Thursday, December 22, 2011

Modeling Reality with Virtual Worlds

A virtual world can best be described as a three-dimensional environment on the internet in which users can create graphical extensions of themselves called avatars. These avatars are capable of inhabiting certain 'hangouts' and interacting with other avatars in cyberspace. Popular examples of virtual worlds are: Second Life, Whyville, Moove,Kaveva, There and IMVU. For starters, businesses can use virtual worlds as a creative option for facilitating meetings from different corners of the office or globe. In addition, business owners can host virtual events which will allow them to get to know their target audience and other members of the virtual community. Pros of Virtual Worlds Reduced Costs- for example, in hosting virtual events, there is little or no cost associated with this activity Time Flexibility- it would be easier to change the schedule of a virtual conference for example, than it would be to do this in a traditional setting. Multi-tasking- Users can literally be in be in two places at one time. For example they can engage in networking in both the real world and the virtual world at the same time. Fosters Creativity- Users can get to see the fun side of their customers and business partners because creating avatars and environments.
Cons of Virtual Worlds Security- users of virtual worlds should be cautious regarding the amount of information that they share in virtual worlds. All is not what it may seem in this environment and there are cases where users pretending to be something they're not. Thin Line Between Fantasy and Reality This fact can be especially of concern to business owners because they cannot be sure if other users in their 'hangout' are genuinely interested in their message, or if it is all fun and games and deemed useless. If other users within the network are just using virtual worlds to escape reality, then their feedback and approach cannot always be taken seriously. Creativity is fostered in virtual worlds because it gives users to create extensions of themselves and environment which leads to individualism. Based on the images contained in someone's environment, and the way their avatar is dressed for example speaks volumes about who they really are, or who they aspire to be. This information can be helpful to business owners because it allows them to get a better feel of who their target audiences are and what they are trying to accomplish. With this knowledge in hand, business owners can then create products and services that are responsive to the observations that they would have made in the virtual world. What will the future hold? Larger virtual communities, and more 'life-like' experiences can be predicted for virtual worlds. In terms of business, there could be potential growth in its use but personally I think that the 'seriousness' of the virtual world would always come into question. Nevertheless, in an article titled, 'What’s Next? Your Future in Social Networking' Chuck Hamilton predicts:
"Virtual worlds are quickly becoming a powerful tool and a driving force to what many are calling the 3D Internet – one that is open, immersive, innovative, and social. We believe it will enable new or transformed applications for business and society, many of which we can’t even imagine yet."
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