Get a (first) life, Mitch

April 1, 2007
More than a conventional multiuser game but less than true reality, second life is major weirdness in a really, really big way.

In the course of cruising through a huge pile of truly ghastly Google video clips recently, I came across one very interesting hour-long videoone of the more impressive of the Google Tech Talks seriescalled “Glimpse Inside a Metaverse: The Virtual World of Second Life.” Do a Google search on “Second Life” and you’ll find the video and much, much more. There is also a useful paperback book (Second Life: The Official Guide, published by John Wiley & Sons, 2007).

There are masses of Web sites dealing with the Second Life phenomenon, but for a quick-and-dirty introduction to the subject, check out the pages in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Briefly, this metaverse (meta+universe) is an Internet-based virtual world that is constructed, in large part, by its users, called “Residents,” who use motional avatarsdesigned by the Residentsto provide high-level social network services with many of the significant facets of a true metaverse.

If that is totally incomprehensible to you, join the club. My first reaction to all this heavy-duty cyberpunk-posturing c**p, was, “Hey, get a life, guys.” My assumption was that this metaverse concept was probably only for those unfortunate and unsocialized geeks who are more at home in a metaverse than in the real world. But for normal folks like you and me, metaverses should be avoided like the plague. But, enough already, let’s press on.

More than a conventional multiuser game but less than true reality, Second Life is major weirdness in a really, really big way. Enter this metaverse by registering at www.secondlife.com. Just choose an avatar and you will be ready to boldly go where no man has ever been. Try it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll like it, but I think you’ll be amazed at what the Linden Lab supergeeks have achieved so far.

In development since 2002 by Linden Labfounded by former RealNetworks CTO Philip Rosedale (his avatar is Phil Linden)Second Life had a million registered accounts by October 2006, 2 million by mid-December 2006, and 3 million by the end of January. Of course, not all these people are online at the same time. In fact, on Feb. 1, Second Life saw the first occurrence of 30,000 simultaneous Residents. Not too shabby.

Whether these Residents are looking for better ways of improving the online society remains to be seen. In fact, one of the more alarming virtual features is the arrival of various establishments in the metaverse galaxy offering entertainment of an “adult” nature.

But, let’s cut to the chase and get down to the bottom line-how is anyone going to make any money out of this seriously weird venture? The answer may be that several people have had major success by starting virtual businesses that sell to the avatars and some virtual entrepreneurs actually sell fully functional avatars, fashionably coiffed and clothed, and often potentially heavily armed to meet any violent intruder avatars.

And, believe it or not, you can buy and sell virtual real estate. Some canny entrepreneurs have become rich by speculating in virtual real estate, valued in Linden dollars (L$), whose exchange rate with real dollars fluctuates by the hour (currently about L$400 to one U.S. dollar). Rumor has it that an investor avatar is about to open a virtual stock exchange.

There are also “live” music performances and other “shows.” Many of these events are advertised in a real-world newspaper, The Metaverse Messenger.

I even saw a “live” press conference purportedly from the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, chaired by the virtual journalist Adam Reuters before an audience of reporter avatars. The attendee avatars questioned Mitch Kapor, the chairman of the board of Linden Lab, and founder of Lotus Development. Kapor appeared as an avatar and answered questions just as he would have done in a real-world conference. Kapor optimistically predicts Second Life represents a $100 billion opportunity.

Hmmmm . . . there’s something seriously weird going on here. If you put Laser Focus World on your virtual press list, maybe we’ll teleport a reporter avatar to your next press briefing. Is it time to get a real life, Mitch?

About the Author

Jeffrey Bairstow | Contributing Editor

Jeffrey Bairstow is a Contributing Editor for Laser Focus World; he previously served as Group Editorial Director.

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