Second Life: It's Not a Game
"So I don my juvenile female fairy costume (with wings), and shrink down to about 3 feet tall."
By Renée Magriel Roberts
It's 11 PM and I've finally finished stacking orders for tomorrow, dispensed with all today's correspondence, special-ordered books, finished and uploaded today's data entry. So I don my juvenile female fairy costume (with wings), and shrink down to about 3 feet tall. I'm ready to go exploring, exploring virtually, that is, in the realm of Second Life (www.secondlife.com).
I'm not alone. At this moment there are almost 50,000 visitors to Second Life, who within the last 24 hrs. have spent over $1.3 million in a 3D digital world that is designed, imagined, and executed by its 11 million residents. This is a world being used in every imaginable way and is still in its infancy -- major universities use it for courses and simulations, residents buy and sell everything from how one's avatar (the virtual being that you control) looks and acts, to what it wears, where it lives, what it listens to, and what vehicles it drives, and most importantly for our purposes ... what it reads.
What is Second Life? It is an open-ended, resident-created three-dimensional world, opened in 2003, and populated by individuals all over the world. It is full of opportunities for social networking, creating new environments, and building new businesses.
Because residents maintain the rights to their digital creations, there is a vast marketplace on Second Life. The Linden dollar (L$) is the currency of this world and it trades with other world currencies. Second Life may look like a game, but it is decidedly not a game. Investors like Mitch Kapor (Lotus), Ray Ozzie (Microsoft), Pierre Omidyar (eBay) and Jeff Bezos( Amazon) have bet big bucks that Second Life will be one of the next coming things.
While Second Life costs nothing to explore (including creating one of the stock avatars), buying "property" costs Linden dollars (L$), currently trading in real life at about US$1 to L$300. In addition, residents can purchase anything imaginable in this virtual world, including ... books.
I'd like you to imagine sitting in your living room, in front of a very big screen digital display. Through your avatar you are exploring a street of antiquarian bookstores in a mythical or "real" virtual village. You go into one and inquire about their collection of materials on Benjamin Franklin. You can pull virtual books down from the shelves and open them up to see their title pages or illustrations, or their bindings. Through streaming audio and video you can find out more about each book, as well as related titles.
A bookseller avatar, in real time, can discuss the books with you and send you descriptive information which your avatar stores. You can chat or talk with an audio link. You can also link, in real time, to outside websites.
Second Life: It's Not a Game
This is me (aka Rosie Aluveaux) exploring a virtual store.
You can purchase a virtual book in L$ (these are readily converted into real money) for your virtual home, and/or you can purchase a real book to be sent to your real home. In any case, the level of interaction between you and the bookseller, in real time, far exceeds what you would expect from a passive website.
Effortlessly, in one evening, you can teleport (Second Life's way of traveling from one location to another) from one bookstore or book village to the next, through recreations of Swiss villages, or imaginative other-world sci fi establishments. You can hover overhead and look at the whole scene from the air, or change the perspective of the camera, zoom in or out, or look at the virtual world through the eyes of your avatar.
This and more is all available now, or will be available soon in Second Life. It is a world created from the imagination, which blurs the distinction between what you might think of as "real" and what you might perceive as "imaginary". Even if you have a bricks-and-mortar store, or a terrific independent website, you cannot ignore this new business frontier.
To see some of the more creative ways Second Life residents are envisioning the future, check out NPR's "Science Friday" site; NASA's museum of space exploration. The venerable Library of Congress has just opened a Second Life exhibition. Harry Potter is not just a series of books, but has spawned numerous Second Life fantasy environments.
But here's the warning label:
First of all, Second Life is a computer resource hog. For a Windows system, you absolutely have to have a fast internet connection (Cable or DSL), and at least XP in your system. Your computer should be running at least at 1.5 GHz or better, with at least 1 GB of computer memory, and you desperately will need a top graphics card, like the Nvidia or ATI graphics cards. Without adequate resources count on freezing on a regular basis, so do not explore Second Life on a critical business computer, or with files or databases open that you would be upset losing.
Secondly, Second Life is addictive. This is not necessarily a bad thing. How you deal with that, I leave in your capable hands.
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at email@example.com.