With new software for mobile phones, citizens of the burgeoning online universe Second Life will never have to leave their cozy virtual world, even when they’re away from their computers. The new software is a program that lets cellular users with Java-based, Internet-capable phones log in to Second Life remotely, see who else is “in-world,” and communicate with them via text messaging.
Comverse, the wireless multimedia networking company that developed the software, demonstrated it this week for wireless carriers at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona, Spain. Attendees using Comverse’s phones could see and manipulate avatars who appeared in Comverse’s virtual 3GSM booth inside Second Life. Using simple commands, they could direct the avatar to walk around the booth, identify other avatars, and send them greetings via SMS, MMS, or instant messaging. And in a twist typical of today’s virtual environments, people logged in to Second Life over traditional PC connections could walk into the virtual Comverse booth and pick up virtual phones that connected them directly to fellow members logged in from their real phones at the real booth.
Comverse also demonstrated software that connects users to Second Life from any platform that allows an Internet Protocol (IP) video connection, such as an advanced TV set-top box.
Second Life is home to 3.5 million users, at least 10 percent of whom log on regularly. Launched in 2003 by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, the 3-D world is growing so quickly–in both population and virtual acreage–that it’s being called “the next MySpace.” Marketers sensing an opportunity to reach Second Life users, 87 percent of whom are in the critical 18-to 44-year-old demographic, are rushing to create virtual billboards, information booths, corporate headquarters, and private by-invitation-only islands with media and conference facilities. (In a recent survey by the American Advertising Federation, marketing directors said that the spread of advertisements on Second Life for real-world companies and services was the most surprising marketing trend of 2006.)
To reach Second Life, users have hitherto needed a cable or DSL broadband Internet connection and a laptop or desktop PC with 512 megabytes of system memory and a recently manufactured graphics card. Second Life software for cell phones and IPTV devices could not only allow thousands of members to track the world’s virtual goings-on remotely, but it could also open up possibilities for those who don’t always have access to a PC that meets Second Life’s stiff technical requirements.
“We’re unleashing the virtual world from the PC and allowing it to be available on any terminal–that’s the benefit for the end user,” says Daphna Steinmetz, chief technology officer at Comverse’s Innovation Labs, in Tel Aviv, Israel.