Customers co-creators in new age of Collaboration


Wikinomics provides many case studies of different successful forms of business collaboration already under way. One company that is showcased as a shining example of “customer co-creation” in the book is growing by leaps and bounds.

Linden Lab based in San Francisco is the creator of Second Life, a 3D virtual world. The company recently announced the number of subscribers, or “residents” of the world, grew from 100,000 to 200,000 in a mere four months.

“Second Life is not a game,” says Karen Clark, development program manager at Linden Lab. She explains that Second Life is often compared to massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, but it is in a category of its own.

“When you enter Second Life, there is no hobbit or soldier or wizard,” she says. “There is no obvious point to a virtual world, beyond doing what humanity is designed to do – to explore, invent and have a good time.”

One huge difference is that Linden Labs doesn’t create any of the content in Second Life. The residents do. The company provides 3D modeling, a scripting language called LSL and other tools to residents that allow them to create objects and give them “volition”.

“We decided to put the tools in the hands of the people,” says Clark. “So one person builds a car, another may know how to write scripts that causes the car to drive a certain way. Then the avatar, or the in-world representation of a resident, may get in and drive around because of the combination of things working together.”

Although this may sound like an online version of Amish barn-raising, Second Life has the same lubricant as the real world: money. Capitalism rules, not altruism.

Clark explains that residents can sell their creations to other residents who may not be as adept or creative with the tools. The developers provide virtual currency, which is valued at about 280 Linden dollars per real US dollar, to facilitate commerce, and even provide a currency exchange and a mini-eBay for barter.

“A lot of people make a living in Second Life just designing content to sell to others. It’s ironic that it’s called Second Life, as it’s taken on a life of its own,” says Clark. “And many economists come in to study economic behaviour.”

Second Life is comprised of 2000 regions, each with its own land, water and name. A cluster of 1200 networked Linux servers maintains the regions and residents’ creations, which must “persist” even when residents don’t inhabit the world.

This poses major challenges to developers, who must constantly add new features to allow the world to grow and accommodate hundreds of thousands of people. Second Life allows residents to make propositions to add or change features to the virtual world, and provides a voting tool. The winners are then taken to design meetings for development.

Developers must tread very carefully when testing features. “If you do something wrong, residents get angry – you’re breaking their world,” says Clark. “I believe we have the most constituents of any business ever.”

Many organizations are starting to eye Second Life for a range of training activities. Clark says several universities own islands where they teach classes to people studying architecture, game design, modeling, and so on. And businesses are starting to catch on to the potential of Second Life for a range of commercial purposes.

“Having a virtual, collaborative 3D world you can step into anytime for whatever project is very useful,” says Clark. “This is a new and exciting way to demo new products to people, show mock-ups, do usability testing and so on. A company could buy an island to see if residents like a new product line for a fraction of the cost of market research.”

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Read the first part of this article: IT drives the biggest change of this century


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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