a year” (A.2). Real estate is becoming an important asset not only to organizations and businesses, but to individual consumers worldwide. Organizations nowadays are buying virtual land to expand market development, differentiation and to gain a competitive edge. For example, IBM has just joined with Linden Lab to enable “secure, flexible and customizable” virtual environment to run in its pc systems in order to increase employee productivity and concentration (A.3). The use of a virtual network in IBM doesn’t only extend to its employees, but to its wide range of customers through actual product development and interactive displays on a virtual network. Customers are able to view different types of PC’s and services that enables them to choose the right product in reality. Major brands such as Cisco, Nissan, Reuters, AOL, BMW and even retailers such as American Apparel have brought virtual lands to secure and expand their marketing potential and reputation globally.

The expansion of entrepreneurs and businesses across Second Life is not just a recent hype that will fade away, but will remain as another form of communication such as blogging and internet shopping. A recent statistic by Pew Internet and American Life Project estimated that by “2011, 80% of active internet users will have a “second life” online (although not necessarily in Linden Lab’s online world, Second Life). This suggests there will be a significant move of social networks from the real world to the virtual world” (A.4). Peter Lokke, a supermarket manager of 17 years has recently quit his job to develop his clothing designer shop in Second Life with his partner, Theo Lament in Milwaukee, who he never met face to face. Lokke who already has experience in computer graphic design has created a competitive advantage by being one of the very first people to establish a virtual clothing center called “Crucial Creation.” Even though he spends about 50 hours a week online, he quotes that “my business has grown from generating a few bucks a month two years ago to selling more than enough to live on now” (A.5). The shift to social networking and software applications is clearly a significant one nowadays, since most businesses that need to differentiate or succeed have an evident technological innovation implemented within their strategies. And in this case, Lokke is not the first and definitely not the last to have initiated a vision that will eventually bring about success within his field and standard of living.

Adding on, many people are conscious and wary when it comes to the security of online businesses and social networking places. However, in Second Life, Linden Lab has secured the reassured its customers of the many advantages and slight risks that could accompany the acquiring or development of purchase of properties in its virtual world. What attracted Lokke and similar investors, business entrepreneurs and large organizations is the protected intellectual property and copyrights given to purchasers once they build their own place and every attribute associated with it. However, there have been problems with emerging software’s that seem to copy the initial designs of certain people’s inventions, and this in itself has caused a great deal not amongst consumers, but even in courts. How far do we need to go to establish full legal rights when it comes down to virtual reality? What actions are going to be taken to ensure the privacy and rights dispersed to each individual? Second Life has already taken the initiative to set up and emphasize that these issues are real, and had placed regulations in its terms of services to bind the subject to legal terms. Veronica Brown, a designer of more than 1,200 dresses at Second Life has been hesitant in keeping her business online (where she makes $60,000 each year) in fear that others might copy her work. Cory Ondrejka, Chief Technical Officer at Second Life Linden Lab has said that there is a huge difference between crimes committed online. He stated that “Copying is not theft. It’s infringement, but it’s not theft” (A.6). This means that the implications and necessary force of action to be taken might be different than what one would expect in real life, but it is still an illegal offense. I believe in the long-run, the virtual world would adopt and institute real life terms that would exactly simulate what it would be like in reality. Even if it were to limit the actions and imagination in a place where one would rather escape, there still has to be a system of authority to regulate behaviors for a somewhat utopian society to exist.

The real estate business seems to be the main type of business that’s evident in Second Life. Moreover, it is prominent since land itself has become an issue in reality. Moreover, the prices of land in real life have risen exponentially, so the use of getting land online has given people the chance to start businesses and buy what’s needed at a cheaper price, and yet still making revenue and profitable in the long-run. Moreover, it is very crucial nowadays for people to use those aspects of technology to be in a competitive edge and to be a first-mover for their organization or self-business. Another example where the use of businesses allows malleability and use is through BMW’s or Nissan’s world online, where they allow people to test drive real new cars on the market to determine final decisions or to fully customize a car and even to install features that can be useful to anyone who would like to purchase a lifetime asset. Not only do business-oriented organizations play a role, but also hospitals and defense departments that allow its employees to fully immerse in a real-life situation, as we shall see.

Palomar Pomerado Health and its partners, Cisco Systems have recently set up the first and largest public health district (in Second Life) that will soon be fully established in the year of 2011 in real life San Diego. Patients or anyone can tour the hospital and view its amenities and make comments about the concepts and designs, and even ask questions to help understand new initialized technologies. One of the emerging technologies that will be used in Pomerado Health is the use of RFID tags that will directly track and direct patients to the necessary areas of facility they require. An example of this would be an actual avatar that would enter the hospital and would be given the tag, and as soon as he enters the elevator or any facility, the machinery would be programmed to direct him to the necessary floor/ward. In addition, as the avatar actually goes through the tour, they will be accompanied by live stream video that will get them acknowledged and familiar with the technologies that Paloar Pomerado will include in its hospital/health center. According to Portale, an IT specialist working for Pomerado Health, the reason they do this is because they “wanted to demonstrate to the hospital industry how these technologies could be deployed” (A.7).   In addition, Palomar Pomerado Health are looking to further its application use of Second Life by implementing a new type of place where policy makers, health care leaders and other related staff can meet virtually to discuss health issues, technology and even architecture and design.

