The wholly virtual world known as Second Life has attracted more than a million active users, millions of dollars, and created its own—very real—economy.
The Making of Second Life is the behind-the-scenes story of the Web 2.0 revolution's most improbable enterprise: the creation of a virtual 3-D world with its own industries, culture, and social systems. Now the toast of the Internet economy, and the subject of countless news articles, profiles, and television shows, Second Life is usually known for the wealth of real-world companies (Reuters, Pontiac, IBM) that have created "virtual offices" within it, and the number of users ("avatars") who have become wealthy through their user-created content.
What sets Second Life apart from other online worlds, and what has made it such a success (one million-plus monthly users and growing) is its simple user-centered philosophy. Instead of attempting to control the activities of those who enter it, the creators of Second Life turned them loose: users (also known as Residents) own the rights to the intellectual content they create in-world, and the in-world currency of Linden Dollars is freely exchangeable for U.S. currency. Residents have responded by generating millions of dollars of economic activity through their in-world designs and purchases—currently, the Second Life economy averages more than one million U.S. dollars in transactions every day, while dozens of real-world companies and projects have evolved and developed around content originated in Second Life.
Wagner James Au explores the long, implausible road behind that success, and looks at the road ahead, where many believe that user-created worlds like Second Life will become the Net's next generation and the fulcrum for a revolution in the way we shop, work, and interact. Au's story is narrated from both within the corporate offices of Linden Lab, Second Life's creator, and from within Second Life itself, revealing all the fascinating, outrageous, brilliant, and aggravating personalities who make Second Life a very real place—and an illuminating mirror on the real (physical) world. Au writes about the wars they fought (sometimes literally), the transformations they underwent, the empires of land and commerce they developed, and above all, the collaborative creativity that makes their society an imperfect utopia, better in some ways than the one beyond their computer screens.
For those unfamiliar with the hype or the ridicule, Second Life is a "massively multi-user online world," a vast simulation created by ordinary loggers-in using 3-D graphic-design tools from the site's proprietor, Linden Labs. Posing as animated "avatars," "Residents" ramble or fly through the videoscape; they socialize with other avatars, create art, have sex, build cities, open shops and nightclubs, spend Linden Dollars (redeemable for real dollars) and fight wars, all while seated at their computer screens. Au, a journalist who chronicled the site as Linden Labs' reporter-avatar, visits the usual dot-com-saga touchstones. There's the shoestring startup by eccentric geeks; the pilgrimage to Burning Man; the bloviating visionary founder, Philip Rosedale ("I'm passionate about Second Life because there doesn't need to be a God"); the marketing gobbledygook about "Leverag[ing] Metaverse Brands." Au celebrates Second Life as a seedbed for unfettered cybercapitalism, a liberating outlet for the masses' pentup creativity and a "lucid dream" that erases the virtual-real divide. Alas, in his telling, Second Life's ongoing fantasia-"the monkey now perched on the wing screamed 'DIEEEE' as he strafed a well-armed babe in a bikini"-feels very much like a recounted dream: creative, certainly, but rather tedious and patently irrelevant. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information