And Whatever You Do, Don't Make Fun of Palmisano's Furry Costume
Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn’t much to do. That may explain why more than 85% of the avatars created have been abandoned. Linden’s in-world traffic tally, which factors in both the number of visitors and time spent, shows that the big draws for those who do return are free money and kinky sex. On a random day in June, the most popular location was Money Island (where Linden dollars, the official currency, are given away gratis), with a score of 136,000. Sexy Beach, one of several regions that offer virtual sex shops, dancing and no-strings hookups, came in at 133,000. The Sears store on IBM’s Innovation Island had a traffic score of 281; Coke’s Virtual Thirst pavilion, a mere 27. And even when corporate destinations actually draw people, the PR can be less than ideal. Last winter, CNET’s in-world correspondent was conducting a live interview with Anshe Chung, an avatar said to have earned more than $1 million on virtual real-estate deals, when Chung was assaulted by flying penises in a griefer attack.
You think that maybe corporate America is taking virtual worlds like Second Life a bit too seriously? Advertising in the “metaverse” is one thing; building a virtual complex in which to host employee meetings another. But issuing corporate guidelines governing the appearance and behavior of employee avatars (the metaverse term for “losers”)? Well, that seems a bit much, doesn’t it?
Yet, that’s what IBM has done. On Friday, IBM issued its Virtual Worlds Guidelines, a code of conduct by which it expects its workers to abide as they muck about in Second Life and other virtual environments. Here’s a quick selection:
- Protect your–and IBM’s–good name. At this point in time, assume that activities in virtual worlds and/or the 3D Internet are public–much as is participation in public chat rooms or blogs. Be mindful that your actions may be visible for a long time. If you conduct business for IBM in a virtual world or if you are or may appear to be speaking for or on behalf of IBM, make sure you are explicitly authorized to do so by your management.
- Protect others’ privacy. It is inappropriate to disclose or use IBM’s or our clients’ confidential or proprietary information–or any personal information of any other person or company (including their real name)–within a virtual world.
- Make the right impression. Your avatar’s appearance should be reasonable and fitting for the activities in which you engage (especially if conducting IBM business). If you are engaged in a virtual world primarily for IBM business purposes, we strongly encourage you to identify your avatar as affiliated with IBM. If you are engaged primarily for personal uses, consider using a different avatar.
Sounds like mostly common sense, right? Observe nondisclosure agreements, don’t behave like an idiot and don’t dress your avatar up like one either. Unlike Vegas, whatever happens in Second Life probably doesn’t necessarily stay there.
Still, why bother codifying such conduct? “I’m just not sure it’s necessary,” said Reuben Steiger, founder of Millions of Us, a consulting firm based in Sausalito, Calif. “Companies that don’t bother with guidelines aren’t flying blind–the regular rules automatically extend to virtual worlds.”