Today, I set up a demonstration of Second Life for some of my senior management. I signed up for a conference on how to use Second Life for business, and went through some hoops with our IT department to get IT to open up the firewall for me.
It did not turn out well.
I had a little better luck a few weeks ago when I hosted an event for my student organization on ASTD island, although that event was ill-fated as well.
I wanted to put down my thoughts on why Second Life is not reliable as a Corporate Training tool.
Second Life is difficult for IT to support
Second Life (SL) is blocked from our corporate network. I requested that this block be lifted so that we could access the conference in SL. The operations guys in support were very helpful and accomodating. They understand the SL communication paths, and knew what had to happen so I could have an opening in the firewall to access the application.
We ran into problems because things have changed since the last time the ops guys attempted to set access up for someone. For some reason SL changes the IP range for connections. It almost looks like they provide an IP address for each region (maybe island?). This means every time new land is developed, another IP address needs to be added to the list of IP addresses that need to be allowed through the firewall.
I could log in to Second Life at my home on Broadway island, but I couldn’t teleport to any other region. This made it impossible to teleport to the conference. I could not even directly log into the conference, as the port was blocked.
The IT guys told me that they asked SL support (about a year ago) if there was an Enterprise relationship person available, someone who could help them build out a proposal for what is required to support securely accessing SL from our network. Basically, they were told that sort of function was on a “wish list”.
To me, it doesn’t seem like SL is quite ready for prime time on the support side (at least from an Enterprise perspective). Never mind the normal bugs and technical bumps, like the one I saw when I hosted a SL event. The night of my event, the SL database got corrupted at the exact same time our event was to start – so corrupt in fact that logins to Second Life had to be disabled. It’s sorta hard to hold an event in SL if people can’t log in.
If we were to use SL for training, we’d have to be sure that every time we held a training event, every student could log in and access the correct environment. Right now, there does not seem to be a reliable way to do that.
Events in SL should be run as if they were Real Life (RL) events
I signed up for this conference about three weeks ago. I emailed and asked for an agenda, but one was never sent. I went to the conference location and looked around for an agenda in vain.
People are busy. Using these virtual tools is supposed to enable participation for busy people. If you are going to have a 4-hour conference, let people know the agenda! Then folks can decide if it is worth their time to attend.
Also, it is important to remember that as the host of an event in Second Life, you must take extra care that you compensate for the lack of non-verbal cues in your communication. In other words, don’t be rude to your guests! The reason I am not mentioning the conference name is that I was totally appalled at the way I was treated by the person listed in the welcome email as the support contact for access problems.
This person told me there were limited seats, and that I should have noticed that when I signed up. She was very rude to me (via IM). I had her double-check my avatar name on the list. She realized her mistake, and was very apologetic for the way she treated me. It was a little late for that, however. I was a customer, going to a conference she was assigned to support. She was not a very good representative of her organization. I’ll just leave it at that.
Second Life is Resource Intensive
Apparently the avatar limit on this area was 50 people. This is actually a resource issue that could make training in SL prohibitive. Let’s say we wanted to run an entry-level CLARiiON (storage array hardware) class in Second Life. The appeal of SL is that we could have objects the students could access, manipulate, “touch” if you will. In order to do that, the object would have to be created. A script would possibly need to be attached to the object to make it behave so that it is more realistic. The more realistic we make things, the smaller the amount of avatars that can access the area. This means we would have to purchase more land, and build more objects, etc. This quickly turns into a resource issue to purchase, build, manage, and maintain the environment to train a global audience.
In summary, I can see some uses for Second Life in corporate training. But until there is a cleaner way to securely connect to SL, and until it becomes a bit less resource intensive, I don’t see what is gained by this environment over other forms of training that we already deliver.