Starwood is making the virtual debut of its Aloft brand in the online society “Second Life” in September of this year according to a report int the New York Times today. Second Life is a 3-D virtual world built and owned by its “residents” that opened to the public in 2003 that has “creations” set up by its participants and a “marketplace” where residents trade with virtual dollars named “Linden” dollars. Starwood seems to have bet on getting virtual world experiences that they can draw upon when the real world product opens in 2008. While they are the first in the industry to do so, Second Life has major corporations such as Coca Cola, Wells Fargo and American Apparel who already draw upon virtual world experiences for applications in the real world.
Second Life boasts of nearly half a million residents and presumably will provide valuable inputs for the real world for Starwood. However, any sample set from Second Life clearly will not mimick the real world population and therefore cannot provide statistically unbiased estimates. That said, it should provide interesting insights in advance which probably will make it very worthwhile.