It's been a while since I last visited the world of Second Life. At the time I left, recession was kicking in, not only in the real world, but doubly in Second Life. It was not only the credit crunch, no, it was the Gartner Hypecycle kicking in with a bite.
Companies were disappointed in the 'marketing' options of Second Life, and it was too early to get a solid business case for immersion. Now, Second Life is gearing up again. They've changed their marketing campaign for Businesses and revamped the website.
Now, the revamped website is a pretty neat thing. It's no longer the plain old promotional website, but it has grown into a SLMS, or a Second Life Management System - which I already suggested back in 2007,
Now the new attitude is promising. Back in 2007 and 2008 Second Life was bustling with Corporate activity, but after some exploration, allmost all companies left to do real 3D business elsewhere, like ABN Amro or Wells Fargo for instance. Second Life was not secure. Second Life management at that time did not really make an effort to support companies in Second Life, but I think now they've seen business drop and some part of 'reality' (i.e. cash) kicked in. There's money to be made from big clients, so I'm curious to see where it goes. Will have to see which companies have arrived since December 2008 and which have left since then top give a quick update on the Second Life Real Life Company Guide.
Virtual Banking (18): Volksbank and Raiffeisenbank
Among the first countries to ditch Second Life last summer were Germany and Austria, where public opinion rapidly went from ecstatic to outright negative and focus was laid on the dark side of Second Life. But they're back. Slowly (very slowly), companies are coming back to Second Life. This time it's the German based Volksbank and Raiffeisenbank which opened up their virtual shop earlier this week, making it real world bank number 18 to immerse itself in Second Life.
Initially I thought this build was from the Austrian based Volksbank AG, or Volksbank Group, but that's a mixup. This presence is the German Volksbank, a cooperation of different local banks.
Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken with over 15,7 million members and 30 million customers, is a pillar of the German banking industry and a major force in the German economy. As the central organization of the cooperative banking group, the BVR (Bundesverband der Deutschen Volksbanken und Raiffeisenbanken), functions as a promoter of, representative for, and a strategic partner of its members. [bvr]
Aside from an apparent turn in public opinion, this new endeavor supprisingly comes at a time in which most financial institutions keep a lid on their expenditure and innovation budget due to the Credit Crunch.
The Volksbank comes in a double sim presence, first of which is the Orientantion Island and the second one is the main sim. The main sim holds the VR Marktplatz (market) and VR Finanzlounge (finance lounge), which is built like a typical smalltown city center.
The Volksbank has a different approach to their presence than most other real life companies have, which is good. Most corporate sims are empty spaces, with only their own private little corporate build. Alongside the marketplace however, we find various shops, inworld, Second Life based boutiques. Also the Volksbank has set up a Real Estate agent at the corner of the marketplace, which offers building tips for building in Second Life. I think this is a very good crossover, as real estate products and real estate financing are closely tied in with the core products of a bank.
While exploring the sim I ran into two Volksbank teammembers, Alexander Auerbach and teamleader Pedro Barbosa, who kindly gave me some background information. The Volksbank presense is mainly a research project which is not directly focussed on doing actual banking business in Second Life, but in getting in touch with their clients. They want to collect experience which can help them improve their services and consultancy. They do want to find out though how far one can go in 'vermittlung', consultancy in an environment like this.
Their Second Life presence will a place to meet new customers, but since finance is a very private business, follow ups will have to be done the old fashioned way, with visits to your local bank. The lack of privacy was also one of the reasons ABN Amro moved over to Active Worlds.
They were quick to point out that the presence isn't finished yet, and were still working on filling in some details. The concept for the sim was made by people from GAD, a calculating center for banks and a member of the Volksbank cooperation. Also cooperative banks like the geno-verband Stuttgart and Rheinisch-Westfälischer Genossenschaftsverband participate in this build, which are both part of the Volksbank coop as well. The concept developed by GAD was checked with a Second Life agency though to see if it would hold up, but the build was entirely done with own employees.
