A year ago, S Sundararaj, founder-member of the Chennai-based IT start-up Anantara Solutions, had just completed his online MBA course from U21 Global. He was under the impression that he would have to attend the convocation ceremony in Singapore where U21 Global is headquartered.
However, even as he waited anxiously for the schedule, he was officially informed that he had to collect the certificate of the online university at a virtual convocation on Second Life.
His resultant surprise was warranted. Second Life is an internet-based virtual world video game launched on June 23, 2003. It has been developed by Linden Research (commonly referred to as Linden Lab).
After searching further, he discovered that Second Life is being used as a platform for education by numerous colleges, universities, libraries and government entities.
Examples include The University of Queensland, the University of Florida, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, University of Louisville, Princeton University, Rice University, Babson College, Coventry University (UK), Edinburgh University, Ohio University, and Michigan Technological University.
Sundararaj is now an impressed convert. But he has one major grouse. "To taste the essence of Second Life, you require a bandwidth of not less than 512 Kbps. It is true that the adoption of Second Life by Indians is low currently, but the number will increase as awareness increases," he says.
He added many people join Second Life thinking it is like any other gaming platform, but they hardly understand that it is not just about a game. There are defined roles for everyone.
Indeed, the poor infrastructure and unavailability of broadband are major reasons why Indians have not taken to Second Life in a big way. Besides, the time zone of Second Life is more attuned to the US, which is another issue for Indians wanting to hook on to this world.
Despite this, there are a few Indian companies and head honchos who believe that Second Life will pick up. Wipro, the first Indian company to have a facility in Second Life, had recently organised a webinar on enterprise service-oriented architecture (E-SOA) in Second Life.
Even though the webinar was attended by about 40 people across the globe, there were very few participants from India.
Jessie Paul, chief marketing officer, Wipro Technologies, said: "This happens in case of any technology innovation. When the internet was launched, people had not expected that it was going to be a part and parcel of their everyday life. It is true that the growth of Second Life is hindered by low bandwidth. But most of the members who are using Second Life are really high-end users and join there with a purpose."
Alok Mittal, managing director, Canaan Partners (a venture capital firm), says in a blog post: "I had been hearing a lot about Second Life, and I finally decided to research it. Briefly, Second Life is a virtual world with a real economy. People can buy land, build houses, offer services and so on. The currency in the virtual world can be used in the real world. So there are people who are making real moolah by offering services or trading on Second Life. At first it sounded crazy to me, but people are spending there and that's the reality."
Currently, there are just two or three Indian companies with presence on Second Life. These include Satyam and Wipro. However, corporations globally are finding value in establishing presence on Second Life.
Companies are using Second Life for product launches, promotional activities, meetings and even for recruiting from across the world. Recently, ArcelorMittal used Second Life for an annual investors' meet.
Many Fortune 500 companies and global corporate houses, including Sony, Nissan, Adidas, AOL, ABN Amro, Mercedes, BMW, and IT majors SAP, IBM, Oracle and Accenture, have made their presence felt in the 3D online world with their offices manned round the clock by the alter egos of their agents. IT major IBM has set up 18 offices on Second Life.
A Chennai-based manufacturing firm will now establish its factory on Second Life before scaling up its physical operations.
IBM uses its presence on Second Life to offer sales support across the globe allowing customers to visit the company virtually. Beginning of this year, IBM announced expanding its business centre for India on Second life with alter egos of sales personnel based in India.
Wipro, too, is expanding its presence on Second Life. With almost 4,000 unique visitors to its campus in the Innovation isle, the firm has now opened its Applied Innovation Centre on an adjacent island.
The company's plan to hire people from its virtual recruitment centre has not been successful. However, the company is seeing instances of the alter egos of candidates walking into their office to apply for jobs.
For users, Second Life offers more than the physical world. The world in Second Life has its predefined rules and regulations, own currency, banks, police stations, cinema theatres, shopping malls, resorts, art galleries etc. A company or organisation that intends to have a house on Second Life can either lease or build it after buying the land.
Maldives became the first country to open an embassy on Second Life while Sweden has opened its consulate there.