Even though Pomerado Health will soon be a realistic hospital in San Diego, other virtual hospitals are making a significant move to instruct doctors and patients more about the educational aspects on how to walk patients through medical procedures such as an MRI scan, how to talk to different people in difficult situations or even to enhance a prospective employee and get them familiar with the surroundings they will work in. A good and interesting example of this can be found in Ann Myers Medical Center that deals with instructing nurses, doctors and interns to deal with virtual patients in diagnostics and bedside manners. The place has the many facilities and amenities that one could find in an actual hospital environment.  Similarly, Ann Myers has developed the same procedure that Pomerado has instituted, which is to hold meetings in a global collaboration setting. This allows people all over the world to interact, communicate, and be a part of a truly academic event, where real live presentations are discussed and shared to the public to gain knowledge and formulate ideas in topics they are unaware of. Furthermore, we shall come to see how students can benefit from “SL” and enable them to roam and learn in a whole new dimension.

Nowadays, students are using the internet on a daily basis, and it has not only become the spine of every persons needs, but what we do circles and depends on a piece of pure machinery and networks. This type of networking has been strengthened and used to develop new means of engaging students in real-life simulations that gives them a visual advantage rather than relying on pieces of text. Second Life has stepped in to ensure that its virtual atmosphere would be one that addressed that need. Universities all over the world, including Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Denver have used this metaverse to further its research and development by posting discussions, presentations, projects and the University campus to promote further studies and ways of capturing young minds potentials/skills. The University of Denver has created a part of the campus where students can log in and read on various topics, prominently science-related but will soon be expanded to new sectors including Daniels Business School and Sturm Hall. Moreover, when the avatar reaches the DU virtual world, they will encounter the DU laboratory where the avatar itself can interact with multiple user-friendly experiments that visually aid a student about the object they choose to learn about.  An example of this would be the interaction of molecules, understanding superconductivity and taking part in experiments that can help even those who have not taken part in the academic field. Adding on, some students have posted their work and projects online to further aid other students who are working in the same field or study the same major. The simulations greatly increase productivity of students by giving the user first real-life experience in a virtual world. This is accomplished without any risk on anyone and helps saves time, costs and is permanently saved to be used whenever the subject wishes.  Every day, a multitude of organizations and universities buy land to incorporate such doctrines and methods into their mainstream learning methods. Furthermore, it not only is effective by engaging students to focus visually, but it relates to their study style since the social networking and graphic virtual realities have become increasingly significant in their daily lives.

Moving along, Second Life has opened new opportunities for everyone, whether one is seeking to escape and have fun, or t people who are seeking new business ventures and education. The economy in Second Life made it accessible to operate in a virtual world where Linden dollars are converted into real U.S. dollars in the Linden Currency Exchange market. It is the backbone of all businesses, real estate, accessories and fun; it makes it possible to enjoy in the luxuries of truly having a second life. Linden Lab has been successful and were truly visionaries in developing such a system of economy where the exponentially increasing numbers of people signing in have brought in (and continues to bring in) more customers.  More people are logging in Second Life due to the rising profits that once can attain despite the fluctuating decline of the real market economy worldwide. Moreover, Second Life Linden Lab are now thinking of opening an international market where other currencies can be used besides the U.S. dollars to attract a larger target market globally. This will not only increase the number of consumers using Second Life, but will bring about larger revenue since most users (approx. 70%) come from outside the U.S.

All in all, Second Life is an experience and opportunity that should not go unnoticed. It has become a prominent part of society, and is increasing in its importance, usage, applications and business. Not only has it differentiated itself from other media tools (such as blogging, facebook etc.) but has placed a mark in the technological and business era that will bring about more innovation and information to all users. Adding on, Second Life has been a great not just for business, but even academic wise, it has provided students and organizations with tools that will increase efficiency, productivity, knowledge and communication. Even with our increased reliance on technology, the use of such software allows more positive advantages to be accessed and used in a society that coming together in a growing global network. Last but not least, since communication and interaction are essential in our age, Second Life has bridged that gap to not only bring people together, but countries and cultures as well.  According to Albert Einstein, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” That’s why Second Life truly gives the user a second chance in living the utopian life, and to truly act ones imagination in a balanced environment all together.

 

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