Thursday, February 15, 2007

Knowledge workers in Second Life

One of the areas of research that we are focusing on at YNNO is the managerial relevance of virtual worlds. Second Life is of course the most well-known example at the moment. It has become a victim of media hype in the last few months. Because of this media attention it has also become a popular vehicle for product marketing, with companies like Toyota, Nike, Philips and ABN AMRO announcing their presence.

Virtual worlds have been with us since the beginning of the 1980s. They started out with communication in text only and since the end of the 1990s we also have graphical virtual worlds with a 3D, first-person perspective. Increasing computing power and available bandwidth fueled a growth of these virtual worlds from the beginning of this century, primarily in gaming environments. Only very recently have non-gaming worlds like Second Life and There gained a critical mass of users. It is important to note, however, that the gaming virtual worlds like World of Warcraft are still several orders of magnitude bigger than Second Life. In total, there are some 15 to 20 million people worldwide (accurate figures are hard to find, but the best available data is here) that regularly spend a considerable amount of time in a virtual world (Nick Yee has reliable data about the amount of time spent in these worlds).

What makes these virtual worlds interesting from our perspective is that new ways of communicating and collaborating seem to be emerging in these environments. Users of these virtual worlds pay no attention to the physical location of the person they are speaking to and will collaborate just as easily with someone from the same town as with someone from the other side of the world.

Many organisations would love to have this flexibility. Especially in this day and age, when the success of an organisation increasingly depends on knowledge workers being able to find each other quickly to reach the best solution, independent of their location. Something seems to be happening in virtual worlds on the internet that might very well be a fit with new organisational forms in our knowledge-based economy.

One of our research projects is aimed at investigating what makes these virtual collaborations successful and at finding out what managers can learn from this. This project started started in August of last year and some of the first results are taking shape.

Watch this space for updates.

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