Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Virtual Banking (20) Westpac

I've been pretty extensive in blogging banks that immersed themselves into Second Life, but here's one I never noticed; Westpac.

The following article is grom Virtual Worlds News: UPDATED: Australian Bank Westpac Exits Second Life

In November 2007, the Australian bank Westpac had set up shop in Second Life for
internal use. According to a ZDNet article from the time citing then-CTO David Backley, IBM and Westpac had experimented (with positive results)with using the virtual world for centralised onboarding for staff from offices around the country. The National Business Review reports today, though, that the bank has cut the project in
spite of positive feedback. [Update at bottom]

It sounds like the results weren't enough. Backley joked that he's now GM of application development ("Read into that whatever you will") and said that returns weren't strong enough to support the project.

"Failures can become expensive. We do massive systems rollouts and we expect huge paybacks," he told the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum in Sydney.

I don't point this out to sound the death knell of Second Life as Valleywag has (earning it a link from the National Business Review) or any number of publications. I think it's silly to look at the departure of one project as the tipping point, especially since that one project was likely generating more money for IBM as a technology partner and consultant than Linden Lab through land sales in Second Life.

I think it is worth noting the reaction that companies like Westpac are having. For one, it entered Second Life long before Linden began to seriously refocus the virtual world to serve enterprise customers needs. For another, in the current economic climate everyone, possibly especially banks, is looking to cut costs.

Experimental efforts, which I think is what most organizations label virtual world projects, are attractive because they're a new option to save money, but there's an ever-increasing need to show ROI--and apparently enough of a return that you don't get demoted.

UPDATE: Metaverse Journal was also at the event where Westpac's efforts were discussed and has a much more positive takeaway than the National Business Review: Westpac regarded the effort as a project ahead of its time, but the costs of maintenance and implementation were too high and a key sponsor left the company, stalling momentum. The new insight here is less about corporate reactions to Second Life and more about the media's: fyi, there's still some bias against it.

To learn how to successfully take advantage of virtual worlds for business, come to the 3D Training, Learning and Collaboration conference taking place April 20-21, 2009, in Washington, DC.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pure Magic at 7Days

Yesterday Second Life saw the official opening of the 7 Days Magic Bakery, which I visited with high expectations, mostly because Aleister Kronos already blogged this build and wrote:

"I have to say that I think the build quality and approach knock just about every other corporate build into a cocked hat. In large part this is due to the decision by involve3d, the builders, to execute most of the build work outside of Second Life, using Maya. The resulting structures and textures were then uploaded for final placement in the sim. The result is a spectacularly successful marriage of forms and detailed textures - which is my pretentious way of saying: it looks great!"

7Days is one of the brands of Greek Vivartia, a foodconglomerate, which mainly produces packaged dough foods.

The Vivartia Bakery and Confectionery Division (following the absorption of Chipita International S.A.) is active in the production and distribution of standardized foods principally with a flour base. Since the establishment of Chipita in 1973, the Division has experienced steady development with particularly successful products both on the Greek and international markets. Always maintaining faith in quality and constant innovation, the Bakery and Confectionery Division of Vivartia has developed strong market labels such as 7Days, Bake Rolls, Molto & Finetti, which consumers trust on a daily basis.

State-of-the-art technology, constant support and the company’s vision for development all contribute to the dominant position held in all markets where we are active. Beginning with the individually packed croissant in 1990, constant research and development, the company improved and broadened the range of dough based products. Innovative ideas have led to new products such as mini croissants, strudels, tsoureki (brioche) and many others.Aside from sweet snacks, however, savory snacks also constitute an important part of the Division’s line with leading products such as Bake Rolls and Pita Bakes. Finally, the Division is active in the realm of chocolate products and produces the savory snacks par excellence – potato chips and cheese puffs. [Vivartia website]

As I said, the official opening was not ontil yesterday, when at 10 p.m. they hit off with a spectacular launchparty. It's been a while since I've seen a launchparty by a corporate build in Second Life. This alone makes the sim noteworthy. At this point in (media) time most companies flee media attention when it comes to their Second Life presence, either because their presence will justly be criticized as they don't know what they're doing in Second Life, or because the media still does not understand the values of the virtual world. Last month I blogged about CIGNA, an insurance company, with a highly succesfull presence in Second Life, and this is indeed another corporate gem, ready to go into the Best Practises for Companies textbook for Virtual Worlds.

