The buzz in the virtual worlds space is that Linden Labs, makers of Second Life, are joining efforts with IBM to create enterprise safe virtual worlds. Such worlds, which could exist entirely behind corporate firewalls, might be able to provide strongly contextual spaces that could improve aspects of training, innovation, collaboration and remote interactions among teams of employees, or among employees and their clients. Might it be the only way to run and apply the knowledge of a large multinational in the future?
While IBM has made big investments in creating SL spaces that mimic real world enterprise spaces, I still don't see them as replacing the strength and warmth of human interaction. I have spent some time in SL, and the gaming aspect of virtual spaces and social interaction can me presented, but I don't see immediate enterprise value. Those that are thinking of doing this should read Joseph Weizenbaum's 'Computer Power and Human Reason', just commented on, which makes the point that fooling participants with interaction in a virtual world is not necessarily positive. I had a few interactions with IBM employees in SL that seemed like real knowledge exchanges, but we soon were so weighed down by the burden of the world itself, we decided that even an email exchange was more efficient.
I am not saying this is not a useful research effort, only that while our computing and visual capabilities have improved considerably, they still don't provide the required capabilities to aid the enterprise. It does remind me of the AI effort of the 80s. Lots of perceived benefits, things that we can apparently do well, but are still years away from doing well enough to pay for the net effort. Is it only about being able to create really good visualization? Or is there much more to it? Good luck to Linden and IBM.