Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual community created entirely by its members. Members assume an identity and take up residence in the environment, creating a custom avatar or character to represent themselves. The avatar moves in the virtual world using mouse control and intuitive keyboard buttons.
Avatars represent people in virtual communities.
The virtual world also includes sound; wind in the trees swaying, babbling brooks, audible conversations and built-in chat and instant messaging. Residents buy property, start businesses, play games with other residents, create objects, join clubs, attend classes, or just hang out.
Second Life includes emoticons that can be used in integrated chat sessions between players.
As of the fall of 2006, more than 3,000 residents were reportedly earning more than $20,000 US dollars (USD) a year running businesses in Second Life. Most of them sell objects they created that other residents want. One resident got a Business Week cover story by earning triple-digit income – which is real-world dollars – selling virtual real estate.
Property purchased in Second Life is owned by the purchaser, using a scheme known as Internet Protocol (IP) copyright. Some owners reward members for staying at their properties with Linden Dollars, the community currency. Linden dollars can also be purchased in real dollars using a credit card. Part of the exchange rate goes to Linden Inc., with the site reportedly generating over $64 million a year.
Real-world corporations have also taken an interest in the virtual world. In September 2006, Popular Science reported that Wells Fargo Bank purchased an island in Second Life where it could one day offer real-world banking. Several companies considered offering corporate training courses in the virtual world – a business model that could save on travel and accommodation expenses. Future possibilities include virtual universities that replicate their real-life counterparts with classrooms and faculty delivering real-time interactive classes, virtual interactive congressional sessions, and three-dimensional customer and technical support.
Second Life was the brainchild of Philip Rosedale, the former RealNetworks guru credited with leading the development of online streaming technologies. Anyone over the age of 13 can open a free account, although members between the ages of 13 and 18 participate in a separate virtual community. In the adult version, there are PG areas and adult areas where different modes of behavior are acceptable. Per the terms of the service agreement, harassment of any kind in the community results in permanent eviction.