In November, IBM (NYSE: IBM ) chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano announced that his company would be investing $100 million to fund business ideas generated by its InnovationJam -- an online, company-wide brainstorming session. The jam and the $100 million commitment are just two additional reasons why I think IBM is the best blue chip of 2007. But what I found interesting about the announcement was that Palmisano announced the news in both the physical world (in Beijing) and the virtual world. More specifically, Palmisano made the announcement in Second Life -- the new virtual reality world created by Linden Labs.
Initially, I thought the move was just a cheap PR stunt designed to demonstrate to the world that Big Blue and Palmisano were "hip" to the world of Web 2.0. After all, just the week prior, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) had announced it was creating a virtual presence in Second Life and was joining other companies, including Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , and Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW ) , that were already well-established in this emerging virtual space -- which now has more than 1.5 million avatars and is growing daily.
But yesterday, IBM announced that within the next week it would be developing 12 virtual islands in Second Life to facilitate business opportunities in the areas of training, conferences, and commerce.
It is still too early to tell if Second Life has a viable future, but I personally am optimistic and think that IBM's move could pay dividends. For instance, with more than 330,000 employees at IBM -- many of whom work off-site -- Second Life offers a practical way to conduct at least some internal training operations and conferences in an easy, efficient, and cost-effective manner.
And in terms of commerce, the site might offer immediate benefits in helping IBM deliver customer service. I, for one, know that if I had to choose between having a person try to verbally explain to me over the phone how to fix some technical problem on my computer or having an avatar physically show me how to fix it, I would prefer the latter -- and I don't think I am alone.
So while many might see Big Blue's move into Second Life as something akin to a pathetic middle-aged man trying to deal with a midlife crisis by hanging out at the trendiest singles bar, I think it might actually work. Why? Because in Second Life, no one has to know your age. Heck, they don't need to know if you're "Big" or even "Blue."
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich does not yet have an avatar in Second Life, but that's only because he is too lazy to build one. He owns stock in IBM and Intel. The Fool has a disclosure policy.