Gartner predicts that 80% of active Internet users and Fortune 500 companies will have an avatar or presence in a virtual environment like Second Life by the end of 2011.

Gartner said that enterprise clients should experiment with virtual environments, but hold off on heavy investments until the environments stabilize and mature.

The predictions were made during "Symposium/ITxpo 2007: Emerging Trends," and were accompanied by five laws to guide enterprises in their virtual ventures.

First Law: Virtual worlds are not games, but neither are they a parallel universe (yet). "How do we exploit this as a sales channel?" is the wrong first question to ask.

Second Law: Behind every avatar is a real person. Enterprise users must consider their corporate reputations when dealing with avatars.

Third Law: Be relevant and add value. "Do not expect to undertake profitable commercial activities inside most virtual worlds in the next three years," said Steve Prentice of Gartner.

Fourth Law: Understand and contain the downside. Ask if virtual-world activities undermine or influence branding in the real world. Adult content is a large part of virtual economies, so appropriate behavior and ethics must be considered.

Fifth Law: This is a long haul. Virtual environments have developed through the convergence of social networking, simulation and online gaming. The stability and scalability of many new entrants are not yet established. 

Via eMarketer