Here's two promo videos about the Volksbank presense in Second Life:
Last year many of us thought that Second Life would be the virtual walhalla for companies to conduct business. Yet over the past year, we've seen that in many cases a public, open world does not work out for businesses. ABN Amro was among the first to acknowledge that they needed more privacy with their customers and went to Active Worlds. Meanwhile IBM has been working on getting Second Life ready fit for business and made succesfull attempts to get Second Life running behind a Firewall. A parralel track has been the development of Open Sim, a reverse engineered open source version of Second Life.
Regarding the Open Sim project, 3Di, a Japanese subsidiary of the NGI Group, announced yesterday that they will be releasing an Enterprise version of Opensim. Based upon 3Di technology it is a reworked and extended version of Opensim, and prepped with additional tools and support under the name 3Di Opensim Standard.
Virtual World News has the following thoughts on this special Enterprise version:
"There's already been significant development on OpenSim, on both a consumer level and, as in IBM's integration with Lotus Sametime, for business. OpenSim itself is available as server software, so I'm interested to see what 3Di's model is to set its own software apart. Either way, I look at the commercialization of OpenSim as a pretty big step towards adoption.
It seems like 3Di's target audience is "corporations and academic institutions" looking to create their own virtual worlds. Possible use cases cited include real estate showrooms, education, and offices for collaboration. All of that would be much simpler with the browser-based interface 3Di is developing, but, as a feature, that's shared with all OpenSim worlds and, eventually, other platforms as well. It's not unique, but the upside of that is that it should help build an install base." (read more)
Massively provides a few techspecs for 3di Opensim Standard
3Di Opensim Standard version 1.0 runs on Windows Server 2003 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (with Mono support). Requirements include a dual-core 2Ghz processor or better, 4GB of RAM and 10GB of hard-drive space. Standard Second Life (or compatible) viewer software is required to connect to and use the virtual environment.
3Di Opensim Standard appears to go for a little under $5,000USD.
More info is hard to find as 3Di operates a fully Japanese website, illegible to us US and European bloggers.
Amidst all the turmoil on the financial markets I decided to see if there has been any chance in the status of a couple of banks I spotted a while ago in Second Life. The sim is called Banca MPS, which stands for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SPA
"Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SPA (MPS) is the oldest surviving bank in the world. Founded in 1472 by the Magistrate of the city state of Siena, Italy, it has been operating ever since. Today it consists of approximately 1,800 branches, 28,000 employees and 4.5 million customers in Italy, as well as branches and businesses abroad. A subsidiary, MPS Finance, handles consumer finance.
Its headquarters in the Palazzo Salimbeni in Siena are host to a magnificent art collection and a large number of priceless historical documents spanning the centuries of its existence. However, this collection is not usually open to the public" [wikipedia]
On the sim you see a complex of buildings, in which nothing much happens. I've spotted this sim about a year ago and the evolution has been slow. Yet the the detail on the buildings is pretty good.
As I couldn't get in, I couldn't explore the buildings. However, I could peek through the opened doors allowing me to get a view of classical Italian paintings. I suspect this is the collection Wikipedia refers to. If the Real Life collection is not usually open to visitors, giving them a free entrance in Second Life would probably be a good thing. So why not open up folks?
In the Netherlands, Banca MPS is primarily known for acquiring Banca Antonveneta from Grupo Santander late 2007, which took over a part of the Dutch ABN Amro Bank, which in its turn had just aquired Antonveneta, making it the first non-italian takeover in the industry in Italy
(Okay, this is a soap... ABN AMRO was taken over by a trio of banks, aside from Santander, these were Barclays and Fortis. The latter of which is now being rescued by Belgian, Dutch and Luxemburgh governments and there are talks of selling the ABN Amro part again at a severe loss, most likely to the Dutch ING or French BNP Parisbas).
The second bank on my list is Banca Transylvania, but this one is also closed for public. It has no neighbouring sims so I couldn't get any snapshots of that one. Hopefully someone can give me a few pointers.
Hidden between a number of ABN Amro employee islands I stumbled upon a simulator called "MS Island". As things go with synchronicity, this week seems to run a streak of hospitals and medication in the virtual and real world alike.
Probably the best way to describe the intended use of the build is by dropping the notecard which comes in Dutch and English:
This is the island of VU university medical center and the MS Center Amsterdam. This is a pilot project to see if a virtual world and community can have a positive influence on the wellbeing of people with MS.
