NEW: Wiz Nordberg

The shooting match last week between Dell and HP shows what a challenge Second Life and virtual worlds are for marketers.

The post-network economy

The past two weeks have been hectic, as the launch of the new Second Life Cable Network (SLCN.TV) has been all-consuming. Visit the site and see what we’ve been doing.

Now things have settled down, I’ve had a chance to catch up on my reading. Within the past few days, the research house Gartner has appeared in the news saying that 80% of web users will have some kind of “virtual second life” by the year 2011. To many business people, this may seem like wild speculation, especially in light of the me-too contest and virtual mud-slinging by many precocious corporates.

For an entertaining example, take a look at last week’s article in The Age about the shooting match between HP and Dell over Second Life. To Gartner’s credit, their actual press release is less sensational than many press reports, and loaded with useful facts and advice from the recent Gartner Symposium. Reading it, it is easy to see what is wrong with current corporate activities, and even Gartner advises strongly against jumping in too quickly, as many corporates are now doing.

One important question is how to reconcile the “80%” prediction with your marketing strategy. If virtual worlds are to be so vitally important then the obvious questions are: What to do? How to plan?

This is where it gets heavy. Before going off on some planning binge, it’s important to understand what’s happening in the post-network economy. This can be heady stuff, but if you are interested in economic theory, there is plenty of background on just why Gartner may be right on all counts.

If you read anything by Umair Haque, then you’ll know that the title of this post is a contradiction. Umair is a brilliant new-age economist who coined such important new terms as “edge competencies” and “micro-chunking”. His website,, is riddled with new terminology, and the brash assumption that the world of economics is changing radically.

For example, he says that in a world where content is a commodity, attention becomes the scarce resource. So, selling attention is where the money is. In a world where strategy is a commodity, creativity is the scarce resource. So relying on strategists is a thing of the past. Reading Umair’s posts feels similar at times to “curling up by the fire with a good calculus textbook”, but the insights he can bring to the changing network economy will shed light on just why virtual worlds and Second Life are so vital to the way the new economy works.

It may take a while to put together the pieces, but let me help out. First, the most effective online marketing empowers the customer as a participant rather than a “receiver of marketing information”. Sites such as Google, Myspace and YouTube are proving it. Empowering individuals increases the need for peer-to-peer communities. All online marketing is headed this way. Communities are about genuine human contact. Virtual worlds (and Second Life in particular) solve the problem of human contact in a more profound and effective way than has ever been possible before. So, in short, Second Life may well be the best example of how to empower communities so far and thus engage the new market machinery.

I don’t claim I’ve figured it all out. But there is a consistent thread of logic and common sense when you really look at the underlying causes that are making virtual worlds such a hot topic today. Don’t sit around relying on what you’ve learned thus far. There is a whole new world to figure out, and it’s happening right now.

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