So much for the introduction, let's immerse ourselves in this experience and see what all the fuzz is about. Upon teleporting in I receive a neat Landmark introducing the sim:

"Come play with your food! Meet rebellious robots and maestro bakers! Design, eat and trade your own custom pasties! A rich, whimsical bakery theme park … there's lots to do!"

And indeed, a whole town surrounds the bakery. After landing and walking through the entrance we meet Chef Vivardi on the first corner to start of the background narrative.

Next to the Chef you'll see a small sign. When clicked, the narrative starts. You'll find these points of interaction throughout the sim.

Chef Vivardi comes to life here whose job it is to supply the world with wholesome foods. Without taking any mystery out of your tour, the narrative of the brand – wholesome snacks to fit modern lifestyles – is present without dominating. Most importantly it forms the starting point of the 3D story, framing the entertainment, social aspects and interaction. There are rebellious robots, undeniably adorable machines all around, media textures that add life, and movie-quality voice-overs and music. In my opinion the music just totally makes it all come together. [Linda Zimmerman at Business Communicators of Second Life]

Moving on to the terrace

Undoubtedly, the centerpiece of the sim is the snack factory, towering above the surrounding village at the center of the sim.

Inside the factory you can take place at the production line an produce your own 7Days snack. Start with choosing your flavour, then color, topping, packaging and mood and be on your way with a customized snack. The production line is an excellent piece of scripting.

The idea of depicting a production line in Second Life isn't new, see for instance the blogpost "Second Life Yummy Garden" in which I describe how Ben & Jerry's did about the same over a year ago, which also was a big success in my opinion. Anyway, there's lot's more to see. This is a highly recommended sim. Enjoy your travels.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mercedes (B) Enz SL Adventure

In skimming the blogosphere a post caught my eye, which read: Mercedes-Benz ends Second Life test run with positive findings.

The article in question was posted earlier today on the Mercedes Benz SL blog which had been quiet since august 2007. Seeing the inactivity at the blog for the last 7 months, this isn't a big surprise, but it doesn't mean Mercedes has been inactive in Second Life during these months.

The remarkable thing that they end their test run with positive findings. The blog reads:

"A little over a year, Mercedes-Benz opened its dedicated presence in the virtual world of ‘Second Life’. Since the launch of the brand’s virtual island, we won several vital insights and received plenty of positive feedback, especially for our unique communications policy. Over the course of the year, our brand avatar ‘Mercedes Milestone’ led more than 10,000 inspired dialogues.

We truly enjoyed developing this new, innovative communications platform and would like to extend our thanks to all those who visited Mercedes-Benz Island and demonstrated interest in our virtual outpost.

Our ‘Second Life’ stint will draw to an end on March 18th 2008 – as of this day, you will no longer be able to access Mercedes-Benz Island. This brief and exciting foray into virtual communities brought us several essential realisations and the conviction that 3D worlds play a vital role as engaging communication channels. We will continue to monitor this theme and keep you updated on any new developments."

Well, Mercedes has new insights. Good for them. It is still a withdrawal from a virtual world, and the umpteenth withdrawal from Second Life which makes it very clear that companies still have a very hard time in making a usefull and persistent presence in a virtual world and that Second Life desperately needs to improve if it wants to play a role as a business platform.

Since august 2006 Second Life has been the premier platform for companies to start experimenting with the Metaverse, which worked for a year or so. It's key attraction point has been the relatively low cost its ease of building and its economy. Due to this immersion Second Life has seen an enormous growth between august 06 and august 07. Since august 07 the corporate exodus has begun as the initial advantages are getting outweighed by its disadvantages, such as:

  • Lack of security
  • Lack of real collaboration tools
  • Lack of interfaces

Take heed Linden Lab

No doubt Linden Lab will state that they're not worried by the exodus of companies. There's still hundreds left, and more coming. Yet these initial pioneers have greatly aided in the growth of Second Life with the attention they received. Linden Lab is probably focussing on making a better world, but if they can't provide for these companies, if they can't make the tools work that companies need then there's only one conclusion possible:

Second Life will degrade to being just another pimped 3D chatroom, a game with bad graphics or a chaotic placeholder for a surplus of user generated content no one needs.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bantam Dell: a little lack of creativity

It's been a while since I look in the area surrounding the Electric Sheep Island, but early this morning I scrolled by and noticed the Bantam Dell island.

