There are many different kinds of virtual worlds and potentially many different things to do in them. Some are better than others at nudging you along to become productive in them. By “productive” I don’t just mean getting business work done. If you are there to complete quests, as in online games, how much are you directed toward the goals? If you are there to socialize, how easy is it to find and then get to know people? If you are there to work, what does that even mean and how do you get it done?
When I get into a virtual world, I find that the one of the worst questions I can ask myself is nothing more than “now what?”. If I can’t think of anything to do, I leave. If I can’t do anything there that’s better than what I can do on the phone, I leave. If I find myself mindlessly repeating what I did six months ago, then I do it a bit longer, and I leave.
Am I doing the right thing in the virtual world at the right time? Is this entertainment or is it work? Do I need to connect with people and are they available in the same virtual world? Are the people with whom I’m interacting wasting my time? Am I wasting theirs? Can I make measurable progress toward meeting some goal?
I think that even in a business context there has to be a notion of exploration and you can’t feel like you’re doing it alone. How is having a meeting in a virtual world better than a conference call? What cool technology adds to the experience vs. just being distracted?
I’m not convinced, for example, that leading a meeting or giving a talk in a virtual world is really effective unless you can translate real hand and arm gestures into avatar movement. While I’m at it, give me a way to transmit real and timely facial expressions to my inworld persona. Without these, I’m afraid people just look elsewhere and eventually get distracted.