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Interview with the Avatar

# 1: ABN AMRO

By Global Merlin

This is the first in a series of interviews conducted in virtual worlds like Second Life, the “3D online digital world imagined and created by its residents”.

Second Life has about 11-million registered “residents”, but only about 780,000 logging on in the past month. Despite this, numerous companies, such as Adidas, IBM, and Mazda, have a significant presence in Second Life, ranging from offices and stores to creating concept cars and holding corporate meetings. Individuals interact through 3D figures known as avatars, which can be adapted or customised to the fullest extent of residents’ imaginations or abilities.ABN AMRO Second Life HQ

They do not use their own names, and are limited in their choice of names by a pre-defined list of first names and surnames. Our interviewer goes by the name of Global Merlin.

The business use of Second Life is still in its infancy, and this blog will explore the approaches taken by both corporations and small enterprises to their presence in virtual worlds.

The interviews are, by their nature, “found interviews”, in that they are not set up in advance, and are the result of encounters with avatars of people who are able to talk on behalf of organisations that have a Second Life existence.
The first company selected was ABN AMBRO, the Dutch banking giant, which also has one of the most imposing business presences in Second Life.

During the early days of that presence, in the first half of 2007, I had never encountered anyone from the organisation when visiting their Second Life site. Finally, in November 2007 I came across a company representative.


***
I am surrounded by staircases, with sheer drops everywhere. I am taunted by the sight, in the distance, of a cosy lounge on a platform rising high into the sky, but can see no clear path to reaching it. Finally, I decide to throw caution to the wind, and I fly into the air. After overshooting the platform a few times, I manage to land on my feet.

I wander about for a while, deciphering signs and posters all written in Dutch, until I spot a modestly dressed avatar. She is labelled “ABN AMRO Hostess Amber Jung”.

“Hostess” is an ambiguous word in my part of the world, so I first check out her profile by right-clicking on her avatar. It tells me, in Dutch:

“Ik ben Amber, de altijd charmante virtuele hostess van het ABN AMRO filiaal op Second Life.Ik verwelkom dagelijks mijn bezoekers, dus kom eens langs om me te leren kennen. Dan drinken we een kopje virtuele koffie en kletsen we wat. Als ik niet online ben, stuur me gerust een IM!”

That sounds far more friendly than your typical bank teller, so Amber is instantly selected as the first subject for an Interview with the Avatar.

Hoping I have chosen the appropriate face and form to come across as a respectable seeker after knowledge rather than a cyber fiend, I send her an Instant Message.

Global Merlin: Hi Amber, are you available to talk?

(After a lengthy pause…)

Amber Jung: Hello Global. Sure, I’m available. I was busy at our island 🙂
Global Merlin: Sounds interesting. What happens there?
Amber Jung: I was checking something, if it must be repaired, but I saw it isn’t necessary
Global Merlin: Can we meet here for an interview?
Amber Jung: It depends on what you want to ask 🙂 . For which organisation are you taking the interview
Global Merlin: it is partly for World Wide Worx’s overview of what is happening in Web 2.0. We give regular presentations on the topic at conferences. But it is mainly to publish an interview about cutting edge usage of Web 2.0.

(Pause for objection. It doesn’t come.)

Interview in ABN AMRO lounge Global Merlin: The first question is, why has ABN AMRO created such a strong presence in Second Life?
Amber Jung: We believe virtual worlds will develop in a future 3D internet browser. We want to learn everything about it from the early start. And besides we’re exploring new ways to get in contact with our customers
Global Merlin: How much has been invested in creating its Second Life presence?
Amber Jung: We started a year ago to build the islands. we opened this virtual branch in December 2006. So we built a few months before opening. There are many hours invested in these islands. Can’t count how much 🙂
Global Merlin: How many employees work full-time in Second Life?
Amber Jung: I can’t answer that 🙂 We have a Team working on this. I’m the virtual hostess
Global Merlin: Are you full-time here?
Amber Jung: yes, I am
Global Merlin: Are you one person or a team?
Amber Jung: I am a person
Global Merlin: How do you explain to friends or family (who haven’t been to Second Life) where you work?
Amber Jung: I tell them I work at the virtual branch of ABN AMRO and explain what SL is.
Global Merlin: I see on your profile you are inviting visitors for a virtual cup of coffee. Shall we continue the interview over virtual coffee?
Amber Jung: sure

(A notification appears that I have been given a cup of coffee. I must retrieve it from my inventory for my avatar to appear to drink it.)

