In what appears to be the first big corporation to create formal guidelines governing employee behavior in virtual worlds, IBM has taken the unusual step of establishing official guidelines for its more than 5,000 employees who inhabit Second Life, the San Francisco 3-D virtual world owned by Linden Lab, and other online universes, reports the Associated Press.
Hoping to avoid embarrassing incidents by staff who might partake in such stereotypically online community-esque behavior as creating nebulous identities, fighting, gambling or engaging in other discomforting activities to the company, which conducts business in the virtual world, IBM's rules warn employees against discriminating, harassing other Avatars, or sharing intellectual property with people who are not supposed to see it. Employee's personal avatars should look appropriate for doing business in their virtual sales center.
IBM executives say that rather than laying down the iron fist, the code of conduct is akin to a corporate stamp of approval. But as IBM hopes to earn money advising corporate clients and auditioning business strategies online, it also has a fiscal incentive.
The 11 netiquette guidelines, which apply to Second Life, Entropia Universe, Forterra, There.com and other worlds, also caution employees to assume that their virtual and 3-D world activities are public, just as a public chat room would be.
Of course, it didn't take long for pundits to criticize IBM for trying to "clean up" and "button down" a lively online world.
"So much for Second Life, the virtual world, being a place you can escape real-life constraints," wrote the blogger at BlogForward: Money.
Yet, the PG-13-ing of Second Life was already well underway when IBM distributed its users agreement. In the previous couple of weeks, it had already banned gambling and "broadly offensive" sexual and other acts between Avatars.
Others consider the rules laid down by IBM as a positive sign of the growth and acceptance of participating in virtual worlds as a hobby.
"At one time virtual worlds were dismissed as irrelevant. Considered the domain of fantasy geeks and star trek conventioneers, they were viewed with more than a spoonful of condescension. A number of events provide an indication of just how far the general perception of these worlds, especially Second Life, have come," wrote the blogger behind Shadow of a Doubt.