Dell means business in Second Life

They want to be where people are gathering so it was an easy decision to make for Dell to go into Second Life.

So said Ro Parra, senior vice president and general manager for Dell’s Home and Small Business Group, in his presentation during a press briefing today in Second Life to launch Dell Island, Dell’s first venture into this virtual world.

That’s not the half of it, though.

Parra spoke of Dell’s plans to sell computers to residents of Second Life who will be able to build their own computer, just as a customer can do right now via Dell’s website.

In the part of Dell Island where the press briefing took place, you could see a number of what Parra called ‘configurators’ dotted around the large room.

Here, you specify your PC, providing all the information Dell needs in order to build it and ship it to you in the real world.

Just to be clear – this is real PCs we’re talking about, not virtual computers you’d use in Second Life.

It’s unclear to me whether this is global or only in the US. The latter, I would guess, at least to start with. According to a post tonight on Direct2Dell, the only option at the moment is to order an XPS M1710 notebook for delivery in the US That’s reflected in the product name in the screenshot image above.

Something Parra said in his presentation should be a big incentive for anyone listening who’s looking for a new PC – the first person to order a PC at Dell Island will get it for free.

While starting a real-world e-commerce operation in Second Life is very interesting – and has already captured the attention of some media who were at the virtual press conference – what I find especially interesting is looking at what Dell’s broader goals are with their venture into this virtual world.

They have gone live with an impressive virtual presence in the shape of Dell Island. More a collection of linked islands, it seems to me.

Imaginative and highly creative work by the Dell team and Infinite Vision Media, the company who actually created it.

I spent about an hour looking around and exploring, and plan to take some more time soon to get to know it a bit more.

Today’s virtual press conference was a useful experience. I estimate there were about 35 people there, representing some mainstream media (CNET News was there, for instance, as was Reuters) as well as bloggers and other influencers.

It felt almost surreal at one point, listening to Ro Parra talking via the dial-in conference call and seeing him on screen in a suit, just as in a real-world press event by any large corporation. He’s actually only the second avatar I’ve yet seen in Second Life wearing a business suit and tie!

He said two interesting things in particular which I think reflect a practical and pragmatic view about how any business would look at places like Second Life:

  1. Dell will learn from Second Life and gain experience there
  2. Dell is taking risks, learning as they go along

During the Q&A session following Parra’s presentation (will there be an audio transcript available, I wonder?), I asked him what he would say to those who criticize the entry of businesses into Second Life and who don’t seem to see a place for such businesses other than on their own inflexible and narrow terms and conditions.

Parra as well as Philip Rosedale (the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, the developer of Second Life) were both consistent in their answers/comments to that question.

It’s all about community, they said – recognizing the efforts of others who have gone before in their contributions to what Second Life is today, and working together to learn and to gain experience in this virtual community.

In other words, communicate and engage. Well said.

So the world’s largest PC maker now has a branch office in a virtual world. If Dell is anything, it’s a sales organization and it will be very interesting to see how and what Dell will learn from Second Life and engage with the broad community for mutual benefit.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. David Tebbutt

    “During the Q&A session following Parra’s presentation (will there be an audio transcript available, I wonder?), I asked him what he would say to those who criticize the entry of businesses into Second Life and who don’t seem to see a place for such businesses other than on their own inflexible and narrow terms and conditions.”

    And the answer was?

  2. neville

    It’s in the post, David:

    It’s all about community, they said – recognizing the efforts of others who have gone before in their contributions to what Second Life is today, and working together to learn and to gain experience in this virtual community.

    Be a good neighbour, fit in with the rest of the community, etc.

    That will mean different things to different people, no doubt. But it’s not that much different to behaviour in the real world.

  3. Dominic Jones

    Neville,

    Thanks for the report. This is a good way to get people interested in SL. The screenshots overcome the download barrier for many who are behind firewalls and have uptight IT rules.

    How much time are you spending in SL now, per day? How about a list of likes and dislikes?

