First thoughts on Second Life

Despite telling an online colleague that I needed another time sink like a hippo needs a harpsichord, I decided last month to sign up at Second Life.

In part I’m interested in seeing how businesses and other organizations try to harness the potential of virtual worlds, whether for structured, formal-training activity or for less hierarchical collaboration, or for simulation, or for…who knows?

I happened to show up at Metaversed just as an online conference began. I missed the overview of the topic, but in a sense that didn’t matter. I got a chance to observe a panel discussion.

Some presenters appeared in avatar form; some appeared only on the audio track. Whiteboards displayed PowerPoint-type information, and there may have been a video as well (I thought there was, but couldn’t find it).

Oddly but somehow unsurprisingly, the presenters appeared on a stage, and the several dozen participants sat in rows — just like back at GE, except with a far looser dress code, and a few attendees with wings, fur, or both.

I found information flowing through several channels:

  • The audio track, which presented the speakers’ voices.
  • The whiteboards, which displayed diagrams or bullet points.
  • The open chat window, which shows typed comments from any participant or presenter.
  • The instant message window, which delivered one-to-one comments.

I might have thought, ahead of time, that the open chat would distract and detract from the presentation; I’ve seen that happen in other settings. Here, though, possibly because most of the participants seemed familiar with the format, the open comments tended to stick to the topic.

For example, when a presenter mentioned a link, someone typed, “Can you put that link into the chat?” Other participants posted links to share additional material or other points of view (“See O’Halloran’s blog at”) .

The session was looser than typical, real-world panel discussions, although the instant messages struck me as very similar to comments you’d whisper to a colleague in mid-session, either out of inspiration or boredom.

Having glimpsed the value of this format, I’m hoping to participate in a fuller session soon.