This project is a cooperation of:
VU university medical center
MS Center Amsterdam
Dutch MS Research Foundation
Dutch MS Society (MSVN)
Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF)
In this building you will find more information about these organizations, a meeting room for people with MS and other interested parties, and a presentation and consultation room.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the hosts.
The agenda contains the opening hours of the pub and presentations.
We wish you a pleasant stay.
The build itself is quite different from the slick Palomar hospital. The main venue is decently build and gives a lot of information on MS.
The rest of the sim is a little too unorganised in my opinion. A large part is set up as a stage (what's the use of a permanent set up if you only give a concert at the opening of the sim?) and is surrounded by a jumble of market stands and advertisements. Collecting money isn't a crime, especially not for organisations like this and it is admirable that residents donate their stuff to be sold, still it had a somewhat cheapy look and feel to it.
One of the lines in the introduction note was waiting to be answered:
This is a pilot project to see if a virtual world and community can have a positive influence on the wellbeing of people with MS.
Unfortunately, the sim has given me no answer, nor was there any greeter who could help me out. Because I could not find any answer to these project goals I was largely disappointed in this build.
However, please drop in and donate a few Linden Dollars to this good cause!
Today I visited the Virtual World Seminar at the University of Delft and finally had time to sit down and talk with Popke Rein Munniksma, the team leader of ABN's 3D Experience and with Emmanuel Gruijs, CEO for Active Worlds Europe. In the past week we have had some contact on the blog ING and ABN flee Second Life which caused a little stir in the blogosphere.
First, of all, one of the remarks on the initial entry read:
"Maybe it has something to do with the company being taken over by Fortis."
Although the future isn't certain this has been denied completely. The takeover is not affecting ABN's presence in any way at this point in time. ABN is sticking in Second Life, but is indeed shifting focus to be able to do real business.
Popke Rein said: "As a bank we have the need to have 1 on 1 contact with our customers behind closed doors." By being a bank ABN is bound to very strict privacy and compliancy rules which make it impossible for them to conduct business in Second Life, hence their move towards Active Worlds.
Overview of ABN in Second Life
In December 2006 ABN Amro was the first European bank to enter Second Life and rode the wave of mass media attention perfectly. They primarily entered with a "just do it" mentality. Their initial 4 islands and offices have grown towards a 27 island presence at it's peak, but is being downsized now. A team of 4 full time employees on average has build and rebuild every experience over and over again, mainly based on user feedback (so I'm estimating a budget of close to 1 million euro).
Every build was an experiment to see to which part of the Bank's business they could find a virtual extention as they are convinced that Virtual Worlds are here to stay.
"Remember who said "The internet, we are not interested in it," in 1993! That won't happen to ABN when it comes to virtual worlds. Every step the team made had to be checked with risk management and compliancy and other regulatory organs within the bank. We cannot afford to do that, go through that whole process, once virtual worlds become mainstream. Then it's too late."
That process of going through regulatory motions has become quite clear in their TechnoDesk and Tradeglobe sims in Second Life. In Real Life ABN has 5 TechnoDesk offices close to the 5 Technical Universities in the Netherlands. In these offices the bank offers information for High Tech startups and when looking at the population of Second Life, this was their logical 6th office.
The TradeGlobe is ABN's private banking vehicle with which they come into contact with their shamingly rich clients. In Second Life they've held investment meetings and so on.
Over the past year, the ABN greeter, the lovely Mrs. Jung, has had over 1.100 real business conversations with interested customers, which is more than the average local bankemployee has. In this regard, Second Life has been a success for the bank.
However, due to privacy rulings they found they would never be able to achieve one on one advice and were limited to general information only. Because of it's conservative nature and regulations the bank needs a secure environment to conduct one on one business. Active Worlds can offer this, said Emmanuel Gruijs on the growing affection between their world and the Dutch banker.
Trivia: Popke Rein said: "Remember who said "The internet, we are not interested in it," in 1993!
Following American early adopters Wells Fargo, AOL and Pontiac, the Dutch exodus from Second Life has started. Banking corporation ING, who initiated the Our Virtual Holland sims are withdrawing from Second Life.... Destination unknown. Residents of the OVH are now trying to make the islands survive the departure and it looks like they will be able to keep the community alive. The ING HQ in Second Life has been torn down though.