Amber Jung: I gave you a cup of coffee 🙂
Global Merlin: Thank you!

(A pause for a virtual sip…)

Global Merlin: Do you know how many people have visited your virtual branch?
Amber Jung: I didn’t count 🙂 we have so many islands
Global Merlin: How many islands, and what is each one for?
Amber Jung: we have 24 sims. we have our old main island. our new main island exists from 4 sims. we have 2 young professional islands, 2 sandboxes, 2 employee islands, and some islands for experiments and projects.
Global Merlin: How many are open to the public?
Amber Jung: somewhere between 16 and 20, but that’s a guess.
Global Merlin: Can customers do banking here?
Amber Jung: I can give global information. I can’t give personal advice, because I can’t identify through SL. We need this identification because we’re a RL bank and we have to follow some laws

(RL=Real Life, SL =Second Life)

Global Merlin: So you don’t have the Second Life equivalent of Internet banking?
Amber Jung: no not yet. we’re exploring many ideas but have the identification problems
Global Merlin: How many people do you meet in a typical day here?
Amber Jung: it varies. it depends on weather, vacations / holidays, part of the day, season
Global Merlin: On a busy day?
Amber Jung: 30. we also have Investment Meetings. it’s very crowded then
Global Merlin: Typically, what proportion of the daily visitors are ABN AMRO customers?
Amber Jung: I don’t know
Global Merlin: Are they mostly just curious?
Amber Jung: they are curious about the islands, have questions, also people looking for jobs. there are many purposes why visitors come here
Global Merlin: Do you or colleagues conduct job interviews here?
Amber Jung: yes, we do. We have a Recruiter here in SL. we also cooperate with Randstad (a job agency). they organise recruitment evenings
Global Merlin: In Second Life?
Amber Jung: yes, in SL
Global Merlin: Good coffee.
Amber Jung: thanks 🙂
Global Merlin: Thanks for your patience
Amber Jung: that’s ok. I’m never bored. always work to do 🙂
Global Merlin: No rest in SL 🙂
Amber Jung: and in RL 🙂
Global Merlin: Does your SL office keep the same hours as in RL?
Amber Jung: no. the opening hours of the virtual branch vary between 8.00 am and 10.00 pm (local time)
Global Merlin: And your working hours?
Amber Jung: they also vary between those hours
Global Merlin: Who in ABN AMRO is ultimately responsible for what happens in SL?
Amber Jung: The Second Life Team of ABN AMRO
Global Merlin: Who do they report to in the organisation?
Amber Jung: I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. For those questions I have to get you in contact with someone of Press Informations. They will direct you to the right channels
Global Merlin: More about the work experience. You are part of a new generation of virtual worker. Do you see it that way too?
Amber Jung: By answering those questions, I answer in name of ABN AMRO. I can’t do that. I’m sorry
Global Merlin: No problem. Can you give me an indication of what kind of questions you can address?
Amber Jung: I can tell you what I tell to every visitor

(At this stage, I lose my Internet connection. By the time I restore it, Amber has disappeared. A few days later we meet again.)

Amber Jung: My morning just started 😉
Global Merlin: what kind of duties have you had to perform this morning so far?
Amber Jung: I’m doing some administration.
Global Merlin: do you get to make suggestions for improvements of these offices?
Amber Jung: I do
Global Merlin: So if you think it needs a fountain in the middle of the room, you can suggest that? (just as an example)
Amber Jung: I can suggest anything. We share ideas.
Global Merlin: Have any of your suggestions resulted in changes to the look and feel of the place?
Amber Jung: yes. I’m a full member of the SL Team. we make everything as a team, doesn’t matter whose idea it is. everything here is a team thing

(There is a lull in the conversation as I admire the coffee bar. Then comes the moment in a relationship we all yearn for:)

Amber Jung: We have an Investment Meeting tomorrow. Will you join us?
Global Merlin: I’d love to. How do I do that?
Amber Jung: We gather here around 7.45 PM (Dutch time). The presentation will start at 8. it is in Dutch though. But you are invited if you like to come too.
Global Merlin: I will try to be there, thank you very much
Amber Jung: The presentation will start at 11 am in-world time.

