In the last posting, Virtual Reality in SecondLife and Beyond, it was suggested that investment firms, TV game shows, travel-related businesses, and even doctors should start building sites in a virtual world such as SecondLife. In this article you are going to learn why these groups need to start exploiting this new medium to reach new clients in a non-traditional format. Kiosks at shopping malls, telemarketing, and television advertisements are simply not the way to reach this Internet audience of over one million people. However, it will take time to get established in the next new medium, just like it took time to learn to do business through a web page.
Exactly how are on-line Trading firms like E*Trade, Scottrade, or TD Ameritrade going to get more business through a virtual storefront? They will grow their businesses the same way brick and mortar storefronts do, by inviting existing customers to interact with them and actively educating a growing crowd of potential new customers. When it comes down to it, people that frequent SecondLife like doing business over the Internet.
Virtual storefronts for cruise ship lines? Aren't cruise ship patrons typically the over-60 crowd, retired and living the good life? WRONG. Cruise ships are attracting more and more younger customers, including singles and families. If a particular cruise line is not attracting this audience, they better start soon.
Guess who is visiting virtual communities? Young people, especially single people looking to meet people in a new venue. People that live in rural areas. People with a broadband connection. People that like new experiences and meeting new people in an exciting place. Cruise lines have had Internet services for years. Which cruise line will be the first to offer a special cruise on the virtual seas of SecondLife?
Likewise, why would a travel agency want to show the features of an Alaskan cruise to someone that lives 50 miles outside of Des Moines? Do you think people from Iowa actually want to take an exciting vacation to the 49th State?
Would it really make any sense for the Hawaiian Tourist Board to create a simulated version of Kauai, Lanai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island in SecondLife? People in other parts of the U.S. or the world would only be able to learn about the experiences they might have in Hawaii that way. How could that possibly convince thousands of people to go diving, mountain climbing, surfing, and enjoying white sand beaches?
Right now I do not expect farm implement suppliers like Deere & Co. to be setting up shop in virtual communities. After all, studies show that many people in SecondLife are there because they live in rural locations that do not have much of a nightlife after Main Street closes at 5 o'clock. How could Deere & Co. possibly benefit from letting people in rural communities test drive new tractors and harvesting equipment over virtual farmland?
Virtual game shows, now that is a real stretch. Games shows like Jeopardy or The Price Is Right are places where people compete for prizes and money while everyone gets shown consumer products and services. Multiple corporations pay big money to have all different kinds of products appear on game shows. Car manufacturers, household product makers, and purveyors of holiday vacation packages dominate in the game show business. Do those people really want to reach SecondLife participants who typically do not watch much television?
Now we come to the idea of a virtual consultation. Doctors really only want to meet people that need their services. Medical professionals tend to depend on people that live near their offices. Would it make any sense for a doctor in Maryland to spend an hour every day in SecondLife offering to sit down with new patients and maybe end up helping a sick person that lives outside Topeka or Minot? Why would a doctor researching a disease in a Boston hospital want to interact with people suffering from that same disease that live all over the United States or possibly the world? What potential benefits could come from conducting a medical study where the study participants live all over the place?
Would there really be any value in doing a marketing survey among a million geographically-dispersed virtual game participants?
Why would a major university like Penn State want to attract new students using a virtual college fair?
In the days ahead this site will explore many more avenues for exploiting the virtual community known as SecondLife. The author has compiled a list of virtually hundreds of possible uses for simulation in manufacturing, health care, travel, transportation, and logistics. You can suggest others by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows? One of your suggestions may actually become a new site you can visit in SecondLife some day soon!
NOTE: This column is part of a series on new developments in virtual reality. The previous article was Virtual Reality in SecondLife and Beyond