Asher Moses and Stephen Hutcheon – SMH Biztech
January 30, 2007
Telstra and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will announce shortly that they have established, separately, a presence in the cult virtual world of Second Life.
They will join a growing throng of international companies – including Dell, Toyota, Adidas, IBM, and Intel – who have built a base within the virtual world, seeking to test its worthiness as a promotional and commercial tool.
Another local company, interactive TV provider Two Way TV Australia, also has advanced plans to open a shop front in the 3-D world.
Telstra spokesman Craig Middleton said the telco’s Second Life home would be called The Pond, and offer similar features to its website.
“Visitors will be able to do pretty much what they can at BigPond.com – buy songs, watch movies and so on – as well as explore the fascinating online presence we are creating,” he said.
“It will be highly interactive – fly around a scale replica of Uluru or walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”
Mr Middleton would not give further details on what Telstra was planning, but said all would be revealed when The Pond opened to the public next month.
Over 3 million people from around the world have signed up for a (free) Second Life account. However, it is widely accepted that as few as 10 per cent of those members are active, making this a niche community in the universe of virtual world.
That, however, has not dampened the appetite for commercial enterprises, educational organisations and even governmental ones to dive in and test the waters.
On the weekend, a spokesman for an arm of the Swedish foreign ministry revealed that Sweden would soon be opening an official information outpost inside Second Life.
IBM recently teamed up with Tennis Australia to build and then operate a real-time version of the Australian Open inside the virtual world.
And two Australian educational organisations – the University of Southern Queensland and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School – have already opened for business in Second Life.
There are few details about the ABC venture beyond the fact that the corporation has purchased an island in Second Life. Access to the region is restricted, but the island – in the shape of the ABC logo – is clearly visible from an overhead view of the area.
Earlier this month Abigail Thomas from the ABC’s new media division posted a notice on a Second Life discussion board calling for suggestions for the Second Life project.
“The ABC has a wealth of digital assets that we are considering lending to the development of this project,” she wrote. “But rather than just reflect the ABC back to users in SL, we are looking at creating more of a public space for Australians.”
Two Way TV’s Daniel Barton said his company was well down the track with a Second Life presence that would connect users in its virtual set-up with its website, offering them rewards and incentives.
Jana Gillespie believed so strongly in Second Life’s potential as a marketing tool that she started a business, Big-Bit (http//www.big-bit.net), which specialises in helping real-world corporations establish a business presence inside the virtual world.
Her progress to date has been limited, but Ms Gillespie said she was close to announcing a deal with one major Australian company, and had recently been in negotiations with Tourism Australia.
“Second Life can be used as a test bed for products for a fraction of the cost it would in real life with the added feature of interactivity,” said Ms Gillespie, adding that its global reach makes for a highly effective distribution tool.
David Holloway, of Wollongong, is another of the few Australians who have used Second Life to spawn a real-world business.
His website, SLOz ( http://www.sloz.info), is a news source dedicated to covering Australian movements within the virtual world.
Holloway has monitored Australian companies’ forays into Second Life for some time, and noted that while many had been “not sure whether it was worth putting their brand out in what is a fairly new area”, they had since become more open to the idea.