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89. Second Life beckons

By Andrew D. Wright

I open the large wooden doors of the snow-covered castle with a touch. Inside a giant cheetah is sitting upright watching a movie. "Come on in, make yourself at home", he says. I sit down next to him and watch the whole film. Afterwards I left the castle and started flying through the air like Superman towards the setting sun.

[Photo: Closeup of my avatar] What sounds like a fevered mind at work is just one little sample of Second Life, an online community of more than 350,000 people living in a near infinite variety of virtual worlds.

Anyone can sign up and use Second Life for free. Premium members pay a monthly fee and can own land and buildings.

Users pick any first name and one of a limited number of last names and choose the appearance of their avatar.

An avatar is like a moving lifelike doll you direct around the landscape or into buildings. You can make your avatar look like your real world self or make it literally anything you want. A simple and intuitive series of menus and slider bars make it easy to set up.

You can meet and chat with other avatars representing live people from all over the world. Universities have been using Second Life to hold virtual classrooms and conferences where everyone can see and hear everything as if they were there in the real world.

What makes things really interesting is that the virtual world of Second Life has an actual functioning economy with its own currency, the Linden, convertible to U.S. dollars. The exchange rate, about $310 Linden to $1 U.S., means that this is an easy practical method of making micro-payments.

Users can earn Lindens in Second Life a number of ways or buy them using real money. Lindens can be used to pay for goods and services anywhere in Second Life. There are worlds full of stores selling products generated by users. All users have the ability to build things out of thin air in special sandbox areas then copy the item and sell it to residents of other worlds.

[Photo: Holiday snap from Second Life] There is not space to even begin to cover the range of things people are doing in Second Life. Users are making their own music and videos. Getting married. Dancing at the discos. Designing new worlds. Gambling at the casinos. Exploring. Running virtual companies selling their virtual goods and living in the real world off the profits. Dressing up. Forming into family groups. Creating museums. And yes, there are mature-only worlds too.

Your avatar cannot be hurt or killed and walks across the ocean floor as easily as it can fly. Items in the virtual world can by touched or worn using a right-click menu. Touching or sitting on floating icons can animate your avatar so it can dance a flawless tango or ride a waterslide. Newbies can brush up their skills in special starter worlds.

Second Life is available as a free download for Windows 2000/XP, Mac OS X and Linux. It works best on a fast computer with lots of RAM, a high-end graphics card and high speed Internet connection for streaming media and all the eye candy to work the smoothest.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 30 July 2006


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