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Second Life: the future of human existence?

Or just the latest MMORPG fad? Let's consider the evidence.

For the unitiated, Second Life is an online game/virtual world/next stage in human evolution (delete as appropriate) in which players control character sprites or 'avatars' and interact with other users. The developer of the game, Linden Labs, generates and sells the land on which interactions take place, but everything else in the virtual world, from clothing and cars to buildings, is generated by users. It's therefore more of an open-ended platform than a game.

And it's big. You don't have to take our word for it: at time of writing the game's residents numbered some 2,811,768 – not yet quite up there with established online roleplaying games such as World of Warcraft, but growing fast – and some major companies are getting involved. AOL is only the latest big business to launch a Second Life shop, and Duran Duran are going to open a futuristic utopia there in August – whatever that is.

But not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Blogger Darren Barefoot, who is keen to point out that he is not a 'Second Life hater', has put some thought into what he calls the corporate hubris of Second Life's business community.

"I've been dismayed by the number of companies opening offices in Second Life," he writes. "It's my impression that a lot of them aren't wanted, and I can't imagine how what they're doing is actually cost-effective."

He quotes a member of Sun's staff who is having, er, Second Thoughts about the whole idea.

"It was a lot of work to get going and it costs us real money, and then our pavilion can only hold 63 avatars, so the ROI [return on investment] seems questionable," writes Sun's Tim Bray.

[Darren Barefoot, pleasingly, doesn't confine his comments to these dry musings. He has also produced a childish parody, which we applaud.]

The way firms have rushed to sign up to Second Life's unproven business model is reminiscent of the early days of the internet. It therefore seems likely that some fingers will be burnt before the benefits of a new way of doing business are felt.

For more on Second Life, read PC Advisor's 'Living online' feature in the April 07 issue, which goes on sale on 15 February.

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