Yesterday a small group of Forrester analysts and research associates held a team meeting in Second Life to try to figure out whether meeting this way is a viable alternative to the usual teleconference. Teleconferences are terrible. While we're talking and listening, there's not much to look at but our computer screens (which are constantly blinking at us with new emails and IMs and reminders of all the tasks we haven't completed yet) so inevitably we end up multi-tasking. And in teams that have been around for a while people know each others' voices but not so for new teams. So when people on the call forget to introduce themselves before they say something, the first few words are lost while listeners try to figure out who's talking, and then the next few words lost while you try to recreate the first few words.
While we had some fun yesterday trying on free T-shirts, teleporting to otherworldly locations, and taking some carnival rides, the sentiment of most of the participants was that Second Life isn't really ready for prime time team meetings. If it was tough for us it will be tough for other information workers. Here's why:
Second Life is an anonymous virtual world — most people cannot identify themselves with avatars that use their real names. I say most people because I suppose there is a chance your name in real life could be Baklava Lacava and you could have picked this combination for your avatar. Oops, no you couldn’t – Rob Koplowitz picked that one a long time ago. Anyway, users in Second Life (called “residents”) choose a first name and a last name from a list of options ranging from realistic to fantastic. For a long time I’ve been thinking that because Second Life is an anonymous world it will be doomed to be no more than experimental grounds for use at work. But yesterday I had a phone interview followed by an in-world tour from Claus Nehmzow, a partner at PA Consulting, a 3,000-person consulting company headquartered in London. My thoughts after talking with Claus: