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IBM builds Second Life store for Circuit City

Avatars show where the work is

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IBM has cut a deal with US electronic gizmo retailer Circuit City Stores to build a virtual store on one of the private fiefdoms it occupies on Second Life. There, virtual visitors will, in the form of their on-screen avatar, be able to go down the aisles of the store and examine products. The products can then be or ordered via the website.

The image it brings to mind is the obvious one – an on-screen clone of Captain Scarlett or Lady Penelope represents you as you gangle disjointedly towards a shelf of the latest techno-flash iPoddery and pick up a gizmo. It then shows you, as a virtual you, how it works without dropping it once, which would possibly happen in real life.

Well, that’s what came into my mind when I read that IBM has been dabbling some more down in the virtual world of Second Life. As suggested when such dabblings were first reported the idea of using the Second Life online get-a-life substitute does have some merit as a model for possible future business tools, and Big Blue is setting out to demonstrate this in a more (virtualised) concrete form.

It is easy to scoff at this – at the moment it’s probably far too easy – but there is some sense to it. There is certainly a good deal of potential for developers in creating new applications. For example, how about an avatar that can answer the perennial question: `how the *!!@ do I work this thing?’ It simply shows you.

In fact, that is one of the targets the two companies have an eye on already. And online avatar’d documentation and operational guides for even the most complex systems could prove to be a good market.

Perhaps most important of all, IBM is now talking up its plans to start promoting this type of technology to business – technology that sits inside a company firewall which allow users to build new ways of collaborating. The aim is build a community of like-minded businesses analogous to the open source community in order to develop the technology, already given the sobriquet `3-D Internet’, and to build the required standards.

And for developers it marks another example of where the get-out-of-trouble line: `honest, it's essential research’ becomes even more plausible when caught playing games at work. From here on in, it will very likely now be true. ®

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