I recently read John Battelle’s account of the rise of Google in his book Search. Battelle tells the story of how the confluence of search technology and commerce have led to a restructuring of how we conceive and navigate through the web and increasingly physical space. If we have a question, we assume the answer is out there, somewhere… that it is google-able.
So it seems obvious to me that search is likely to be the defining feature of how we navigate through virtual environments like Second Life. As the world of SL grows increasingly complex, it will be the providers of the most useful search functionalities that are going to mediate our experience of the world. That’s where Second 411 and Life2Life come into the picture.
Search is already one of the main functions in the Second Life interface. You can us the search window to look for events, classified items, places, land for sale, people and groups. It’s the best place to start if you don’t know where you are going.
But beyond the normal SL search function, there are lots of opportunities for programmers to create custom search tools for residents. And for the person who creates a search tool that connects sellers and buyers more effectively, there are lots of potential financial rewards.
Enter Second 411 and Life2Life, similar search tools specializing in e-commerce.
Second 411, pictured at the beginning of this blog entry, is a heads up display (HUD) that you can wear on your avatar that enables you to search for SL items like clothes, furniture or weapons from wherever you are at. Search queries are entered as chat on the "411" channel, i.e. "/411 giant robot avatar." Click on a listing and you can teleport directly to the in-world store to purchase it. Super slick.
But even more impressive is that the search tool can connect you to the Amazon and Yahoo! Shopping databases. Do a search for "Kurt Vonnegut" and you are shown several real world books for sale on the Amazon or Yahoo! shopping sites. Click on one of the links and your browser opens up to the corresponding page. So you can buy cyberpunks boots for your avatar and search for matching ones in the real world.
Life2Life, developed by Tabatha Hegel & Hugo Dalgleish, is another search engine tool that brings the real world into Second Life. In particular, Life2Life hooks into the Amazon database and enables residents to search for specific Amazon products by keyword, and then displays the top matches as floating 3D objects in their store. Just like Second 411, queries are entered in the chat bar using channel 1. I.e. "/1 wuthering heights."
If you click on an object, you are taken to the corresponding Amazon webpage, where you can get more information or purchase it if you wish. Search is confined the books and magazines, but they hope to expand to other Amazon products like music and DVDs shortly.
On Info Island, they even have a version of the search that queries four different Amazon stores at the same time, in the US, Canada, Japan and the UK, with the corresponding prices in the local currencies.
These search tools are just starting to scratch the surface on what is possible. Clearly commerce is going to drive developers to try and create the slickest, fastest, most intuitive search tools they can, just as Yahoo, Google, Ask and the rest are trying to dominate the web search market. Folks at Amazon clearly already have SL in their sights.
Thinking about the potential of hooking Amazon into Second Life, I think it’s only a matter of time before you walk into the SL Amazon Store and magically all the shelves rearrange themselves based on your
wish-list preferences, creating a custom store just for you. There might be new
movies from your favorite genres sitting right there at eye level when
you go to the DVD section, and new books from your favorite authors in
That, of course, already happens in the 2D web.
What is different in virtual space is that the experience can be
more immersive, and shared with other people. I can imagine going into
a store with a friend and chatting with them about their favorite
authors as we peruse our shared custom-generated store. The store might suggest books, movies or music that we both might enjoy, based on our combined preferences.
That would highlight the strengths of virtual spaces like Second
Life: 3D graphics, player interactivity, and hooks into the real
world. That could be the killer commerce app.