  4. neville

    You’re in one of the screenshots above, Torley. Bright and vibrant – could hardly have missed you but I did!

    I don’t think Dell ‘missed the PR boat,’ Taran. What do you think they could/should have done?

    A lot of time, Dominic. A nice perk of my crayon job – having to hang out in Second Life :)

    I’m there at crayonville Island most mornings GMT. Just being there to chat to visitors who show up and, now and again, specific meetings with people, usually in the diner. In the afternoons GMT, some of my crayon colleagues show up so we’re able to have a ‘real’ presence in our virtual office most of the time.

    Being there like this doesn’t mean that’s all you do, just hang around and not do anything else. I can just leave the SL app running on my desktop and get on with other work, talk on the phone, etc. If anything happens in SL, the app notifies me.

    Mind you, it times out after a certain time if nothing does happen and you get auto-logged out.

  5. Hans on Experience

    Dell in Second Life (screencast)…

    Nieuw verkoop- en marketingkanaal?Steeds meer bedrijven openen een vestiging in Second Life. Ze willen er met mensen in contact komen, nodigen er hun klanten uit, organiseren (pers)conferenties of trainingen en verkopen er zelfs hun producten en dienst…

  6. Taran Rampersad (aka Nobody Fugazi)

    You don’t think….

    Well, OK. You were there, so you wouldn’t think anything. But from the outside looking in, I doubt very much that anyone within SL got the message clearly. If the demographic was the people who are involved in SL…

    Oh well, time will tell. We could talk theory all day, but where the rubber meets the road…

  7. neville

    Taran, I see your point. I can’t speak for Dell, but I imgaine the press event was aimed squarely at the media and others in the real world, not SL residents.

    That’s not to say Dell intended any slight to those residents (some of whom, btw, are also reporters and influential bloggers), which I cannot imagine they would have.

    Should they have also aimed their focus for the event at residents? That’s a good question. If they had, what would/should have been done differently re invites to the event and how the event took place? Another good question.

    Mind you, I did notice quite a few names of people at the event that I recognized as names I’ve seen frequently in Second Life, so perhaps Dell did target influencers among the SL resident community.

  8. Taran Rampersad (aka Nobody Fugazi)

    Well, there are ‘influential’ people among the SL residents (for better or worse) but I don’t think that has bearing. To take advantage of Dell’s stuff in world, you have to be a… SL resident.

    So opening it up to the public within SL would probably have been a little more worthwhile… after all… people make up their own minds when buying a computer. At least, that is the premise of marketing. Or maybe I have that wrong. :-)

  9. Taran Rampersad (aka Nobody Fugazi)

    After the press briefing, who would be interested? And how would people know when the press briefing was over so that they could go?

    The mechanics of SecondLife provide answers to these questions. Now, I could explain it to the benefit of all the marketing firms and PR people out there trying to capitalize on SecondLife without any personal gain. But from the numbers I’ve seen being charged for that sort of work, I think I’ll hold my cards close to my chest.

    TANSTAAFL.

  10. neville

    The point of a press briefing, Taran, typically is to provide reporters with information before that information is opened to the wider public so that the reporters go away and write about your event/product/service/whatever.

    Hopefully what they write will be of interest to people who will then show up/pay/attention/etc to your offering.

    That’s what happened on Tuesday. Articles appeared and people got to know about Dell Island. Even residents in Second Life would potentially be exposed to that communication.

    Not sure what your point is, actually, when you say ‘after the press briefing, who would be interested?’ Quite a few people, judging from Technorati and Google search results.

    Or is is that you think all of this should be focused only, or perhaps primarily, on SL residents? Don’t forget that everyone who was at the press briefing is an SL resident.

  11. Taran Rampersad (aka Nobody Fugazi)

    They were Dell residents after they followed the Dell instructions, so yes, I quite agree.

    It’s not about right or wrong here. It’s about making it better. If you could do one thing to make the whole thing better, what would you do?

    Yes, Google, Technorati, EIEIO. We all know the gambit, we know the game of traffic and brand name recognition to some degree. How does that cross over into SL? How does it get a few people buying a product?

