by Erica Driver.

I’m doing a lot of research on using virtual worlds for work these days and have been spending some time in Second Life. One of the characteristics I notice is that there seems to be a dearth of people (avatars) around. Does it matter? Well, it depends what your expectations are. If you think of Second Life as "sort of like the Web," where you can teleport alone (surf the Web) from island to island (Web site to Web site) then it shouldn’t matter that most islands you’ll visit are devoid of human presence. Think about audio and Web conferencing tools: an audio or Web conference is "vacant" until one or more of the expected parties join in, and we consider that perfectly acceptable. But if this is your expectation, it may freak you out more than a little bit if you see an avatar fly by you unexpectedly or an unknown avatar suddenly materializes next to you and addresses you via the chat window.

  • It matters if you are using it to socialize, explore, and interact with people. In fact it matters a lot. You will likely find that Second Life feels like an abandoned fantasy wasteland. Even when you visit islands put up by companies to communicate with customers, you’ll usually find that no one is around. To get information you typically wander around a virtual hall reading posters and watching videos. One way to find and interact with other people in Second Life is to join business-related groups or attend events.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are using it for meetings and collaboration. Just meet your party in the designated spot in Second Life and do what you always do: introduce yourselves, talk, gesture, chat via IM. If the space you are meeting in supports upload and sharing of presentations and word processing documents, even better. Keep in mind, though, that support for office documents is a custom-created capability in Second Life today, unlike alternative virtual world technology like Qwaq Forum.