Saturday, 5 April 2008

Second Life and 3D Intranet

One of my predictions for 2008 was that we would see IBM, Sun and others launching "virtual world behind the firewall" products. I thought then, and think now, that this is inevitable - and I daresay you may feel the same way. While such worlds might do little or nothing to tickle the fancy of out-and-out Immersionists, they offer powerful tools for corporate use. So it was with more than a little interest that I learned, last week, that IBM would be partnering with Linden Lab to bring a chunk of the Second Life grid within the IBM firewalls - a 3D intranet.

Why would I want a 3D intranet?
At its most basic, the cost savings coming from the reduction in travel, made possible by 3D intranets, offer a simple, direct return on investment. The calculations are elementary, and rely on very few assumptions (all of which are easily verified). Incidentally, this is in contrast to the complexity of proving a ROI based on revenue generation in virtual environments, but that is not germane to the 3D intranet business case.

Although this can be achieved with an externally hosted service, such as Second Life, there are concerns over security and manageability. The fact that systems administration is outside one's control, and that chat logs and other commercial content are being hosted externally is not acceptable when you want a totally secure, wholly owned environment. Hence the 3D intranet.

But there are further benefits. As I learned from the IBMers a long time ago, 3D spaces provide places for informal groupings to develop - where new relationships form, extending one's own personal network. The external view of a large company is that it operates as a single unit, that it probably has all manner of clever systems to keep people in touch, and that it makes sure that it knows the skills and capabilities of its employees. In fact, this is (almost universally) far from the truth; rather than a single enterprise, most large companies comprise a number of fiefdoms, and each of these is subdivided into further, smaller fiefdoms. Knowledge is precious, and poorly maintained across this motley array of business units, skill centres, CoEs, "tiger teams" and so on. The 3D spaces don't drive knowledge or business cohesion - but they can help, by providing a social network that operates outside of the fiefdoms, allowing people from across the corporation to meet, socialise and share knowledge.

Finally, there is the formal collaborative working environment. The 3D intranet allows people from diverse locations around the country and, indeed, the world to work together in a common shared (virtual) location, reducing costs and improving team cohesion.

That's causes enough for a 3D intranet.

So what about this news?
In my view, Linden Lab have a habit of letting good news get away from them and generally fumbling their marketing. However, for once, I think this is a masterstroke - a real gem of a move that could end up, not only saving their asses, but propelling them into the heart of web 3D - which is where they want to be. Why do I say this?

Well, for one thing - IBM, while clearly the biggest corporate presence in Second Life, are known to have their fingers in many virtual pies. Indeed, Roo Reynolds (well-known luminary in the Eightbar crowd [and all-round good egg, so I'm told]) gave a neat synoposis of IBM's virtual state of play on Eightbar only last month. If IBM were to ditch Second Life - and that was by no means impossible - then the impact on Linden Lab could be catastrophic. On the other hand, to have their product at the heart of IBM's 3D intranet should allow Linden Lab to see off the opposition, such as multiverse or OpenSim.

It comes as no surprise, then, that no money is changing hands; both sides should win through this synergy. IBM get a relatively mature, content-flexible platform on which to build their 3D intranet. Linden get to develop a product that (with IBM?) they can sell to businesses and universities, while also putting some clear space between themselves and their competitors. Finally, the ability for an avatar to move between internal and external grids brings the prospect of web 3D much closer. This is, I am told, still a technically complex task - what system resources are located where? and how do they tie together? - but one that is now being tackled.


Vidal Tripsa said...

A particularly ace post, Al. I find I have nothing really to say on this news - it does sound good! It reminds me a little of William Gibson's Walled City from Idoru in its exclusion... I guess I fantasise a little bit about my own personal 3D intra-world some day. This seems a step towards that.

Aleister Kronos said...

Thanks, Vidal... I thought it was a bit 'meh', as these things rarely come out the way I had 'em mapped in my mind. I really must get a better mindmap!

I think this is a big step towards allowing us all to handle security to our satisfaction, while being part of a seamless grid - itself a mix of public and private.