Virtual World Purposeful Architecture

This section provides a rudimentary taxonomy of how people can use, and are using, virtual spaces. The terms “manner of use” and “focus of use” form a high-level category differentiation between the ways the technology is used (manner) and the purpose of use, or what it is being used for (focus).

Manner of use: Manner of use speaks to the way people are using the virtual world technology. The fundamental distinction in manner of use is between animated and non-animated uses. Non-animated usage is about artifacts and objects, whereas animated usage involves activities and behavior.

–Non-animated (artifactual) There are some beautiful artifacts being produced by people using virtual worlds (e.g. archaeological replicas of ancient Rome, etc.). A three-dimensional matrix can be constructed along the following dimensions, which helps to analyze the basic dimensions of what VW artifacts represent:

Utilitarian objects or aesthetic creations

Past, present or future objects as illustrative of history or projection and prediction

Real world renderings or fanciful creations

–Animated The animated dimension of virtual worlds includes all types of human activity as represented or conveyed through the VW medium. This is interesting to people who are focused on performance. These people are often thinking of doing collaborative work in virtual spaces

Simulation of activities under programmed or robotic control

Person-driven performance, in the sense that the activity is based on avatars being controlled in real time by various people. A performance may be done for an audience, and has constrained collaboration.

Collaboration among people who are working together toward a common goal. This can take the form of:
•    Simple meetings or conferences where the collaboration is primarily communication of information
•    Joint development, where people meet in a virtual space to create intellectual content

Focus of use: The focus of use tries to articulate what enterprises are using VW for, in the sense of support for business or other purposes.
–Mode of engagement
•    Enterprise that uses VW– Virtual worlds are used in conjunction with other activities. IBM’s promotion of Sam Palmisano’s announcement from Beijing was an example of using VW in the course of conducting business, but not actually conducting business within the virtual space.
•    Enterprise that is within VW– The virtual world is the place to conduct business. IBM has experimented with a virtual Business Center in public Second Life. This has provided experience with conducting business in a virtual space, with real employees available through avatars.
•    Enterprise that is about VW– This occurs when virtual space itself is the business opportunity. An example is IBM’s business relationship with Hoplon Infotainment to provide mainframe servers to run their gaming engine. In cases like this the business opportunity is about VW technology and supplying the technology is the opportunity.

–Issues addressed – This list is probably not inclusive, but indicates some of the kinds of business opportunities people are pursuing using virtual spaces
•    Technology – Hardware, software, and hosting for VW. This is an obvious opportunity for ICT companies to supply hardware, software, connectivity, and hosting for virtual worlds
•    Physical world simulations – Power plants, refineries, etc. This tends to be both artifactual and active, but not social in the sense of people communicating within virtual spaces
•    Marketing -- A lot of companies are using virtual spaces for a kind of coolness factor. This can include branding, both in the sense of displays of marketing material and interactive events, such as live music in Second Life.
•    Market research - There is also the expectation that because virtual worlds can track avatar movements and attention that virtual spaces can be used for interesting forms of market research
•    Product sales – This is about using a virtual world as channel for real-world products. Some people think virtual spaces may become a strong channel for real-world product sales, but so far that potential has not been realized to any great extent.
•    Services seem to provide about the best opportunity for enterprises to use virtual spaces, since they are intrinsically about people doing things together.
•    Public services by jurisdictions, non-profit, NGOs
•    Business services, such as accounting, law, consulting, and technical services
•    Personal services, including medical, fashion, personal shopping
•    Education – Academic institutions and corporate education
•    Travel-cost offset –This is starting to gain a high profile as more and more people experience meetings and conferences in-world, and realize companies can save a lot of money by reducing both commuting and long-distance travel costs.

These specific business purposes crosscut the other dimensions of this taxonomy. In other words, we could look inside any business using virtual space, and potentially see examples of various aspects of the focus and manner of use as described above. Based on the specific business functions being supported, there may be an emphasis on activity over artifact or vice versa. These all become design decisions on the part of business architects of these various enterprises.