Big Blue rules for Second Life could set precedent


An Associated Press story reported last week that IBM has instated official guidelines for its corporate denizens of the 3D online virtual world Second Life, which could become the norm in the Web 2.0-enabled workplace—and would require IT professionals to make sure they’re being followed.

In the wake of research firm KPMG’s new report, “Enterprise 2.0: Fad or Future?: The Business Role for Social Software Platforms,” Jonathan Kallner, national industry leader for KPMG Canada’s information, communications, and entertainment practice, said that successful virtual worlds—and enterprise Web 2.0 applications in general—require a high number of participants. “But what comes with a high number of participants are security and confidentiality issues, and the nature of virtual worlds makes it difficult to track the participants,” said Kallner.

The IT professional could be called upon to become monitors of online behaviour, according to the executive director of the Austin, Texas-based virtual world trade event organizer Virtual Worlds Management Chris Sherman. Human monitoring could be on the list of an IT professional’s responsibilities sometime in the near future.

Said Sherman: “There could be a whole back-office world (where people monitor corporate virtual world usage), but other companies need to develop the tools and more technology to do so. Or, this could be developed in-house.” As for now, he said, Sherman knows of at least one company who is preparing to announce a new proprietary software package, aimed at the senior-level executive, that would be capable of tracking an employee’s presence in Second Life.

The same issues that can be found in a standard corporate code of conduct can rear their head in virtual worlds, including libel, employee rights infringement, and illegal sharing of intellectual property. Where the IT professional could come into the situation would be, ideally, at the guideline planning stage, according to Kallner. “It would be best if they would be involved with both the guideline planning and the implementation of them,” he said. “But it’s a fine balance between an open dialogue and imposing restrictions.”

The restrictions could come in the form of such guidelines as the one IBM has put in place for its employees utilizing Second Life. The Associated Press story said that employees do not have an online dress code, but must be “especially sensitive to the appropriateness of your avatar or persona’s appearance when you are meeting with IBM clients or conducting IBM business.”

According to the story, IBM also states that “dramatically altering, splitting, or abandoning your digital persona may be a violation of…trust… In the case of a digital persona used for IBM business purposes, it may violate your obligations to IBM.”

These types of guidelines, Kallner said, are likely to become a necessity in a future.

“It’s a natural evolution to create infrastructure that will help you do business (in a new arena),” said Sherman. “We’ll see more of this as other businesses move into virtual worlds as well, training their employees on best practices.”

The rate at which these policies could come down would depend, he said, on the rate of adoption within the enterprise, and the proportion of the virtual world that would be publicly accessible. (Second Life, for instance, requires at least some lessening of the firewall to work, but corporations can limit access to their private areas.)


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