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The top 8 Second Life virtual businesses

Second Life showrooms promote tech firms

Dell

Dell Island is mostly a portal for advancing the company brand, although there are a few sights worth seeing: a re-creation of one of the company's commercials (the one with the giant purple gorilla), a factory modelled after a real Dell facility, a PC museum and Michael Dell's college dorm room.

You can also use a drafting table to build the basic components of a real-world computer, such as the Dell XPS 710, and see what it would look like on an office desk. When you are ready to buy, a link takes you to a secure website where you type in your real name and credit card number.

Laura Thomas, Dell's corporate online editor and main Second Life evangelist, told me she would like to see more metrics in Second Life for customer visits. She also said the company is planning on re-creating the Dell plant-a-tree initiative to help lower individual carbon footprints.

Reuters

Reuters' concrete-and-sidewalk location in Second Life has a decidedly business feel, with tall downtown skyscrapers and lush fountains. Yet, it does attract curious Second Lifers who want to discuss the hot topics of the day. During my visit, several discussions involved the recent Virginia Tech shootings. A Reuters News Center device, available for free, feeds you the news of the day on a handheld reader.

What's really interesting is that Reuters has a handful of journalists who wander through Second Life - visiting campuses such as Dell and Sun - to find news stories that make it onto the real-world service. This model of ‘virtual journalism’ shows how a virtual presence can add credibility to a reporter who asks questions, can record chat history and follow up by phone and email for fact checking.

Cisco Systems

IT pros definitely fawn all over Cisco Systems. This well-populated island showcases its products in a cleanly designed "connected home" of the future - although it's a little heavy on marketing. There are routers, streaming media devices and VoIP phones scattered all about the two-level dwelling.

The real draw, though, are the company-sponsored user group meetings with keynote speakers such as John Chambers, Cisco's CEO, and Tom Malone, an MIT luminary. Second Lifers apparently formed the first groups autonomously and asked for Cisco sponsorship after the group swelled in numbers.

During one event I attended, several techie conversations erupted spontaneously in a meeting room. Product demos allow potential customers to see how a network switch actually fits into a data centre, something that usually requires an in-person executive briefing in the physical world.

"For someone who wants to learn about advanced devices, a virtual world is a good environment for that," says Joe Laszlo, a research director of broadband media at JupiterResearch and Second Life expert.


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