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Second Life residents can look forward to 3-D voice communications and the opportunity to operate their own servers, Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of Linden Lab, said at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on Tuesday.
"One of the features that we're going to launch very soon here is a capability that is a perfect 3-D voice experience that attaches to Second Life," Rosedale said. He also explained that in keeping with his company's view of intellectual property, users and third-parties would eventually be able to run Second Life servers.
"In our mind, the simulators and servers that we run must move into everyone's hands," Rosedale said, without outlining a specific timetable. He also endorsed the idea of allowing users to export their Second Life content to other virtual worlds.
In a public interview with Gartner managing VP of research Jim Lundy, Rosedale conceded that the Second Life orientation experience left something to be desired. But he painted a positive picture of Second Life as second home for businesses.
"If you're, say, a business user of Second Life, you probably need a different sort of orientation experience," Rosedale said. "Right now it takes a few hours. ... I think however, once you get over that learning curve, that virtual worlds are easier to use than the Web itself."
Many companies have already set up shop in Second Life, including Circuit City, Dell, IBM, Mercedes, Sun, and Toyota. Some of those efforts make unique use of the medium; others merely punt the user to the company's Web site.
Lundy wondered whether Second Life might just be a fad, something that like online games would become tiresome.
Responding to the suggestion that people might grow bored with Second Life, Rosedale said, "The world is growing faster than you can see it."
Fad or not, Second Life is booming. Over 180,000 people visit Second Life daily for an average of four hours, half of whom are not in the U.S., Rosedale said.
Users spent 15.3 million hours in Second Life in March, 2007, up from 2.7 million hours in March, 2006, and 621,000 hours in March, 2005, according to statistics released by Linden Lab.
For Rosedale, this translates into opportunity for companies. "When you look at the really smart companies," he said, "what you see them doing is starting a conversation, engaging in a discussion with their user base. ... I think there are business opportunities that abound right now that involve engaging a set of people."
Rosedale pointed to how Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide used Second Life to preview a new hotel design and solicit user feedback as a way in which businesses could benefit from virtual interaction.
The imminent addition of 3-D voice chat should make Second Life more useful for virtual conferences and for recruitment. "3-D" means being able to place the sound in a specific location or point of origin. "The idea of interviewing in Second Life is a very compelling idea," Rosedale said.
Asked whether Second Life could provide the intellectual property protection that businesses like to see, Rosedale pointed out that objects in Second Life are all indelibly marked and that the system has a "high degree of transparency and accountability. This isn't Napster."
With regard to issues like taxation and cyber squatting, Rosedale likened Second Life to the Internet in general and said that legal issues would likely be resolved under the laws where users resided.
Still, many of the legal questions remain unsettled. "How should patents work in the virtual world?" Rosedale asked. "How should copyrights and trademarks work?"
Though he did not provide answers to those questions, Rosedale hoped the regulation of virtual worlds wouldn't crush creativity. "I'd like to see different laws that maximally encourage innovation in virtual worlds," he said.
And in an effort to encourage innovation in CIOs, Rosedale asked corporate IT managers to open their firewalls to Second Life. "I think that allowing experimentation without expecting tactically huge results is the right choice," he said.