Virtual Search Really Vexing

Second Lifers are having trouble finding what they're looking for.
Author:
Publish date:

Companies making introductions in Second Life are becoming frustrated with its search function, which is preventing residents from finding virtual-world entities of real-life businesses.

Second Life, the massive multiplayer online world, allows users to log on through the Internet and create 3-D computer-generated identities. These avatars are then free to explore the world that San Francisco-based Linden Lab has synthetically created.

Among the program's many features, residents are able to pull up a search feature to seek out events, destinations or other avatars. Some, however, are unimpressed with the function, believing it is limiting users in a limitless world.

"Searching is just not very good," says Reuben Steiger, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Millions of Us. "It will get to where it should someday, but it's not very good right now."

Millions of Us specializes in bringing real brands into the virtual world. Its client roster includes

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

,

CNET Networks

(CNET) - Get Report

,

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

and

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

.

Steiger founded the company along with president Christian Lassonde. Prior to founding Millions of Us, Steiger was employed at Linden Lab and was responsible for business-development efforts. Lassonde also worked at Linden Lab as director of product management. Both have an intricate knowledge of the Second Life world, which makes Steiger's criticism of the search function notable.

During a recent virtual town hall meeting, Linden Lab CEO Phillip Rosedale acknowledged shortcomings with the search function, vowing improvements.

"Broadly searching is something we are focusing on, limited by our personnel," Rosedale said. "I think people leave Second Life because they are unable to find things personally interesting."

Last Thursday, Steiger and

Popular Science

editor in Chief Mark Jannot unveiled the

Popular Science Future Lounge in Second Life. But without knowing it was located on the Millions of Us private island, residents' searches will come up fruitless.

"The chaos of Second Life is part of the charm, but it can lead to difficulties," says Steiger. "The way most people find things is word of mouth and recommendations."

Users that have found the Future Lounge have seen the destination's ability to showcase many of the technologies featured in the magazine's pages.

Popular Science

is integrating multimedia features into its Second Life destination. Interactive screens are positioned in every hallway, allowing visitors to peruse articles from the company's Web site. In addition, prototypes and concepts are able to be virtually fabricated, even if they don't exist in the real world.

"We were primarily interested in Second Life as a way to get ourselves into this new cutting-edge element of the Internet," says Megan Miller, editor of PopSci.com. "We think it's going to really grow and increase our ability to build a community."

As the first featured gadget at the Future Lounge,

Nokia's

(NOK) - Get Report

770 Internet tablet was put on display for PopSci's launch party. The company gave away a virtual version to the first 100 avatars to arrive at the party.

Wandering visitors can explore the entire territory, which also features the virtual homes of CNET Networks and

Wired

magazine. Steiger says that having these two, as well as

Popular Science

, on the same island is a benefit.

"We noticed that a lot of people were coming to one area and stumbling into another," says Steiger. "It's one of the big drivers for creating these neighborhoods."

"We like the idea of being in the same sort of space as these technology leaders," says Miller. "It'll draw the same sorts of users. We don't feel we're competing. We're drawing on the same audience."

Steiger says that the example of the Millions of Us private island exhibits the real need for a virtual-world equivalent of

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

. Instead of waiting for this to come along, Steiger is putting together his own version.

"Over the next few months, we're going to turn the islands surrounding us into specific islands," said Steiger. "We're going to designate each one to a thematic subject area, like film, style, science and politics."

Steiger's intention is for residents to explore a variety of subject areas and create communities to back each theme. However, he's seeking to create a one-stop destination in which users will be able to jump from island to island to see what else is offered.

"Each island will be cross-pollinated with the others," Steiger asserts. "It's what Second Life really needs."

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.