Virtual Worlds and the Hype Cycle

October 9, 2009

rich_in_protosphereWhen Gartner announced their recent report on virtual worlds and business a few days ago, I rather cynically tweeted: “Gartner reports on virtual worlds in business.*Now* can we take it seriously?”

Okay, that wasn’t fair, at least not to Gartner. Virtual worlds have been on Gartner’s Hype Cycle pretty much since they’ve existed. For 2009, virtual worlds were dangerously close to Gartner’s “Trough of Disillusionment.” What that pretty much means is that people are no longer taken in by the “ooh, shiny!,” answer-to-all-your-prayers hype surrounding the technology, and are starting to ask questions like, “what is this really good for?”

And that’s a good thing. Because virtual worlds aren’t a panacea. They’re not good for everything. But they are great for some things. And as soon as business gets comfortable with the things virtual worlds are good for, we can get away from the hype and actually begin using them to become more productive. It’s not surprising that the next phase after the Trough of Disillusionment is the Slope of Enlightenment. That’s the part of the cycle where we get smart about what this technology is really good for, leading to the Plateau of Productivity.

I remember when I first started building business simulations almost 25 years ago. We had a huge challenge explaining to clients why simulations were useful– and we had to be very careful not to call them “games,” because business people didn’t play games. Today, simulation is a widely accepted and highly desirable learning approach. And if you’ve been at this long enough, you may remember a time when online meetings were considered a cheap replacement for live meetings. After all, who would attend a meeting on their computer? Things change.

Virtual worlds is a technology I believe in. Over the next few weeks, I want to share some best practices with you: what virtual worlds are good for, how business is adopting them effectively, and some of the pitfalls and opportunities you may face in bringing virtual worlds into your organization.

C’mon along and surf that hype cycle with me….

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