Last Thursday I was at a press event for BT, at which the venerable telecommunications giant was showing off a myriad of new and some not so new technologies. Among the shiny VoIP phones, demonstrations of BT Vision and, bizarrely, mountains of fake snow there was one rather intriguing new technology that was being given its debut showing. Working in conjunction with the chaps over at Linden Labs, BT has been developing a number of extensions to the functionality of, believe it or not, Second Life.
If you're not familiar with Second Life I highly recommend you take a look at Spode's experiences with it in this article. It is essentially a 3D virtual environment in which you can wander around and chat to people - a virtual IM service, if you will. Your little 3D character, or avatar, can explore the wonders of the virtual world, go to virtual pubs and clubs to have a chat and a boogy, play a round of virtual golf, or, if you feel so inclined, go to work to sit at a virtual desk. Pretty much anything and everything in this fantasy world can be created or manipulated for your own needs so you can create your own online paradise. According to the hallowed pages of Wikipedia, there are to date over 8.5 million registered characters on Second Life and so influential has the service become that big name corporations have started setting up shop inside to take advantage of the huge marketing potential it offers.
So it is that BT has been swept off its feet by the huge wave of gushing enthusiasm and started developing what it calls Area 21, an invitation only island within Second Life where prototypes of real world to virtual world communication technologies have been setup.
The vision is to build upon the existing computer bound communications available within Second Life and add the ability to communicate using 'real world' technologies like SMS and mobile phone voice calls. So, if you're wandering around Second Life and you see a big brand pizza take away you can walk up to the virtual shop front and with a couple of clicks the software will work out from the position of your mobile phone which is the nearest outlet for your pizza place of choice and will dial that number for you. So, you'll never again need to rummage through all those restaurant flyers to find their number.