The second Dutch banker in Second Life, ABN Amro, is said to be leaving as well. The Word on the street is that they're disappointed by the level of interactivity they've gotten in Second Life and are moving on to a dedicated world on the Active Worlds platform.
For many of us this won't be a big surprise. Many bankers have entered the world of Second Life in 2007, but few have been able to find a concept which comes close to their real world activities, even though virtual economies and in particular that of Second Life are among the fastest growing economies in the world.
Yesterday saw the opening of a Dutch NGO island, called "Goede Doelen eiland" (good causes island). The island is a presentation of the Dutch Red Cross and the Dutch Fund for Disability Sports. The island is sponsored by Dutch bankers ABN Amro and the Free University of Amsterdam (VUA) and was build by students of the VUA.
The island has 2 elements, a disaster zone build for the Red Cross and an athletics stadium to raise awareness for disability sports.
The intent of the Red Cross venue is to give visitors a taste of the atmoshpere in disaster areas, how hard it can be to reach a relieve post and thus try to raise commitment to the organisations work.
The 'fun' part of the island is the Stadium for the Dutch Fund for Disability Sports. In the stadium it is possible to go for a wheelchair race. Both organisations are looking for new ways of fundraising and are looking into the possibilities in Virtual Worlds.
Earlier this week I reported on the EPN survey that nearly 30% of the Dutch Top100 corporations is immersed in some virtual world or another, most of them Second Life, some in There.com, some in Why Robbie Rocks and some elsewhere. This seemed to be a highly bloggable item as the numbers rapidly got picked up around the globe. Many people would like to push those numbers to their management, using it as a stick to prod.
Today the e-mag Z24 is reporting a somewhat more negative view to things: (a liberal translation)
Dutch Companies looking for Success in Second Life
Dutch Business isn't digging SL. With a lot of effort you can find 27 Dutch companies in SL and the Dutch offices are empty, why do companies keep investing in this medium?
The ABN sim sees about 70 to 80 visitors daily, but the numbers are falling back, in the early days it was an average of 100.
Visitors of Second Life are an interesting targetgroup for companies, it is a group that is close to new technology development and is very active at normal internet as well. According to the official stats, Second Life now sees about 280.000 registered Dutch accounts.
During the mediahype in the first quarter of 2007, companies have plunged headfirst into secondlife, with the immersion promising an enormous amount of media exposure, but visitors kept away. Slowly the insigh comes that a mere presence is not enough, companies have to look for added value.
Okay, nothing new here, this is what the blogs have been preaching for ages already ;). The rest of the article is on Randstand, Our Virtual Holland and 0031, so I'll skip that.
The Dutch work at home
The next report on the Z24 page reads that 1 in 5 Dutchmen regularly work from home, which is the hightest rate internationally. Could this be the source of the relative high participation levels of Dutch companies in Virtual Worlds?
Another international Bank has opened up shop in Second Life, this time it's the Norwegian DNB, not to be confused with the Dutch national bank, also called DNB.
After ABN AMRO, ING (The Netherlands), Wirecard (Germany) and Saxo (Denmark) this is the fifth major European finance company coming to Second Life (with BNP Paribas still in development)
The sim starts of with a neat 3D model of the sim (very popular these days), which is devided into several smaller islands. The overall theme is summertime Norway, as I'm told by one of the freelancers who worked at this build. A main feature is the auditorium (right) which is a good build.
The second main build is a hovering globe -which is quite low on textures - and though most of the sim is bilingual (Norwegian and English), this was solely Norwegian, so I can't give you the full monty on this.
Then there's a small terras showing the Nobel-Peace-prize winners and a series of gazebo's intended as learning centers.
Throughout the sim various Norwegianish things appear, like sunken ships, swimming orca's, campsite, windsurf and diving spots, small fishingboats etcetera.
The build is developed by a company called Design Container, working with several Freelancers. This makes up for several degrees of quality in the build, some are neatly texturised, others are a bit low on textures (pic left, the gallery), or have a few textures askew. The DNB NOR car (right) is very primitive.
