Many big developments in technology seem to follow the same pattern: launch, hype, boom, more hype, backlash and, too often, bust. Or at least rumors of bust. But usually this pattern is more hyperbole than reality. Take Second Life as an example. When Second Life emerged a few years ago the hype was deafening, and a host of companies (including Dell, where I worked at the time) rushed to build virtual islands. Then the buzz gradually died down. Some companies left, disillusioned about the difficulty of generating revenue or leads through their island. Others stayed on but struggled to find value or purpose in their investments. Many just stayed away, confused by the technology. Some in the media and blogosphere suggested Second Life was heading towards the crowded bone-yard of technology.

Well, Second Life is alive and well – if you’ll pardon the pun. In terms of size and reach, Second Life shows some pretty strong numbers – though it must be said there are skeptics regarding these statistics. But beyond the crude numbers, I would argue Second Life is showing resilience and relevance through the innovation of its inhabitants. With the benefit of virtual experience, many are finding the benefits of Second Life may be more nuanced than pure marketing – for example cutting communication costs or developing new learning modules.

For a look at some of the creative uses of Second Life – ranging from e-learning to virtual meetings and collaborative design – check out these recorded sessions from the Gronstedt Group, a consulting firm that has long advocated the benefits of 3-D online environments like Second Life. [Disclosure – Anders Gronstedt is a friend and did work for me when I was at Dell.]

Perhaps the most important recent development is the announcement of Second Life’s new platform for the enterprise – which will allow companies to deploy their own, customized virtual environment behind their firewall. This beta program – set to formally launch in Q1 next year – addresses concerns about security and firewalls that have caused many organizations (including the last one I worked for) to stay away from Second Life. Check out Fast Company’s take on this development here.

As this coverage notes, the potential for companies to leverage a “closed” Second Life platform to improve and expand their internal communications is huge. The interactive, graphic and multi-media properties of SL lend themselves well to everything from virtual meetings to project collaboration and training. This particularly holds true for global companies with dispersed or telecommuting workforces. The possibilities are exciting…and endless. Yesterday I participated in a briefing in SL that featured an architecture firm that develops designs using a wiki “tree”, which allows visitors to propose and rank design additions or changes on existing projects. If companies are paying attention, I suspect some of those who avoided or left SL may take a second look. It would be well worth their time.

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