I wish I had (a) Second Life

Note: This blog post also ran in the Society of Professional Journalism’s “Journalism and the World” blog. Click here to see the original post.

I’m writing an article this week about Saxo Bank opening a brokerage service in Second Life, an online three-dimensional virtual reality.

Everyday, the place is turning into an ever more functional and more complete world.

You can make money there — plenty of people have quit their full-time jobs to do stuff in Second Life, and at least one person is making more than $100,000 a year (yes, that’s in real money). You can be a real estate developer, an architect, a clothing designer, a bar owner, a stripper…

There are newspapers and magazines in Second Life. Reuters has a full time reporter covering the world.

I wish I could be in Second Life. I would have an large, spacious office overlooking a beautiful, panoramic natural view. All of my employees would have separate offices, with doors that close. Each one with a view. If we’re online and not too busy, we’d leave our doors open so we can socialize with each other.

I would interview new job applicants here. If someone showed up naked or as a gorilla, they’d be right out. You see, in Second Life, you can change your outward appearance with the touch of a button (or a few buttons), and for less than a penny. So there’s no reason to look like a gorilla in a job interview, even if you do look like one in real life.

As more companies moved into Second Life, I will be able to do more interviews here. Finally, I’ll be able to talk to people face to face again, instead of just over the phone or (worse yet) by email. Well, virtual face to virtual face.

Unfortunately, my Internet connection here in Shanghai is way too slow for the high bandwidth that Second Life requires. Moving through a virtual world is data-intensive. All those rich graphics, three-dimensional environments, tree branches gently swaying in the wind, a light haze drifting up from the still pools of water… Second Life has a very, very realistic physics engine and landscape.

Today, about half of my employees work in the office and half work remotely. (Some also split their time between the office and their other locations — home? Internet cafe? bar? I don’t ask, as long as the work gets done.)

People like working in the office because of the companionship, because its easier to ask someone for help, and its easier to collaborate on projects.

If Second Life can offer all of this, then maybe we can eliminate the two-hour round-trip commute that some of my employees have. That would help the environment and help their personal lives.

Also, in a few years, I plan to return to the States. Being able to log into a virtual office would significantly cut down on the number of plane trips I would have to take back to China while allowing me to continue to be a hands-on manager for my staff.

I hope that, by then, the Chinese Internet Gods would have improved connection speeds. At least in Shanghai.

Signing off,