Edmonton experiments with Second Life

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Chris Moore, CIO of Edmonton, Canada. One of the new tools Chris is using is Second Life from Linden Labs. While Second Life has been around since 2003, the City of Edmonton is just beginning to roll the tool out, as you can read about in this recent article.

Second LifeAs you can see in the picture to the right, Chris and I met in Second Life, a virtual world, to discuss why Edmonton chose Second Life, the goals they have in mind, and the policies they will put in place.  Before I go into our conversation here are some statistics on the size of Second Life as it compares to other tools you may be familiar with:

  • Second Life has a little more than 800,000 unique users logging in monthly.
  • Twitter has more than 100 million registered users with more than 10 million being considered active users.
  • Facebook has more than 400 million registered users, 50% of which login each day.
  • YouTube generates more than 1 billion views each day.

Second Life requires a slightly higher level of technical ability, a challenge that remains a major obstacle for growth in my opinion.

Chris has been interested in this platform for a while, having become excited by its potential value after hearing Pam Broviak chatting with Adriel Hampton on Gov 2.0 Radio about the platform.

What are the goals?

While initial goals focus on urban planning, the reality is that Edmonton is also taking time to explore, to learn what other possibilities exist within Second Life. The following video shows a Second Life example of a construction project underway in Cairo, Egypt. In this case, the construction was first completed in Second Life, giving users a rich platform with which they could get a feel for the result before building.  Construction is currently underway in real life.

This example is particularly relevant in Edmonton where there is a controversial project proposed to build a new arena. It is possible that this will be modeled in Second Life, much like the Egyptian project, and, if it wins enough support, will be built in real life.

Second Life may also be an ideal location for scenario planning. For example, what would happen if an earthquake were to occur in downtown Edmonton? How would citizens be evacuated?

What else can be done?

Second Life Meetings and training sessions are a common use case for Second Life. I would generally argue that there are superior platforms for meetings, but as Chris states, “Choice is the new standard.” This platform provides you with additional options. A couple of reasons that Second Life could make sense for your next meeting:

  • It is free.
  • You can host 50 people in most locations while a few locations can scale to 200 people.
  • The feeling of being in person makes the discussion feel more personal.

This platform also provides benefits for training scenarios. Chris shared with me the story about a training session he attended for doctors.  Doctors, from various geographic locations, “met” in a simulated operating room to train and work through various scenarios.

E-commerce is another use case worth paying attention to, although not a scenario Chris is paying much attention to in the short-term. PlaySpan, a provider of payment and monetization solutions for online games and virtual worlds, estimates that virtual goods will generate $1.6 billion in the U.S. in 2010. A possibility could include retail outlets, such as an Apple Store, where users could view products and buy on-line, using virtual currency (which is easily exchanged for real currency).

Policies, guidelines?

While construction in Second Life will be locked down to fit the vision for this environment, usage guidelines will grow somewhat more organically. Expect employees to follow existing accepted use guidelines, behaviors that are specific to Second Life are still being observed, policies and guidelines will come as needed.

Are you using Second Life today? How is Second Life helping you reach your goals? Drop me a note, or stop by my virtual house to say hi in Second Life (my name is Johnf Meriborne).

About John Moore

John Moore is the CIO/CTO of Swimfish, an ondemand provider of software and service applications for companies in the financial and legal service markets. In the last 10 years John has also held executive and senior level management roles roles at other SAAS startup companies including Brainshark and Sonicbids. Connect with him at his blog or on Twitter.

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