Gartner : Second Life Is Risky & Over-Hyped

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Finally someone (Gartner nonetheless !) blows the cover here and calls a spade a spade.  The initial promise of Second Life as an open platform for learning and innovation has worn out quickly.  The substantial risks of (graphically sub-standard) open worlds like Second Life are here contrasted with the virtues of several “private” alternatives.  Refreshing take that defies all the media hype of recent times –

Media hype and enthusiasm for virtual worlds must be tempered with a realistic assessment of the security and risk-management issues they expose enterprises to, according to Gartner.  Companies that are sensitive to brand issues, as well as social and ethical positioning, must exercise particular caution in uncontrolled virtual worlds, such as Linden Lab’s Second Life, and should consider more heavily moderated, targeted alternatives, such as There, Kaneva and Activeworlds, analysts advised.  “The risks enterprises face as a result of their involvement in virtual worlds are real and can be significant.  They shouldn’t be ignored – but neither should the potential opportunities and benefits that arise from using these new environments for corporate collaboration and communications,” said Steve Prentice, a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner in the UK.  “When planning enterprise activities in virtual worlds, an enterprise’s awareness of the risks, as well as a reasoned and objective analysis of them, will enable it to objectively evaluate the overall situation and offset risks against often-nebulous benefits.”  Prentice said that the issues facing corporations could be broadly grouped into five major categories, and offered advice on each…..

  1. IT-Related Security Risks : IT-related security risks are primarily centered on unverified applications being downloaded to managed desktop systems, and on issues regarding firewall permeability.  There are no indications that these client applications represent a higher risk than other similar applications, but Gartner said that at this time, the high frequency of updates makes the control of a large application difficult.
  2. Identity Authentication and Access Management : Individuals interact in virtual worlds via avatars, which are computer-generated representations of themselves.  However, because new accounts can be opened with ease (and at no cost), many individuals have multiple avatars.  Thus, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to ensure that any specific avatar actually represents the person with whom it’s associated.  This lack of verifiable identity control or access management is a major deficiency in public virtual worlds and is having a significant impact on the potential use of virtual worlds for internal collaboration purposes.  Gartner recommends that companies seriously evaluate the availability of “private” virtual-world environments, which are hosted internally and exist entirely inside the enterprise firewall.
  3. Confidentiality : Virtual worlds aren’t secure environments.  Gartner believes that discussions involving confidential and commercially sensitive information shouldn’t take place inside Second Life or any other virtual world – or in an open, internet-supported social-networking site.  Worldwide legal systems (especially in the US) have become increasingly aggressive in demanding access to electronically stored records.  By moving to a private virtual world (built by using tools such as GarageGames’ Torque Game Engine or Sun’s Java-based Project Wonderland); or developed using established applications (such as Forterra Systems’ Olive) that are entirely contained inside the enterprise firewall, the issues of privacy, confidentiality and identity can be controlled.  Non-US organisations may wish to avoid virtual worlds that are subject to US jurisdiction because this may result in stored information being subject to legal scrutiny.
  4. Brand and Reputation Risk Management : Uncontrolled virtual worlds represent an environment fraught with danger for enterprises that are sensitive to brand and reputation issues.  Enterprises should exercise extreme caution in their virtual-world activities.  Enterprises that are sensitive to brand and reputation issues should consider confining their activities to controlled virtual environments to minimise (but not eliminate) their potential exposure.
  5. Productivity : Considerable scepticism remains regarding the practical benefits of virtual worlds to enterprise activities, with many senior executives viewing them as time- (and therefore money-) consuming diversions that lead to significant amounts of wasted time as well as computing and bandwidth resources…..Gartner’s take is that productivity may decline during the extensive learning and adoption phases of virtual worlds, but this shouldn’t prevent enterprises from looking beyond the initial phases toward the productivity benefits that may ensue.  Whilst unconstrained use of virtual worlds for all staff is probably inappropriate and unnecessary, enterprises should keep an open mind and evaluate trials carefully to avoid premature and inappropriate decisions regarding access and value.

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