In the pic below an example of where it's neatly done, even tidal influences are considered in this build (left). The other one, an ancient worship tree is a little buggy in the script (right). All in all I must say that the overall quality of the build varies enormously, and also the theme is too unfocussed. It's a bit of everything and I'm not sure where the root of this problem lies. It could well be that DNB Nor didn't have a fixed idea of what they intend to do in Second Life, or there was a basic plan that saw several ideas gone wild because of working with too many different freelancers.
Earlier this week I blogged on the upcoming ABN AMRO YP launch. Well, today's the day.
In short, the opening event is a simulcast with DJ Jesse Voorn (Jesse Bourne) performing life in the Panama Club in Amsterdam and in Second Life. It's also a Dance4Life party. I won't go into details on the background much since I've blogged that here.
Anyway, the sim's open now and here are some pics. I see I need to mention a bit of background still to explain it. The sim is intended for Young Professionals. The idea behind the build is a relaxed mediterranean village with harbor, a place where Young Professionals would like to hang out.
The sim's core is a mediterranean village with some nice houses, a harbor and several meeting points like bars, pools and conference center. According to the Dutch Lost in the Magic Forest the build had to be realised in just one week. All buildings are custom made meeting the quality standards whe'd expect from LitMF (both architecturally and texturally speaking), though a number of props like yaughts and furniture were bought.
One of the sims fun things is the Mocassin 1200 Jetski ride (okay, here's a pic from me without the usual business suit). It's strong engine propelled me rapidly forward, causing me to bump into several yaughts and even launched me onto the dance site knocking over a few early dancers. The Dutch partyscene raced out to be there (many Dutch SL club owners were present as well), and I must say, the party was well organised and every possible dance was prepped, I even saw the "feet of flame". Some minor glitches, such as partybubbles that were causing some lag were quickly disabled before the real event started. Truth be told, it remained quite laggy at times causing a hard time for the streaming media to render properly, but the crowd liked it.
Finally the audio stream was disabled and both image and sound were streamed through the movie, but the soundquality was less than that of the audio stream. All in all I must say the load of the dancefloor, dancers, the sim and the streaming media was too heavy. Sound fell away quite often and it was hard to get a decent snapshout without the stream being blocky.
Friday the 8th wil see the launch of a new ABN AMRO venture in Second Life; the Young Professional Island. The opening will be supported by DJ Jesse Voorn, ambassador to Dance4Life with a simulcast or cross-reality concert from the Panama Club in Amsterdam .
In this coop ABN and Dance4Life are opening an island for people at the start of their careers. It will be a place to meet, socialize and relax. The Dutch bankers will organise several events for the community. The island is one of the new builds from the Dutch Lost in the Magic Forest and the Dance4Live club on the island is build by ABN AMRO themselves.
According to Lost in the Magic Forrerst the build is not complete yet, but will be further developed in coop with the YP community.
DJ Jesse Voorn will perform between 00.00 and 01.00 (CET) in both Club Panama as well as Second Life. Jesse is no stranger to Second Life, as he has done a rather succesfull gig earlier this year.
Dance4Life is an international organisation which gets young people together in the fight against hiv and aids. Dance is the international language that binds young people all over the world. Dancing is combined with television programmes, media campaigns and fundraising to benefit projects in areas that suffer strongly under the presence of hiv and aids.
Next thursday, May 3rd, ABN AMRO will host a meeting on the latest trends in the international stockmarket. Sr. analist Paul van Doorn (ABN AMRO Investment Office) will point out the latest trends supported by audiostreaming.
If you'd like to attend, IM Amber Jung and receive a notecard for further instructions. As to the subject of the sessions, I can only guess it's about Barclays, hostile takeovers, hedgefunds and what else is causing the takeover rows of the past few weeks.
The ABN Amro sims has been online for some time now, a true omission in my blog. But what's there to say?
The sim consists of several hovering platforms connected by several airbridges. personally I like the design, but I'm wondering what ABN's intentions are.
One platform holds a shop where you can buy suits (not the best quality) and other pieces of clothing, there's an auditorium, some coffee corners where you can watch some ABN commercials... But where's the bank?