Probably depending on which writer to promote and which audience to target the mothercompany Random House uses one of their many subsidiary imprints as a stand alone publisher or a combination. This time it's the Bantam-Dell combination, which are both respected publishing houses.

Probably best known of all the Random House imprints is Bantam which has published major science finction writers such as Isaac Asimov, Jean Michel Auel and the early metarati such as William Gibson and Neil Stephenson.

Bantam has published the entire original run of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of children's books, as well as the first original novels (aimed at adults) based upon the Star Trek franchise, publishing about a dozen such books
between 1970 and 1982 when the licence was taken over by Pocket Books. Bantam also published a dozen volumes of short story adaptations of scripts from Star Trek: The Original Series. Bantam is the American paperback publisher of The
Guinness Book of Records.

The other part of this imprint is Dell Publishing, most notable for publishing works by H.G. Wells and Alfred Hitchcock.

Dell Publishing was an American publisher of books, magazines, and comic books. It was founded in 1921 by George T. Delacorte Jr.. During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Dell was one of the largest publishers of magazines, including pulp
magazines. From 1929 to 1974, they published comics under the Dell Comics line, the bulk of which (1938-62) was done in partnership with Western Publishing. In 1943, Dell entered into paperback book publishing with "Dell Paperbacks". They also used the book imprint of "Dial Press", "Delacorte Books", "Yearling Books" and "Laurel Leaf Library".

The Bantam Dell island is an excellent build, as far as building goes. The island is set up for 6 builds, but only half of it is build: The Bantam Dell Bookshop & Cafe, the central plaza and the auditorium.

The main venue is the Bantam Dell Bookshop & Cafe which is an excellent build and breathes the atmosphere of a classic bookshop and lounge. The books on display aren't the ones I'd buy at Bantam though.

As for interactivity there isn't much beyond clicking the books and opening the corresponding webpage (old fashioned style with an external browser) and a HUD promoting the Bantam Dell podcasts.

There are event lawns which are currently empty and asking for ideas. This is pretty much a disappointment for me as the Bantam Dell combination has a wide range of authors that would fit in with this new media of virtual worlds. I'd suggest they combine elements and scenes from the aforementioned writers to create an immersive experience, a tour of the future rather than settle for an old fashioned bookshop.


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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Immersive Shopping at

Purely by accident I landed on a sim called 'Weltbild'. Not only the name is German, also the style of the build: A surplus of white. Every German build in Second Life seems to display an absense of color. A color which is used as support-color for the build is a deep red, a combination which reminded me of the Avastar build.

The island is owned by the Weltbild Publishing Group, which is a major German publisher and media retailer, owned by the dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church of Germany, based in Augsburg (see also Augsburg in SL) and now in Second Life as well.

"As of 2006, Weltbild claims to be Germany's largest media and mail-order company, with a market share of ten percent. It also says it is No. 2 among online book retailers (presumably after Weltbild employs some 4,500
employees and has a revenue of 1,4 billion EUR. According to the enterprise, some 5,5 million customers in the German-speaking countries buy Weltbild books by mail order, in one of the 300 Weltbild shops or over the Internet. Its
mail-order catalogue has a print run of four million.".

The island is another tropical beach setting, like many builds from the rainy North-European continent, today I don't mind however. The weather outside is indeed shitty and I can use some sunshine.

The Avastar association is perhaps more than coincidental, as the islands auditorium is showing a movie auditioning contest in cohoots with the Avastar newspaper.

The main venue of the island consists of three shops:

  1. Film
  2. Books
  3. Music

The thing I like about these shops is that they're not only plain links to the Weltbild website, but also offer trailers you can watch with your friends so it really is a first step towards immersive shopping.

Immersive movies:

Despite my prejudice about German builds I like the quality of the build. There are a few unnecessary things, like a telescope pointing to nowhere and a totally lost 3D tetris game though.

I wonder if the build will be revamped with the new html-on-a-prim technology, making direct interaction with their webshop possible.


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