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Exactly where is Second Life heading?

It’s easy to pigeon-hole Second Life in the same category as online role-playing games that offer little more than the opportunity to obliterate orcs, mangle monsters and collect treasure.

But Linden Lab's creation is increasingly being seen as far more than that. While the first of the 1.5 million (and counting) inhabitants that set foot on the land of Second Life certainly had escapism in mind, other real-world corporations are seeing much more productive value in the virtual world.

Much has been made of the special attention the likes of Adidas, Reuters and Toyota have taken in the game, but the true value of the reach of Second Life has yet to be seen. I've heard talk of media companies setting up learning conferences in the online world, or perhaps even providing customers with improved interaction with the companies they buy products from. Forget IT manufacturers' user forums, visit the technical support staff's virtual embodiment in an online role-playing game.

It seems a bit far-fetched, but real-world companies already agree that the concept adds value in principle. Games like Second Life could add a pretty, intuitive and accessible front end to communications and interactions that are too clunky for bog-standard email and too expensive for video-conferencing.

I've yet to become a Second Life citizen, so haven't experienced the real-world benefits of this expanding virtual world. But I'm keen to find examples from those that have spent a fair bit of time there. Is there an opportunity to set up real-life events within the confines of Second Life? Or is this big media opportunism gone mad?

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