Second life or virtual world is a three dimensional electronic enhanced environment where participants are able to socialize, conduct business transactions, or hold virtual meetings. Using the virtual environment, like Second Life, provides teachers with new, advanced medium for information dissemination that finds a way around the typical boundaries that associate with the traditional face-to-face and online interactions. This exclusive platform provides the traditional, online conventions, while at the same time allows for simulation of social interactions that are essential to teacher-student relations in a classroom set-up. The virtual worlds have the dramatic potential to change the way individuals interact, conduct business, and use the web sites. At a time when the Second Life becomes more pervasive, studies on this phenomenon will be essential for better understanding the three dimension spaces. The information system specialists are better positioned to provide valuable information concerning designing, managing, building, and applying complex multi-user space. Since virtual worlds will continue to fuse with the existing consumer-focused applications and corporate, there is an imperative for information system researchers to carry out research in this domain (White, 2007).
The user interacts within the virtual world, with objects and other users via a virtual presentation which is known as an avatar. The avatar can be customized to fit the user’s desired appearance; users are also able to change their environment by introducing virtual objects, operate, communicate, and collaborate in the virtual environment. The residents of the Second Life produce content and communicate through text chat and voice communication. These interactive objects are developed using a scripting language. This language is designed in a simplified way for those who are not experts in programming. This has encouraged extensive group participation allowing creativity which is the key goal of the virtual world. Therefore, it becomes a potentially innovative tool for improvement in education (Charles Wankel, 2009).
Restrictions of using the Second Life, such as technical restrictions are a factor. Owing to the high bandwidth needed by the virtual world, delays in download time are common in case of slow internet access. Though the user may have to deal with these restrictions, the benefits tend to outdo these restrictions (Guest, 2008).
Second Life and Education
Despite the variations of the Virtual World projects carried out by the businesses, educators, and research groups, there is disagreement on the educational payback of this medium. The New Media Consortium carried out a research capturing the insights of the work of 209 teachers regarding the application of the virtual world in research and education. According to the outcome of this research, approximately 62% of the participants reported, having been applying the virtual world for over six months, while 54% interacted with the virtual world on an educational basis. Among the participants who interacted with Second Life environment in such actions, it is only 45% of them who reported having participated in class on Second Life environment (Boellstorff, 2010).
The respondents on the research showed interest on the potential of the Second Life, a majority supported the integration of the Second Life into the current education courses or development of a new program that includes the Second Life. With the growing interest in application of the Second Life, in education, then there are several benefits and problems that are expected to come from the adoption of such a program in the education field. Anderson et al. (2008) carried out a research in the field of marketing and educational adaptability of the Virtual World environment.
In their report, they said that the Virtual World can be applied by the higher education institutions for the purpose of marketing, interaction with other institutes, or as an educational tool. They also highlighted that owing to the high demand of computer hardware and slow graphics; virtual world should be treated as an educational tool meant to complement but not to substitute the existing education forms. In their view, the most frequent course that applies the Second Life in the designing course, though there is no limitation that was found for the course that can apply the Second Life (Rymaszewski, 2007).
Commenting on the Second Life, Rymaszewski (2007) summarized the traits of the virtual world as: participatory, around the clock meeting place, endless possibilities for experimentations. While teachers are supposed to get ready for the new environment, there is a limitless topic that can apply the Second Life environment. The function of teachers becomes even more crucial in case of a lesson in the Second Life; teacher should be fully involved engaging the attention of the learner at every level. The Second Life has also been applied as a learning game environment, which can offer multi-user and role based experience where multiuser can collaborate and cooperate.
Rymaszewski conducted a study on the Second Life game, Dollar Bay that is fashioned to assist players acquire skills and concepts, which should be applied in a real context. They agreed that the learning game should be informative and engaging. Hodge, et al. (2006) compared the education environment between the virtual reality and non-virtual reality that vary in the levels of interactivity and activity. They noticed that the learner’s reflective thought were highly supported by a passive virtual reality condition whenever a robot was used as the additional level of intervention (Elizabeth Hodge, 2009).
The alternative learning environment, Second Life, provides a potentially neutral alternative space for learners who are not comfortable with the formal classroom set-up. Hence, providing this alternative educational environment gives flexibility to the learners in terms of their learning. De Castell (2007) suggested that the experience in avatar interaction in an immersive Second Life environment have a direct relationship to the real life challenges itself (Calhoun, 2008).
As a genre, Second Life environments are classified as the broad domain of massive multiplayer online games. Like MySpace and Facebook, the popularity of the Second Life environments is attributed to its interaction that the users experience with friends, peers, and strangers (William G. Russell, 2009).
Second Life and Business
The unique feature of the Second Life environments is that they are designed to act like a realistic economic field, which enables the participators to exchange objects that are created exclusively within the Second Life environment. Many multiuser virtual environments are designed to support commercial activities, such as buying of virtual properties within the game or via an external broker. The social and commercial activity in this environment provides unique opportunities for the participators to pursue social, economic, and real activities. Though this environment may be thought as more of a game, because of the existence of the real world consequences that are related to the fantasy undertaken through the virtual environments, the Second Life environments are more than games (Jacko, 2011).
