Not long ago, stories about virtual world systems such as Second Life were abundant. However, recently, not much has been said about these systems. New user growth has slowed, and the number of regular users (around a half a million) of the largest system, Second Life, has turned out to be only a fraction of the overall number of registered users. However, these regular users do spend over 30 hours a month on the system, and they have formed a number of small communities, based on individual interests and activities.
Many organizations have experimented with virtual worlds such as Second Life, thinking that their acceptance could be like the broader Internet, which was initially dismissed as an irrelevant toy of geeks in the 1990s (much as many people regard virtual worlds now). If virtual worlds do become popular with the general public, many organizations want to understand the basic tendencies of the systems, and they want to be there when they take off.
Most early business initiatives in Second Life were basically 3-D billboards that were able to gather outside media attention (which was positive), but they were not able to get significant user attention. Businesses found that users were drawn to interaction with other users, not to structures in the background of the world. After recognizing these tendencies, many organizations began experimenting with virtual collaboration-based activities. Existing virtual worlds offer organizations a great opportunity to experiment with virtual relationship building, group meeting, interactive presentation, and training activities. While the outcomes of using a virtual world for these types of activities are still not clear, many organizations are realizing that it is not much of an investment to use an existing virtual world for experimentation, and the lessons learned from these initial experiments may become very valuable as these systems mature and grow.