Do any of you remember the old IBM Cool Commercials? It seems that they have their cool hats back on these days over at IBM, and maybe a grand plan to take over the (virtual) worlds and create a virtual metaverse.
Reuters has a story up about IBM’s continued push into Second Life and other virtual worlds:
In the article, Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Palmisano (Second Life avie to the left) talks about these efforts: “Big Blue has already established the biggest Second Life presence of any Fortune 500 company. It is also looking to build a 3D intranet where its clients will be able to discuss sensitive business information.” According to the article, he will soon be meeting with over 250 “in-world” employees on one of IBM’s private Second Life islands on November 14th after a real world town hall meeting with 7,000 employees in China.
IBM has it’s very own “multiverse evangelists”. You have to believe that IBM is serious about this new market if they have created these visionary positions within the company to go out and preach the virtues of virtual worlds to their customers and to the world(s). These evangelists recently detailed IBM’s Second Life activities in a Reuter’s article:
Seeing how they practically coined the word “e-commerce”, you have to think they are serious about this emerging v-business. Sam Palmisano is quoted in the article as saying, “We always ask the question, ‘if you knew 20 years ago what you know about the Web today, what would you do differently?’” Sandy Kearney, IBM’s director of emerging 3-D Internet and virtual business, told Reuters in a Second Life interview. “The Web took decades. This will likely take half that time.”
Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Vice President, Technical Strategy and Innovation, IBM Corporation wrote about IBM’s efforts in virtual space in his blog with:
In his blog article, Irving Wladawsky-Berger writes, “About two years ago, a study conducted by the IBM Academy of Technology concluded that technologies and capabilities from the gaming world would have a very strong impact on all aspects of IT, and made a number of recommendations for follow-on activities, which we have proceeded to implement.”
Irving goes into great detail in his blog about how IBM is entering virtual space, and what they are finding out about doing business in virtual space. One of his observations is that avatars should be able to express themselves with body language in the virtual world. And at least in the beginning, need to carry traditional meeting etiquette into these virtual worlds. He suggests that a variety of avatars are required for formal business meetings, more casual meetings and for just having fun.
There.com has alwasy done a great job of animating their avatars. The ability to gesture with your avatar, and the automatic body language that results when speaking with voice is what makes their avatars more convincing than other MMO’s. Adding voice to the mix wraps it all up in a very convincing virtual presence (even though There avatars are more cartoony looking). Irving’s blog article on transforming business through virtual worlds goes into great detail about their research and efforts in the virtual worlds and v-business, it is well worth a read.
The one thing that has always defined IBM is that they are really good at being the middleman, the broker between disparite systems. If you are an IT Director (yes, I am…), and you have a mix of hardware and software systems, IBM can come in and help you to get it all working and talking together. There’s a very revealing quote in the latest Reuters article on 3D virtual worlds, and I truly think this exposes the (virtual) space where IBM wants to dominate:
“A spokesman for IBM said its goals go far beyond Second Life, although it currently has its largest virtual world presence there, and that the company eventually wants to see all multiverses integrated into a seamless whole.”
That seems to be the core strategy with IBM and v-business, to be the glue for all of the virtual worlds that may emerge. We will never have a single all encompassing virtual world controlled by a single corporation, it’s just not going to happen, and it’s never happened in the past with any other technology. Do you think that maybe a few IBM employees have a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash on their office bookshelves. Can you say “Metaverse”? Hardware is dead, look at the sell off of IBM’s flagship ThinkPad division to China. This is the future direction for IBM, and an extension of what they already do very well.
The world of MMO’s is constantly in flux. What’s hot today will be out of style tomorrow. We’ve already seen a new multi-million dollar business sector emerge with currency (can you say “gold farmers?) and item brokers around online gaming. This boom in virtual trade has prompted the U.S. Government to consider taxing the virtual buying and selling of in-game items and currencies. What if there was a way to effortlessly move between virtual worlds. What if you could lock in an avatar name that could go with you into any game? What if you could travel down Main Street in the metaverse and enter MMO’s and virtual worlds like you enter a store today at the mall? If you controlled this transportation service, you could have great influence over the companies wanting to enter this space.
Irving closes out his blog entry with this observation: “So, here we are in 2006, once more facing a set of fledgling technologies and capabilities — massively multiplayer online games and virtual worlds – that are already being used by many millions out there. Once more we have the very strong feeling that this will have a huge impact on business, society and our personal lives, although none of us can quite predict what that impact will be. It will be fascinating to see where this ride takes us in the future.”
What we need to start promoting in our schools today is a driver’s education course for these virtual worlds. We need to allow our students to explore and create in these virtual settings. We need to leverage the thousands of hours they are now spending on MySpace.com, and other social spaces, to let them build virtual worlds where they can hang out and socialize, and yes learn. Their play of today will lead to the businesses of tomorrow. This opportunity that exists today is what excites me about education and the use of virtual worlds with students.