Reuters Gets a ‘Second Life’

A Virtual “Do Everything” Community is Becoming More and More Attractive to Businesses

Paul Krauskopf | November 2006

Reuters’ Second Life Virtual Bureau: A bustling news room inside a massive online world (Photo: Reuters)

With Second Life moving heavily into e-commerce, it was only a matter of time till the media showed up to cover it. In early October, Reuters announced the opening of an office building, and a news bureau, in Second Life.

With 196 bureaus across the globe, Reuters saw the online virtual world as the next logical step for the world wide news service.

"As strange as it might seem, it’s not that different from being a reporter in the real world," said Adam "Reuters" Pasick, a veteran tech media journalist at Reuters London who will serve as the news organization’s first virtual bureau chief.

"Once you get used to it – it becomes very much like the job I have been doing for years."

By mid-October, Reuters had begun publishing photos and video news from the outside world for Second Life members, and Second Life news for real world readers who visited a Reuters news site.

As part the company’s efforts to reach new audiences, Reuters already had journalists reporting and writing financial and cultural stories from within Second Life.

Users access the material from the virtual Reuters News Center, next to the company’s Atrium, a place to embark on discussions or to exchange pictures and videos of the day.

This makes Reuters the first – and so far only – news agency to establish itself inside Second Life and the first to attempt to narrow the gap between the real and virtual world.

The charm for many Second Life aficionados is that its "citizens" can do anything, from wandering the virtual streets and interacting with others, to building a virtual house and having people come visit.

Now, transactions such as filling out the application for a new bank account or registering and paying the fee for the British book club membership can all be executed in this ever-changing online world.

All the user does to confirm the process is "shake" hands with the online bank manager, or nod at the bookshop owner over an electronic cup of tea.

The real-world work then occurs in the background, through servers owned by Linden Labs, the company that makes Second Life.

Up to 135.5 million Linden dollars (about $500,000 USD) change hands every day among the 900,000 registered Second Life users, a number which grows at approximately 10-15% a month.  Its economy can take on that of a small 3rd world country.

It is for this reason that the computer services giant IBM has begun looking into using Second Life as a tool for outsourcing corporate training and recruitment.

The company has assigned over 230 employees to spend their work hours in-world. As of the end of October, IBM has acquired over half-dozen islands, which are needed to open virtual stores, erect office buildings or to create communication areas.

"We could integrate a company’s services in a virtual world. Integration with services, integration with data – exactly what we helped people do back in the days of e-business, that’s sort of what I envision us doing," says IBM’s Metaverse Evangelist Andrew Reynolds.

"Mind you, I’m an evangelist, not a strategist, but if I had to guess that’s where we’re going."

Now Reuters joins IBM and others on a journey that more and more companies seem to envision as a brave new world, conquerable and yet spiked with technological intricacies and legal blind spots.

Due to high performance requirements for Second Life to run on a home computer, potential customers are segmented even before they have a chance to give it a try.

A normal, up to date PC is not sufficient to run this virtual world; so Second Life is only considered a meeting place for the technologically advanced. Not exactly the demographic a global company would like to lay it’s marketing on.

In addition, quite a few legal issues remain in the dark, unkown simply because they have never come up before.

For example, Second Life took away territory from a landowner who had manipulated an auction in a way that later couldn’t be defined illegal anymore. The lawyer sued and Second Life had to pay.

Users debate as to whether those points are significant flaws in the idea of Second Life or natural hiccups that accompany every start-up.  Nevertheless it also has many of the potential entrepreneurial attributes of an emerging global player - novelty, flexibility and a market niche. It’s out there, at least for tech-fans, to use and take over – all from your home computer.

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