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Virtual Reuters

A real news service just opened a bureau in a virtual world. Now, it requires a bit of pondering and explanation. Before long, will it be old-hat? Probably.

Second Life is one of these phenomena that you need to take a little time to explore. Odds are if you aren’t in it already, you probably won’t get the point. There’s nothing to win. You can pay real money to get richer, so it’s not like you climb your way up a ladder. There aren’t any points.

Businesses can make real dollars by selling virtual items for Linden Dollars (the currency of the game, named after Linden Lab, the game’s creator), but Reuters, with its new headquarters there, isn’t making anything at all. It’s even paying a real reporter to hold office hours in Second Life several times a week. Today, it’s the Reuters reporter; tomorrow, it might be my high-school-age nephew’s college professor.

In Second Life, Reuters has a few lounges where you can watch videos of news (click the picture up top for closer look). Anything you can do in Second Life, you can do online, though in the virtual world, you can have conversations with other people (in digital form) watching the news with you. There may be some fighting over which character gets the remote. With most news though, people aren’t dying to form communities around it. Personally, I’m trying to spend as little time per news story as possible so that I can efficiently pay attention to the broad field of news that piques my interest while spending time interacting with (e.g. blogging, filing, adding to my PowerPoint slides, sending to others) the news stories that matter to me most on any given day.

Reuters also has a blog chronicling news about Second Life and other stories. There’s even a currency converter to find out how far your real world dollars will get you in the virtual world.

What kind of capital will this virtual world experiment provide for Reuters? It’s not through sales or ad revenue – the PR benefit is the biggest one right now. How far will that carry? How deep will consumer relationships with Reuters’s brand go because of this? How many of Second Life’s residents will interact with it? MediaPost says Second Life has 900,000 residents, but that’s by far the largest number I’ve seen in recent reports. Even if it’s on the money, few will go to the Reuters hub within the world. Perhaps the blog will get even more mileage, but that only adds interest for devotees of Second Life.

Reuters is just one of many companies experimenting. Intel, for instance, just did a big promo where for 72 hours, one of Second Life’s most acclaimed designers was holed up in a storefront in midtown Manhattan, and at the end wound up designing an amazingly lifelike rendition of that block, with a Statue of Liberty model just off the shore. It was a cool stunt, though I don’t get why the 72 hours wrapped over the weekend, when news is slow, and I also don’t get what there is to do in the Intel-branded world. I checked in soon after it opened, when there was still a lot of foot traffic coming in out of curiosity, and no one seemed to know what to do. (See my snapshots of worlds real and virtual.)

Here, the consumers and the marketers are on the same page. But we’ll figure it all out soon enough.

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    October 17, 2006

    I get the PR benefit of Reuters opening the Second Life bureau (it got us talking about it, after all), but I’m not entirely sold on the whole Second Life concept. Not so much from a marketing/branding viewpoint, but from a user viewpoint. What is there to do in Second Life that’s an improvement over Real Life? The less there is to do in a virtual world, the more sense it makes to have brands and marketing in the virtual world.


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