Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I am a huge fan-girl for web 2.0, online communities, and social interactions. I am also known to occasionally hang out in Second Life, and I think that virtual worlds hold tremendous potential from a community standpoint and from a corporate marketing standpoint.
However, I am a bit troubled by the recent trend of making corporate announcements and holding Q&As in virtual worlds like Second Life with no alternate means of participation. Sun hosted a Q&A in Second Life to talk about the open source Java announcement yesterday. This morning, Dell held an invite only press event to announce a new Second Life island where people can buy real world Dell PCs or virtual PCs for their avatars to use. Holding press events in Second Life sounds like a great idea until you consider the realities of Second Life:
Not everyone has a Second Life account
Many people do not know how to navigate within the virtual world to effectively participate in the event.
Most laptops (and some desktops) do not have the horsepower required to run Second Life.
Frustrating the press is probably not the best way to promote a new product. At least one journalist (according to TechCrunch) passed on the opportunity to attend the Dell announcement, since it was not worth the hassle. Allison Randall at O'Reilly had issues running Second Life on her laptop where “only half the avatars at the event and on stage were rendered (leaving me the interesting task of trying out "empty" seats to figure out which were actually empty and which were occupied by invisible avatars)”
I do think that these two examples are significant, and I am impressed by Sun's and Dell's ability to embrace new opportunities; however, the execution of these events was not ideal. Dell probably should have done a traditional press event with minimal information to generate some awareness and excitement followed by a Second Life event providing more detail to the residents. The reality is that the intersection between the press and Second Life users are probably fairly small, so the press might not be the best virtual audience. In general, companies should consider providing real world information using real world events while providing information relevant to Second Life residents within the virtual world.