In fact, this is a very astute move by IBM because it allows the company to take virtual-world and virtual-community technologies and throw them into the largest, most dynamic and toughest virtual test bed that there is.
So what is the benefit to Linden Lab? At first it looks like the company is giving away the baby with the bathwater by letting a huge potential competitor like IBM step in its world and start defining its direction. A good part of the reason lies in Linden Lab's unswerving belief in open platforms and standards as a means to healthy growth.
"We have built the Second Life Grid as part of the evolution of the Internet," said Ginsu Yoon, Linden Lab's vice president of business affairs. "Linden and IBM share a vision that interoperability is key to the continued expansion of the 3D Internet, and that this tighter integration will benefit the entire industry. Our open-source development of interoperable formats and protocols will accelerate the growth and adoption of all virtual worlds."
While the announcement was somewhat short on specifics, IBM and Linden Lab have stated that they will be working on the previously mentioned "universal avatars." Other areas of cooperation will include security-rich transactions. Initially, these transactions are clearly meant to be for virtual assets, but it is quite likely that they would carry over into the real world very rapidly — allowing a Second Life user to literally buy the coat off of someone's back, for example, with real money.
Another one of IBM and Linden Lab's stated goals is to expand the business uses of virtual environments, including integrating existing Web platforms, environments and business processes with Second Life. In addition, the companies anticipate defining open protocols and standards for this integration so that any form of virtual information — including an identity or an avatar — can move from one environment to another without giving up current attributes.
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