    Here’s the million dollar question: How many sales has Dell made through SecondLife at this time? After all, that’s the point of all of this. Isn’t it?

    Maybe I have it completely wrong, and even if there are no sales maybe I still have it wrong. I can accomodate that. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again.

    So – here’s another question: How many visitors to the island were there yesterday who were not a part of the briefing? And another question: How many sales so far?

    By setting up to sell to SL residents… which is what this is… don’t you think this should have been focused more on SL residents? What’s the purpose of that island again?

    It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not a big fan of Dell. This is an interesting academic discussion, and I imagine selling 10 Dells at the Island would show Dell a profit on their Linden Lab expenses. But how many computers do they have to sell for the advertising, the staff costs, and the labor involved?

    See, again – it’s about where the rubber meets the road.

    Tell you what, I’ll swing by Dell’s island right now. And if it’s noteworthy, I’ll blog what I see – if it’s not, I won’t fuel it. Then you can come over and talk on my blog. Ok? :-)

  12. neville

    You’ve asked some great questions, Taran.

    First, the million-dollar one:

    How many sales has Dell made through SecondLife at this time? After all, that’s the point of all of this. Isn’t it?

    I’d be extremely surprised if Dell said that the point of their launch was this. I’d guess that the point of the launch (ie, the press briefing to show Dell Island) was as I mentioned earlier – tell the media who will go away and write about it.

    A long-term goal may well be to sell lots of computers. But more likely (and more practical) would be seeing Dell Island as a means through which to connect with people in a new and different way. That certainly isn’t going to happen all of a sudden on day one: it will take time and effort not only by Dell but also by Second Life users (I’m using that word deliberately, not residents).

    Next:

    How many visitors to the island were there yesterday who were not a part of the briefing? And another question: How many sales so far?

    We’d need Dell to answer the first one. As for sales, I bet Dell would be thrilled if they’d sold just two or three. Again, I do not believe Dell’s primary objective is to sell PCs via their Second Life presence.

    I think Dell is likely to be quite pleased with what’s happening with Dell Island in just three days. I certainly would be if I were advising Dell (which I’m not, just to be clear).

    Take a look at the comments in the post on Direct2Dell about the launch. Some SL users are already engaging with Dell with questions and suggestions.

    It’s a great start for everyone.

  13. Taran Rampersad (aka Nobody Fugazi)

    I think the point of any press release is to form a lasting impression… a lasting impression until the next press release. The comments I read over on Direct2Dell weren’t exactly copious.

    There’s the disingenuous whining about the Copybot (nothing to do with Dell), a pointer to discuss usability (perhaps from someone who can make a few bucks – I could do that too)… Phaedra Whitlock is one person giving ‘good stuff’ in that thread.

    I went there yesterday. I wrote about it. It looks pretty, if it can be found (most people I know search Places and Classifieds to find a place – that’s basic SL marketing).

    I’m not really impressed. I’m not easily impressed. And apparently – judging by the thread you pointed to on Dell2Dell – not many people were impressed enough to comment on it constructively.

    After all the hype, what’s there? That’s a rhetorical question.

  14. neville

    You’re certainly very hard to please, Taran!

    You see hype, I see building blocks. You see disingenuous whining on the Dell blog, I see a broader picture of feedback.

    Looks to me like one of those agree to disagree situations. Can’t see much value in continuing a conversation on this particular topic.

    I’m happy to take a look at things again after a month or so has passed, see how Dell’s venture is developing and what they’re doing in engaging with people in Second Life.

  15. Gee

    well… apart from all these discussions, I think SL will be a very big hit: no wonder Dell and others try to join. Even a stupid thing is better then nothing, I think… Wonder when the governement agencies will follow (towns, cities for example). Problems have to be solved: crashes in SL, slow because there are too many people in one place. Rights and ownership… Wonder what Dell will think if I “use” their logo in my own way. But still: SL will overcome the first problems, so why not join now. I would, if I was Dell…

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