Webanalytics and Second Life

The other day I interviewed my friend Marshall Sponder about Web analytics [and virtual worlds]. Marshall is a long-time practitioner and outstanding "Webmetricsguru". He works for IBM and currently runs for a seat on the Webanalytics Association board.

Webanalyticsbook: What do you think are the most important "virtual worlds"?

Marshall: The ones I came in contact with this week, while at the 3D Virtual
Worlds conference are

a) Second Life (see Second Life overall Metrics through January 2007 and In two years Second Life to be as large as the entire gaming community today)

b)EntropiaUniverse (see Interview with John K. Bates of EntropiaUniverse.com)

c)There.com

But there are several others. Right now Second life is about 10 times more populated than Entropia and growing very quickly. In fact, at the end of last year I predicted Second Life would reach a population of 7million by year end and I'm told they are at 5 million avatars today.

Webanalyticsbook: What do you think about the rumors that Google will launch it's own virtual world (based on Google Earth)?

Marshall: I think Google will do it, and, as you mentioned, build on maps of real cities. One thing Google would have going for it, in this case, is a map of the world that matches the real world because people need to broaden their activities to include virtual worlds and Google Earth's interface might make that easier.

Also, Google may be able to solve the metrics issue by piping data into Google Analytics for virtual worlds thus built.

Besides, today, building anything in Second Life is a bit of
work....Google, will, of course, via Sketch-up, make the whole process easier.

Webanalyticsbook: How do you think will Second Life influence Online marketing and web analytics?

Marshall: I think Second Life will help define Engagement Metrics. I did a Second Life Metrics Interview with Ben James of Rivers Run Red, a SL development firm, about the motivational reasons why people come to Second Life, but the same analysis can be applied to "2D" websites too.

Buzz measurement activities will also go both ways, with SL activities outside SL, but about it, can be measured and Vice Versa.

Webanalyticsbook: Will we see new KPI's for virtual worlds?

Marshall: Yes, that makes sense as most of the KPI's we have now are based on a "2D" perception of the web while what we are moving to is a "3D" view of the web and our activities on it.

Webanalyticsbook: Not sure if you are allowed to talk about it, but does IBM
(Marshall's employer) have concrete plans to market their products in Second Life?

Marshall: Yes, we already have stores setup for IBM and Sears in Second Life, Circuit City and several Research Labs in SL, but more is coming soon and I am directly involved with one of those new projects and will provide the "metrics" for it. In fact IBM give birth to 'Second Life' business group and I'm interfacing with some elements of it (and hope to one day provide metrics directly to it - hopefully directly to the IBM CEO and top level management ...what would be a wish of mine - and that is beginning to happen).
I spoke to some of my fellow Ibmers at the VW 2007 conference last week, including Ian Grant, and asked them why someone would go to IBM to build Second Life projects instead of Electric Sheep Company, Rivers Run Red or some other of the well known 3D Development Firms. The answer is IBM's breadth of offerings in linking back-end and web processes with Second Life and other Virtual Worlds.

More and more, it's linking in things like a website running with WebSphere, or a back-end running DB2 with a front-end in Second Life - IBM can probably do this better for large companies like Sears and Circuit City - who are already using WebSphere - and deeply in it, than say.... The Sheep. I know that's just an opinion, but a valid one.

Webanalyticsbook: Do you believe that Second Life and others will be a serious
advertising market for companies?

Marshall: Yes, but not right away, perhaps in the next 12 to 18 months. The
problem is the Virtual Worlds interfaces are too slow, clunky and on occasions the "Grid" is down. Many improvements in the front-end and back-end before this is going to be ready for the next 10 to 20 million users..which is where the money is at and going to be.

But even as it is, Virtual Worlds are FANTASTIC for BRANDING and I have taken notes on the Pontiac Second Life Case Study and Keynote - Viacom's MTV Networks and Nickelodeon at the Virtual Worlds 2007 conference last week.

Webanalyticsbook: You are currently applying for the board of the WAA. How do you
think your experience and expertise in web analytics & virtual worlds
will help the WAA and it's agenda?

Marshall: Yes I am ..absolutely applying for a seat on the Board of the Web
Analytics Association. Voting was supposed to start yesterday and through the 13th of April, but as of now, the Survey Monkey links have not been sent out yet due to some last minute glitches. [Interview was from last week! Polls are open now!]

Anyway, I'm hopeful about being elected to the WAA Board and making a contribution to the field of Web Analytics.

Webanalyticsbook: Marshall, Thanks for the interview!