Why has Telstra set up a residential waterway estate in Second Life? Why is it losing money on the lots? Should I stop asking questions and just enjoy the view?
This past weekend, I decided to become a member of Telstra’s Second Life residential community. I am now the proud occupant of “Pondschen 24”, a small, scenic lot on a pleasant waterway. It costs me about $A3.50 per week, and is one of 75 small lots released by Telstra for rental to applicants who wish to “hang out, meet friends, or even run a business”.
Telstra’s initiative to lease out space on three of their islands (“sims”) started with a Trading Post auction on July 26. According to Telstra’s media release, this initiative was the result of “‘in world’ consumer demand to take control of a part of the landscape”. This resulted in over 90% occupancy. However, when I arrived last Friday, there were still seven or eight plots left of the 75 offered. So, if there is demand, it surely isn’t staggering. A more likely explanation is that this is Telstra’s attempt to emulate the successes of companies like Pontiac with their Motorati Islands. Such “community built” environments create true user engagement, and are as appealing to visitors as they are to residents.
But, at this point, Telstra’s “secret plan” is still not too obvious.
On the plus side, the residential area is indeed pleasant and liveable from a “Second Life” point of view. An even bigger plus is that the community of residents appears quite active. There are always people gathering, and I have met some neighbours who seem convinced that living on “The Pond” will be an enjoyable social experience. Like many residential communities in Second Life, there is a “covenant” that defines some limits on your ability to create eyesores and tries to encourage a consistent aesthetic. As a result, the property is already brimming with pleasant architecture, small homes, and even a small, resident-built hotel. Nearby, Telstra has a lot of activities such as Paintball, the “MotoSL” speedway, and one of the more popular gathering places in Second Life, the “Billabong Bar”.
But, after you sit and enjoy the view you begin to wonder why a company like Telstra, with millions of internet customers, would offer a “product” to only 75 lucky Australians. Moreover, unlike Pontiac, Telstra did not attempt to attract people with community or business ideas, but simply any resident. I did not have to submit a proposal indicating what I was going to accomplish, unlike those at Motorati. While the price of my property is quite competitive in Second Life terms, keep in mind that the three “sims” that contain these 75 properties cost Telstra about $A1200 a month. So, even Telstra isn’t making money on this one.
Despite the questions, I think it’s a positive move for Telstra. It remains to be seen what kind of “customer benefit” this may have to Telstra’s subscribers. But, the Pond appears to be moving in the right direction, creating a microcosm of virtual life for a very, very limited number of Australians. I’ll reserve judgement for a few months just to see where this goes. There may be hope for Telstra yet.
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