(SL time is referred to as in-world time)

Global Merlin: so I need to arrive here then?
Amber Jung: around 10.45 am. we gather for some virtual coffee first
Global Merlin: Great! how many people do you expect?
Amber Jung: don’t know exactly yet. still getting applications to join. it mostly varies between 10 and 30 avatars. we organize them twice a month.
ABN AMRO Investment Meeting in SL Global Merlin: so it must get crowded in here?
Amber Jung: those meetings are the busiest time 🙂
Global Merlin: Are there rules of conduct for the meetings, in terms of who can speak when? And so on?
Amber Jung: The speaker gives a presentation in voice. if you have a question you can send an IM to the speaker. he will answer your question in the presentation. the presentation usually takes about half an hour. afther that, we go for a virtual drink and dance.
Global Merlin: is there a special area for that?
Amber Jung: yes, you will get a teleport to that location. a cube pops up just before 8

(The cube is a box on which the user clicks to get coordinates that allow teleportation to a specific location or landmark in SL)

Global Merlin: I saw an ABN AMRO concert or sports arena or entertainment area on a previous visit. What happens there?
Amber Jung: it’s our charity island. we made this island available to some charities. the red cross and foundation of sports for handicapped people built there to give act presence. you can do a wheelchair race there and donate L$ to the charities

L$ = Linden Dollars, the currency of SL)

Global Merlin: Has it resulted in much fundraising?
Amber Jung: We don’t see the money rolling in, the charities do.
Global Merlin: Is the venue for the presentation closed to visitors at times when you are not having the investment meeting?
Amber Jung: yes
Global Merlin: So without the teleport cube, there is no way to get there?
Amber Jung: only if you have the landmark 🙂
Global Merlin: is it the same venue where you will have the drinks and dancing afterwards?
Amber Jung: no, that will be somewhere else. you will get a tp (teleport) for that as well
Global Merlin: What is the purpose of the investment meeting?
Amber Jung: to give information about investment, exchange information, interaction between visitors and presenter
Global Merlin: Do you recruit clients in the investment meetings? are people advised or assisted in how to become ABN AMRO clients?
Amber Jung: no, it’s focused at the subject of the presentation. people can get information from me how to get client of ABN AMRO.
Global Merlin: Are you planning to have different language choices here?
Amber Jung: at this time, we focus at the dutch market, because we’re a dutch branch in origin
Global Merlin: Thanks for the interview

(The following evening, after the Investment meeting, which took place entirely in Dutch)

Global Merlin: Hi! I made it.
Amber Jung: I see. 🙂
Global Merlin: how many people attended in total tonight?
Amber Jung: I’m working that out on Monday… I wrote them down. but I’m almost ready to stop working 🙂
Global Merlin: I guess it’s been a long day
Amber Jung: it was. I’m logging off. My working day has ended. I’ll be back again at Monday.

A frog prince intrudes on the Investment Meeting afterpartyThe party begins to deteriorate, with a Frog Prince becoming the centre of attention. As much a conversation piece as an avatar, it quickly deflects the discussion from investment opportunities in SL to how one goes about getting cool customisations for one’s avatar. Global Merlin decides that it is not impolite, at this point, to exit SL.


3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Doug Vining

    Cool interview, Global. I guess it takes quite a bit of keyboarding. How’s your lag from Joburg?

  2. Thanks, Doug. On ADSL it is only noticeable when new scenes are rendering. That can take ages. But on most other forms of connectivity, it’s torture. Conversation is not really affected, unless you go to voice.

    Free RAM on one’s PC also makes a difference, so you have to flush the RAM every now and then to keep things moving in SL.

  3. Hi, a fascinating interview.

    PBS (the US broadcaster) has a useful piece on how Second Life has evolved. This is after it’s come out of the usual ‘greatest thing since sliced bread’ / ‘heading for a crash’ rollercoaster new tech ventures are subjected to.

    We’ve linked to and commented on it on our blog: http://www.thisisherd.com

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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