What does Second Life success look like for non-profits?

December 21st, 2006

Continuing my Second Life thread, Kathryn Parsons at Ogilvy has tipped me off that “LittleToe Bartlett’s” Two-Headed Yak (pictured) has been selected as the winner from last Saturday’s “Yak Show” (see my earlier post).

LittleToe Bartlett's Two Headed YakDavid Thompson of World Vision also got in touch with me this week. The relief and development charity has now joined SCF in Second Life.

Second Life ‘inhabitants’ can see and interact with some of the gifts in World Vision’s Alternative Catalogue, which this year supports 53 of the charity’s community projects around the world.

These include a school building with classroom desk, chair, books and pens, and a tractor (for hire) pledged to a bridge construction project over the River Thondwe in Malawi. You can milk a cow destined for Kenya, pat a sheep needed by a community in Senegal, and even sit in a toilet latrine, required to improve hygiene facilities in a school in real-world Armenia.

Clicking on these items, or the sign boards next to the gifts in the ‘village’, will display more information and take you to the charity’s catalogue online.

Hire a Construction Tractor - World Vision in Second LifeJason Suttie of London-based Copper Industries is working with World Vision on this one. He hinted to me that while there is definitely an interest in Second Life among charities, the “uncertainty and newness” is a barrier to many actually making a commitment.

I guess we’re at the “proof of concept” stage. Second Life may take your charity to infinity and beyond. Then again, it may not.

Last week Allan Benamer wrote a curmudgeonly post (not my words, but one of the commenters) giving some reasons why Second Life “is a waste of time for not-for-profits”.

Well, that may be so. It’s simply too early to tell.

I recall a recent post by Mark Chillingworth; he describes Geoffrey Bilder as saying Web 2.0 is “the edge is the new centre… with content being generated around the edges.”

And there’s much to be said for this assessment:

Bilder describes the deployment of tech as having to pass through processes that includes a hype, failure and then re-emergence phase. The trouble with this, he says, is that we focus on one instance of a technology during the hype time.

I’m still not sure what to make of cause-related avatars myself. For instance, I have particular concerns about their sustainability. I (just about) remember the hype surrounding VRML2.0 after attending a couple of meetings of the London VR Group ten years ago.   At the moment (and I may change my view) I identify with Susan Wu’s comments about Second Life:

Second Life is interesting to me – I truly respect the service, but I don’t love it. That is, I have a lot of intellectual respect for the way they’ve run their business – they’ve been bold, innovative, and relentlessly experimental. But the service doesn’t grab me emotionally. I also think that their high technical barriers to participation and the fact that SL is a closed standards system ultimately deters them from reaching mass market adoption. Yes, they get a lot of publicity and their logins are growing at a fast clip – but I suspect there is a significant amount of churn. I spend a lot of time in the area of virtual worlds – because I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here.

So, the first wave of trailblazing charities have taken the plunge. The majority watch and wait. But what are we waiting for exactly? What will ‘success’ look like? How will we measure it? The number of clickthroughs to the charity website? Number of gifts purchased?

Hmm… we’re back again to the conundrum of how to measure ‘engagement’, something I’ll return to in a future post.

Technorati cause-related avatars, net2, nptech, second life, world vision, yak shack

Save the Children offers yak a Second Life

December 5th, 2006

Owen Gibson writes in The Guardian that Save the Children today becomes the first UK charity to participate in Second Life, a virtual world accessible over the web via software installed on your computer.

Having ‘sold out’ of yaks for a programme designed to provide the animals for Tibetan families, Save the Children has turned to Second Life in an attempt to raise more money and awareness.

From today, participants in Second Life will be able to travel to its “Yak Shack” and pay 1,000 Linden dollars (the game currency, named after the company that conceived it) for their own pixillated yak.

The money is then transferred into a Save the Children account at the current exchange rate of US$3.50 to 1,000 Linden dollars.

Save the Children's Yak Shack in Second LifeIf you think this reads like a shaggy-dog hairy-yak-story, then think again; a recent survey conducted by the US-based Center for the Digital Future suggested that for many people, online or virtual communities are as important as their real-world counterparts. The results of the survey were released last week and reported by the BBC.

Another study identified that the way we behave physically in real life is mirrored in a virtual environment. So, your virtual self can feel just as strongly about causes as the real you. But would you ‘connect’ with a cause, or organisation in the same way? The jury’s still out for me.

The Yak Shack concept was created by Ogilvy Advertising and works well as an extension of the charity’s “Wish List” virtual gift catalogue.

Ogilvy’s Kathryn Parsons traces her interest in Second Life back to the Picnic06 conference where she heard Philip Rosedale (the Founder of Linden Labs) make a specific reference to Second Life’s potential as a fundraising community. (A report of Philip’s talk is worth a read in itself.)

The agency was already working with SCF and Kathryn told me the connection with ‘virtual gifting’ seemed to good a creative opportunity to miss. Of course, using Second Life as a platform to fundraise will also enable SCF to connect with an audience usually considered difficult to reach.

Kathryn added that “it was important for us to create something which both respected the charity and also the ‘residents’ of Second Life”.

So, during the build, Kathryn worked closely with the Second Life community (seeking advice from Linden Labs, “in-world” avatars, and from Aimee Weber).

“We wanted to make sure we created an experience which is valued by the community and which will eventually become a fundraising success,” she said.

SCF is following the lead of US charities that have recently begun to take advantage of Second Life’s popularity and booming virtual economy. Aimee Weber also contributed to a sponsored virtual ‘walk’, which raised $40,000 for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

If your interest has been piqued, Beth Kanter writes frequently and passionately about this stuff, which has coined terms such as ‘avatar marketing’. Beth has also posted links to Second Life resources and discussions aimed at not-for-profits.

Aimee kindly offered to give me “a teleport and a tour” of the Yak Shack, but I had to decline (I don’t yet have an account!). However, I’m still keen to monitor how successful the Yak Shack proves to be for SCF.

Apparently, yaks and their new owners can return to the ‘Shack’ on 16 December to show off their individually customised yaks (woolly jumpers, etc.) for the chance to win an interview in a Second Life magazine.

If you’re a Second Lifer, dig deep into your virtual pockets.

Technorati aimee weber, avatars, net2, save the children, second life, yak shack