"The Office" character Dwight Schrute isn't the only one using the Second Life computer program while on the job. This summer, the School of Business is offering a class that will teach students how to create an online, virtual world where characters can talk, do business and make money.
John Artz, a professor of Web-based systems development, will virtually introduce students to the GW Island, a place in Second Life, and teach them how to create and use business models in this new environment. His students will travel all over the "world" to conduct virtual business in the "Marketplace," but in reality, the 40 student, two-session class will take place in a computer lab, he said.
"This is the next step for Web technology," Artz said. "Today most companies have multiple sites. I think in the future, maybe within five years, every company will be on Second Life."
Linden Labs released Second Life in June 2002 and Gartner Research predicts that by 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users will have a "second life" in the virtual world.
"Think of it like being able to create a theme park, which is really only a giant form of advertising," he said. "Now companies will be able to market products in anyway possible."
Business students need to prepare for when Second Life replaces traditional ideas of Internet interactions, Artz said.
"We will look back on the old Internet like people look at command lines in comparison to today's operating systems," he said.
Barnes and Noble, Dell, Sony, Toyota, IBM, AOL and other companies already have Second Life identities, mainly for "building brands and customer loyalty, conducting research and development, and market testing", according to reports from Linden Labs.
Even Democratic presidential contenders Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hilary Clinton (N.Y.) joined Second Life to campaign. Some Chambers of Commerce have created virtual models of cities like Dublin and Amsterdam to help generate tourism.
GW is one of the 300 universities that is a part of the New Media Consortium, a group which seeks to use Second Life and other developing technology for educational reasons.
"Fifteen years ago, students couldn't see why someone would shop online instead of going to a store and being able to see products in person," Artz said. "Before new technology becomes popular, people are always suspicious."