Second Life environments have many features that make them more attractive and understandable to the users more than 2D presentation. In general, these activities are immersive environments in which users use an in-world an avatar to participate in various activities in their virtual space. The common environment is an essential feature of the Second Life that provides the basics of understanding of creation of such an engaging environment for the user (Heider, 2009).
The breath and the large scope of the virtual environment coupled with the transparency and accessibility they provide that make them attractive and interactive venues for research on economics. Furthermore, as they transform to the advanced forms that are entrenched in other systems, the influence of virtual environment in the business world will extend beyond the current spaces (Stair, 2009).
There are some barriers to the virtual world in commerce field. These cons include matters such as lack of tangible feedback and the hitches related to an attempt to attain a higher level of dependability than that provided by the current infrastructure. Nevertheless, the trust and security of the non-virtual model are also unreliable. It is until these issues of trust and security are addressed that the commerce through the Second Life will thrive. Conversely, the solution to the issue of tangible, real world and tangible feedback simulation may cause commerce in the Second Life environment to assume a path such as the web-based solution, which will lead to a new and exciting frontier for e-commerce (Belew, 2009).
The sense of security for the Second Life users is determined by the participator’s sense of control of the system, as well as the technical attributes that contribute in support of privacy and security in the communication transmission during the transaction. The component (trust and security) is the principal enablers for e-business. For traders to participate comfortably in business through the virtual world, they must have confidence in the security of transactions. One of the wanting area in the virtual world business transaction is the execution of secure transaction between the server and server’s systems. There is a substantial need to look into the incorporation of security protocols in the Second Life. This will ensure secured transactions in the virtual world environment that will eventually win the confidence of the users (Ludlow, 2007).
Once the security hurdle is overcome, the next obstacle in the Second Life business transactions would be the establishment of a systematic trustworthy in transactions. The complexity of establishing trust is in the salient traits of trustworthiness. Trust is a product of time; it is only established through consistent affirmative experience with the entity. The other characteristic of trust is that one negative experience with an entity such virtual world leads to devastating consequences. Such negative experience in a Second Life environment will result in unfair criticism of the failed system at high speeds (Ludlow, 2007).
Searching and buying a product on the virtual world can be a frustrating experience for the customers. According to Johnson, approximately 80% of the virtual world traders have at some point left the site without getting what they wanted, this has resulted to a poor user’s experience. Within the Second Life, it is said that e-commerce experience is made personal. In a virtual world business center operated by IBM, the Second Life environment provides an environment that is staffed with caretakers. The purpose of the assistants is to help consumers, not specifically to enable them to make commerce transactions but mostly to find the information of their interest. Many virtual world islands are empty, making the users leave the experience. There is a popular virtual environment that is never utilized, the main reason being that of inherent limitation of the virtual world grid, which allows each user of the grid a small size of avatars at any given time (Johnson, 2010).
There is a lack of proper scaling of the virtual world, in a scaled Second Life environment; consumers are more likely to appreciate recommendations from participators they know and whom they have trusted rather than believing an automated system that they do not share with their feelings. Social network sites are controlling a large traffic of retail sites. The sites are becoming the starting point for the prospective users of the virtual world environment, who are interested in e-commerce. Therefore, incorporating such social interactions within the Second Life environment will improve e-commerce transactions.
The trust and security hurdles of the Second Life are overcome; the next hurdle would be the possible ways of exploiting the 3D internet experience to further e-business. In 2D internet experience, the participators are restricted in the ability to view a 2D image. Therefore, in 3D world, if the shopper is restricted to 3D representation of the image, then there is little need for the customer to take part in a business transaction. There should be additional stimuli that would pursue user to prefer 3D to 2D representation into making a purchasing decision.
When absorbed in Second Life, the user expects to interact in more realistic manner. An example is in the case of sound; it should appear to varnish with distance. Researchers have proved that by being able to touch virtual objects physically; touch sense can make the Second Life more realistic. According to a survey that carried out by Hoffman, he concluded that when mixed reality memory becomes similar to the real memory, individuals are more likely to perplex virtual and real object. Consumer should be able to spin a 3D object around to observe it from all dimensions. The user may be able to simulate the view applying HUD, however, without its presence and tactile connection to the real product, the imitation does not satisfy the standards of the real-world experience (Heider, 2009).
While there are incredible opportunities to enhance the e-commerce experience using the Second Life environment, business cannot thrive until consumers and servers can have a secure environment to operate. Business must be established to win the trust of consumers. Once the issue of trust is taken care of, the next improvement that is needed is the exploration of a better way to exploit the Second Life is ways that are applicable to the user. Having a view of an object in 3D is compelling, but there is a need to include other senses as well. This will drive to an immersive, cost effective e-commerce experience.