Union Island closes down

by / Sunday, 14 February 2010 / Published in Blog

This week Union Island closed down. If you’re wondering what Union Island was, it existed in the online virtual world called Second Life.

Despite the mainstream media preoccupation with virtual weddings and real life divorces, Second Life is big business. Its economy grew by 65% in 2009, to a total of $567 million.

Second Life first came to prominence in the Union world in 2007, when Italian IBM workers held a ‘virtual strike’ over a pay dispute, which contributed to an improved agreement. Union Island soon followed, involving the TUC, Union Network International and the New Unionism Network.

As a member of the working group, making the most of the opportunities of the Island proved time consuming, and given the finite resources available, the decision was made that these could be more effectively employed elsewhere.

The difficulty with new technologies is predicting the ones that will remain popular, and the ones that will prove most effective for Unions. The only way to learn is to engage.

Union Island in Second Life
Union Island

I can remember running the first ever Union banner advert campaign while at the Engineers & Managers Association. Google didn’t exist in those days, and Yahoo was the most popular search website. We advertised to users who searched on certain keywords, and while we didn’t have a significant increase in recruitment, we learnt a lot from the exercise.

Technology moves fast, and is difficult to predict. A few years ago, MySpace was the leading social networking site, and in 2005 News Corporation paid $580 million for it. However, within a few years the upstart Facebook enjoyed phenomenal growth, and the use of MySpace plummeted.

Twitter is the current darling of the Internet. Unions are rightly rushing to set up Twitter feeds, and it’s proving to be a cost effective and powerful way to communicate. But some sceptics are already predicting its’ decline. Towards the end of 2009, the growth of new users fell from 7.8 million a month to 6.2 million, and only 17 percent of Twitter users updated their accounts in December – an all-time low.

However, once upon a time some people in Unions thought websites, Intranets and email were fads. The moral of the story is that technology is very difficult to predict, and the only way Unions will learn is to engage. You have to kiss a few frogs to find your Prince.

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2 Responses to “Union Island closes down”

  1. John Wood says : Reply

    Not sure virtual worlds (or even SL itself) are an unmetamorphosis able frog per se, but I agree they’re a potential prince that is pretty hard to kiss.

    The union movement still needs half an eye on virtual worlds for 2 reasons. First, they’re going to be more common as a day to day experience for our members. Virtual teams are ever more common (bringing together people inside and outside org and formal employment to work on just one project), to say nothing of the applications in training. If people are starting to relate to each other at work differently, and the large-scale formal relations that unions are based around are changing, we need to know about how our members and potential are feeling.

  2. John Wood says : Reply

    And second, they’re a kind of hothouse for online community and activism. People seem to develop stronger and quicker community bonds in virtual worlds, due to richness of the user experience. There’s a lot of creativity going on there, which needs monitoring, to see how union issues might be received by the new grassw00ts. Unions will need to engage with creative online activists, for the same reasons this project closed – our resources centrally are too limited to do everything and go everywhere ourselves.

    So don’t hang up your avatar just yet – besides you spent all that time designing your virtual haircut…

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