Virtual World Business And Development Information

Coldwell Banker In Second Life

Posted by SIM on April 6, 2007

BY Sherrilynne Starkie
6 April 2007

THEY say investing in property is like putting money in the bank, writes Sherilynne Starkie.
Does this still hold true when the real estate isn’t land, bricks and mortar but is little more than a few pixels in a virtual world?

One of America’s largest estate agents, Coldwell Banker, is setting up in Second Life, an online virtual world where millions of people get together to socialise and conduct business, with the aim of selling virtual properties.

I can’t say that I’ve met too many estate agents that can write code or spend the necessary hours online to be a bona fide internet geek, but I guess the brand association works.
Instead of buying its own island, the company has invested in a large number of properties on the mainland.

It has ‘developed’ these properties with houses and apartments with a view to selling them on or renting them out.

This isn’t just some online game. Coldwell Banker is a real company that operates in 45 countries and employs more than 120,000 estate agents.

Its Second Life development involves real money changing hands. Although they don’t see the venture as inherently profitable, the company’s executives see this as a way to provide real value and engage with customers.

Apparently Second Life is a bit of a wild west with a lot of cowboy entrepreneurs flogging this and that.

And so, it’s hoped a ‘known’ brand like Coldwell Banker will bring order to the real estate market and will be welcomed by enthusiasts.

Real staff members will provide information about both Second Life and real world properties by operating the company’s avatars.

Visitors to their virtual office will be flown by virtual helicopter to view properties. Coldwell Banker has designed and built houses that will sell for about US$ 20 but buyers will not be allowed to alter them after the purchase.

The estate agent is the latest in a long line of global brands that have set up in Second Life.

Adidas, Nissan, Reebok, Sony, Reuters are already there. Each ‘lives’ in Second Life in its own way.

Some showcase real world wares, others have virtual conferences and client meetings.

There are cinemas, theatres and other entertainment complexes. Or your avatar can sit in Reuter’s atrium and catch up on real world news.

But before you go headlong into Second Life to build a virtual business, you need to have a thorough understanding of the world online communities. Putting all the cool technology to one side, Second Life is essentially a community with a culture of its own.

Linden Labs the company behind Second Life advises people in the corporate world to proceed with caution. Companies need to think about what they can offer the community and think long-term about how they want to interact if they want to be successful, they say.

A presence in Second Life might help a company raise its profile with new consumers, but if that is the main objective, it is probably not worth the effort, unless you are Ann Summers. According to Fortune magazine, most Second Lifers join to hang out in the virtual sex clubs.

But if you think of it as another way to build relationships with your company’s stakeholders — customers, shareholders, employees etc — it can be powerful. Invite people to join in creating the experience; build connections to real world websites and other social media, and you just might strengthen your business.

That said, Gartner recently predicted that Second Life hype was about to peak and there would be a considerable fall-off in interest. But Reuters has quoted analyst Steve Prentice as saying that the technologies inside Second Life are well established and once the predicted backlash has run its course, there will remain a solid and sizable group of Second Lifers.


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