There's been a lot of talk about how SL has balooned recently, with the massive influx of new users & the huge numbers of major RL organisations setting up islands etc. For myself, it has been interesting to observe how the expectation of SL, and it's use has moved on in the last 5 months or so.
When I first arrived in SL around September last year, the expectation was all around collaborative working; meeting rooms; 3D representations and the like. I was keen to find the new "killer app" and "wow factor" of this new 3D environment.
On exporing SL a bit more, I found myself chatting to librarians and teachers; still searching for wasy to exploit the environment in a commercial sense.
Taking a critical look at commercial builds within SL has revealed that the marketeer's approach to SL has matured, in that it is now recognised that simply putting up a building in SL with static posters advertising the latest widgets is not actually very impressive, and in fact, reveals an ignorance of the techniques needed to fully exploit SL as a marketing meduim.
As a communications medium,. however, SL has continued to impress. I've already discussed how having a 3D world and an avatar lead to easier communications than simple instant messaging or chat rooms. Now that more major organisations are creating active presences in SL, the benefit of being able to speak directly to decision makers and influencers is becoming apparent. Perhaps it is because of the novelty of SL that it is attracting interest from senior figures within organisations. Or, perhaps it is just that the influencers are the ones pushing for a SL presence, and so are going in world to check on their investment. Either way, it is now commonplace to find oneself chatting to key figures from organisations within SL. This level of contact is not normally possible in RL - thanks to the protective ranks of PAs and secretaries which surround people of power and influence. The communication is down at the level ofsimple chat (for introductions) followed, perhaps, by instant messages (once an initial contact has been made) i.e. nothing complicated or exotic!
So, in fact, one key benefit from SL is that it has become a sort of "my space" or "MSN Chatroom" for establishing communications with senior executives and decision makers!
But then again, as noted above, there is something more in the way that communications work within SL. The benefits and issues are disucssed rather well in this article from the Busines Communicators of Second Life blog.