Linden Lab’s Second Life might be known as the most free-wheeling of the online virtual worlds—Second Life hosts its own virtual version of Burning Man every year, and is currently embroiled in an copyright infringement lawsuit with makers of in-game sex furniture. But the company has attracted serious interests from businesses and enterprise eyeing the virtual world technology as a way to substantially improve collaboration, training, telepresence, and conferencing within their companies…if only they didn’t have to deal with security and confidentiality issues of hooking up to the main Second Life grid. So at the Enterprise 2.0 conference today, Linden Lab plans to unveil Second Life Enterprise, a beta version of its “Nebraska” project, a new solution that will let corporations and enterprises set up their own private virtual worlds behind their corporate firewalls, separate from the Second Life grid.
“We’ve worked very closely with our enterprise customers to develop a solution that would fit seamlessly within their existing networks while also solving real business challenges,” said Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon. “Second Life Enterprise Beta is a perfect complement to our existing work offerings, enabling us to offer a virtual work experience tailored to meet the specific needs of a broad range of organizations.”
The Second Life Enterprise solution runs completely within an organizations’s network, without connecting out to Linden Lab’s service farms or the main Second Life grid. The solution will offer seven pre-packaged regions, including a “four-corners” auditorium for major meetings (it should be able to support hundreds of avatars) and sandboxes for testing. Companies already in Second Life will be able to move material they own on the main grid to Second Life Enterprise; the solution will also ship with a bunch of pre-fab business-appropriate avatars employees can use and customize. Linden Lab says Second Life Enterprise can support up to eight simultaneous regions and up to 800 concurrent users.
To support these walled-off virtual worlds, Linden Lab also plans to introduce a Second Life Work Marketplace, offering enterprise tools and virtual goods enterprise customers can use to enhance and improve their private virtual world experiences. Second Life Work Marketplace should launch in the first half of 2010.
Second Life has attracted the interest of major players like IBM, The Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and Northrup Grumman. However, the Second Life virtual world is currently experiencing something of a crisis involving rampant content theft, regulation of open source-derived third party viewers, and a struggling in-world economy (which is linked to the U.S. dollar). In addition, Linden Lab founder and former CEO Philip Rosedale has just stepped down from day-to-day involvement with Linden Lab. It remains to be seem whether Linden Lab can handle the challenges of running a massive virtual world as well as supply a secure virtual world solution to enterprise customers.