Sex, Lies, and Reality

proximity-logo.jpgThis is the actual title of a white paper released by Proximity London, a well-known creative marketing agency in the UK. Last September, they have concluded a research on virtual worlds, and the purpose of their lead in-house researcher, John Urpeth, was to dispel the myths spread around by the media about virtual worlds.

I came across John Urpeth’s paper, presented on a conference where Justin Bovington a.k.a. fizik Baskerville, CEO of Rivers Run Red, Britain’s (and probably Europe’s) largest Metaverse Development Company, also was a speaker. Sadly, this conference seemed to have been totally ignored by the media; I just happened across the actual paper presented by Urpeth today, through a marketing & advertising feed that I subscribe (and often ignore!).

Urpeth’s conclusions about a series of interviews (around 4000 or so) are definitely interesting, even if they might not be very surprising for anyone who has been in Second Life for several months. He starts by stating that Web 2.0, and more specifically virtual worlds, will be the next challenge for media agencies, since it’s a new media that they have to become familiar with. And what a new media it is! The CEO of Proximity Portugal claims that most communication will be online (as opposed on paper print, TV, phones, etc.) and thus media agencies cannot fall behind and have to catch up quickly with the newest communication trends.

The buzzwords of this new “place” where we communicate are known by all Second Life veterans: community, collaboration and co-operation. These are the very essence of what millions of users do in Second Life everyday, often without thinking twice about it. The key difference is that “nobody owns the virtual world” (in the sense that industry groups “own” the real life media, and thus a media agency’s approach is quite different there) — it’s a virtual space that is collectively owned since all of us are content providers and consumers. We’re used to the same notions on the Web 2.0 environment, so what’s the difference from that and virtual worlds like Second Life?

The way the article(s) talk about the issue, the difference is not really on the virtual world itself, but how the mainstream perceives the virtual world. Maria João Lima, writing for the online Portuguese magazine “Meios & Publicidade“, expands on this point: the media is still attached to fabricated myths and stereotypes that label and tag virtual worlds as the place where freaks and borderlines spend their time because they’ve got no other thing to do. This image is still very strong and sells newspapers. However, media agencies are here to help brands and their corporations to sell their own services and goods, and they have to follow their customers — and these are communicating inside virtual worlds. It’s time to dispel the myths, look at what really happens in virtual worlds, and exploit this medium for better communication with the customers.

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