The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Business mixes with pleasure in Second Life

The latest online phenomenon is the much-hyped virtual world Second Life, a vibrant social outlet that resembles a mixture between a happy version of the Matrix and the networking site Second Life has attracted the interest of millions of people around the world, including educators, corporations, artists and entrepreneurs, who help create a parallel universe, which may revolutionize the Internet.

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world where users can navigate, explore and interact with ever-changing environments created by its residents. The idea behind Second Life is similar to the open-source experiments, such as the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, where the users create the content. In Second Life, the communal aspects of open-source come to life in a science fiction inspired world experienced through the first-person perspective.

What makes Second Life different from other online virtual worlds like the more popular World of Warcraft or The Sims Online, is the absence of a plot or a mission. Second Life is a platform on which the users, called avatars, can build and create whatever their imagination allows them to, as long as they abide by the rules of conduct.

The result is a libertarian’s paradise. In this anarchic world created by freethinkers, avatars can socialize, buy and sell a variety of commodities, enjoy a variety of performances, listen to lectures and much more. Launched in June 2003 by San Francisco-based creator Linden Lab, Second Life has become the next big thing on the Internet and the population, now at about 1,775,000 members, is growing at a rate of 30 percent per month.

Educators have begun to see the potential of Second Life as an environment where students can try things that would not be possible or even appropriate in the classroom. More than 54 colleges and universities in the United States, plus numerous other educational organizations, are using Second Life as an educational venue.

In an effort to stimulate education in Second Life, Linden Lab offers educators a free plot of land for one semester to try it out. Teachers can design their dream classroom and if they want the lectures to be private they can purchase a private island where access can be restricted to students in the class.

Education in Second Life could give a voice to shy students, by eliminating the stage fright many feel when confronted with speaking in front of a large group.

“Students who don’t talk in class would be more likely to speak out,” said Harvey Rich, a CSUN sociology professor. “The anonymity factor is huge in the virtual world.”

Incorporating new technology like Second Life in education would require technical training support to faculty and students.

“There are old-guard faculty here who don’t even use e-mail,” Rich said, who argued that new faculty members are more likely to be early adopters of Second Life. “Cyberspace has already had a huge impact on how CSUN does business.”

In Second Life, the same economic principles apply as in the real world. The currency, called Linden Dollars, can be converted to real world currency on the currency exchange market at a rate of about $270 Linden to US $1. On Dec. 3, Linden Lab reported that a total of US $655,613 changed hands in Second Life during a 24-hour cycle.

Linden Lab recently announced that Anshe Chung, a German entrepreneur whose real name is Ailin Graef, was the first person to make more than US $1 million entirely in Second Life. Chung, and others like her, have cashed in on Second Life’s booming real-estate market. Chung also owns several virtual shopping malls and stores as well as virtual company stock.

Linden Lab takes a hands-off approach in maintaining Second Life. The only requirements are that users pay the membership fees and follow some basic rules of conduct. Violating the rules can get a user suspended or expelled from Second Life. Violations include acts of intolerance, harassment, assault, indecency, but also disclosure of other peoples private information and disturbing the peace.

Basic membership is free, but members pay a land use fee of $9.95 per month for the right to own property plus an additional fee based on land holdings exceeding 512 square meters. Initially, there were talks of a Second Life-tax, but that idea was scrapped because it proved to be unacceptable to residents. If earnings made in Second Life are converted to USD, that money is subject to taxation and must be reported as income.

About 220,000 residents logged in during the last week of November and there are usually between 10,000 to 20,000 residents logged in. The typical Second Life avatar is 32 years old, male or female and what advertisers classify as an early adopter of new technologies.

Second Life offers almost endless numbers of opportunities, but it takes new residents some time to familiarize with the environment. Creating, designing and building in Second Life requires some programming know-how and is done using special software. A creation is automatically copyright protected and belongs to the creator, who often offers to sell the product to other residents.

Products and services offered for sale include personal beautification, clothing, cars and other vehicles, real estate, concert tickets, music, consultant work, as well as more seedy services like lap-dances and sexual favors. Note that in order to fully enjoy the carnal pleasures of Second Life, users need to purchase external genitals.

In October, Reuters became the first news service to assign a full-time reporter to cover Second Life. The beat-reporter Adam Reuters, whose real name is Adam Pasick, is guaranteed to keep busy covering a vast amount of happenings and news developments in Second Life.

Many major corporations have entered Second Life in the hopes of developing potential markets and receive some free publicity. The cost of developing business in Second Life is minimal and companies can sell and promote products to residents.

Linden Lab has also created Teen Second Life, a PG-version of the adult world exclusively for users ages 13-17. The only other people allowed into Teen Second Life are Linden Lab Staff, Linden liaisons, who are there to ensure a safe environment, and educators, who are restricted to designated education islands.

Second Life requires a broadband Internet connection. Access to high-speed Internet is a social class issue that has largely replaced the older socio-economic issue of access to a computer.

“The obstacle here is that (there are) students who commute and don’t have access to a computer at home,” Rich said. “If you expect students to be available for a 10 p.m. chat or to be online four times a week, that could be a problem if they don’t have high-speed Internet access.”

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