Some companies like IBM have an uncanny attraction to Linden Lab's virtual world, Second Life. They claim the software provides a 3-D collaboration space that's viscerally superior to what traditional mediums such as teleconferencing, instant messaging, or video conferencing can provide.
Trouble is, hapless employees ushered into the virtual world quickly find their avatars rubbing elbows with lonely middle-age men pretending to be teenage girls and anthropomorphic wolves looking for a good time. And that's when the weather breaks into an inconvenient deluge of flying penises. Firms may also shy away from letting employees share sensitive corporate data over Linden's off-site server farms that host all forms of Second Life traffic, both base and business.
Hoping to regain a rather large bit of momentum lost in this field to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and - perhaps soon - Google Wave, Linden Lab has conjured a $55,000 hardware appliance that allows companies to host their own private Sadville.
Linden said it has launched an open beta program for a behind-the-firewall product, Second Life Enterprise. The company expects the program to run through Q4 with general availability during the first half of 2010.
Second Life Enterprise runs completely within a company's network, without a connection to Linden's servers or the virtual world used by the unwashed masses. It includes seven pre-packed virtual regions, including an auditorium for events, two conference centers, and a number of sandbox areas to test virtual objects.
Content can also be moved into Second Life proper if a company wants to let the public wander though their work.
Linden said 14 organizations are already participating in the beta program, including IBM; Northrop Grumman; and the US Navy's research center, The Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
Did we just say The Naval Undersea Warfare Center? Yes indeed, we did:
"Virtual Worlds have the potential to provide a safer, more cost effective approach to some of the Navy's current mission areas. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center has collaborated with Linden Lab to create a version of Second Life Enterprise that is secured and meets military grade information assurance compliance standards - out of the box," stated Douglas Maxwell, Program Technology Lead for NUWC Metaverse Strategic Initiative (which sounds important, at least).
Maxwell said the Navy outfit is using Second Life Enterprise to conduct training, concept-of-operations exercises, and collaborative engineering activities using sensitive information.
Personally, this reporter is relieved to no longer have to worry about an invading force of aquatic Fox-men bent on strapping victims to a counterfeit sex chair. The US Navy totally has that covered. ®