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Second Life (SL) is a virtual world developed by Linden Lab that launched on June 23, 2003, and is accessible via the Internet. A free client program called the Second Life Viewer enables its users called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars. Residents can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the world, which residents refer to as the grid. Second Life is for people aged 18 and over, while Teen Second Life is for people aged 13 to 17.

Built into the software is a three-dimensional modeling tool based around simple geometric shapes that allows a resident to build virtual objects. This can be used in combination with the Linden Scripting Language which can be used to add functionality to objects. More complex three-dimensional Sculpted prims (colloquially known as sculpties), textures for clothing or other objects, and animations and gestures can be created using external software. The Second Life Terms of Service ensure that users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management functions.

History

In 1999, Philip Rosedale (known as Philip Linden inworld) formed Linden Lab. His initial focus was on the development of hardware that would enable computer users to be fully immersed in a virtual world experience. In its earliest form, the company struggled to produce a commercial version of the hardware, known as "The Rig", which was realized in prototype form as a clunky steel contraption with several computer monitors that users could wear on their shoulders. That vision soon morphed into the software application Linden World, in which users could participate in task-based games and socialization in a three-dimensional online environment. That effort would eventually transform into the better known, user-centered Second Life. Although he was familiar with the metaverse of Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, Rosedale has said that his vision of virtual worlds predates that book, and that he conducted some early virtual world experiments during his college years at the University of California San Diegomarker, where he studied physics.

On December 11, 2007, Cory Ondrejka, who helped program Second Life, was forced to resign as chief technology officer .

In January 2008, residents (including bots used to simulate traffic for better search rankings) spent a total of 28,274,505 hours "inworld", and, on average, 38,000 residents were logged in at any particular moment. The maximum concurrency (number of avatars inworld) recorded is 88,200 in the 1st qtr. 2009

On March 14, 2008, Rosedale announced plans to step down from his position as Linden Lab CEO and to become chairman of Linden Lab's board of directors. Rosedale announced Mark Kingdon as the new CEO effective May 15, 2008.

In 2008, Second Life was honored at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the development of online sites with user-generated content. Rosedale accepted the award.

In October 2009, just over 16 million accounts were registered, although there are no reliable figures for actual long term consistent usage.

Classification

During a 2001 meeting with investors, Rosedale noticed that the participants were particularly responsive to the collaborative, creative potential of Second Life. As a result the initial objective-driven, gaming focus of Second Life was shifted to a more user-created, community-driven experience.

Second Life's status as a virtual world, a computer game, or a talker, is frequently debated. Unlike a traditional computer game, Second Life does not have a designated objective, nor traditional game play mechanics or rules. As it does not have any stipulated goals it is irrelevant to talk about winning or losing in relation to Second Life. Likewise, unlike a traditional talker, Second Life contains an extensive world that can be explored and interacted with, and it can be used purely as a creative tool set if the user so chooses.

Residents and avatars

There is no charge to create a Second Life account or for making use of the world for any period of time. Linden Lab reserves the right to charge for the creation of large numbers of multiple accounts for a single person but at present does not do so. A Premium membership (US$9.95/mo., US$22.50 quarterly, or US$72/yr.) extends access to an increased level of technical support, and also pays an automatic stipend of L$300/week into the member's avatar account. This stipend, paid into the member's avatar account, means that the actual cost for the benefit of extended tech support for an annual payment of US$72 is only US$14. However, the vast majority of casual users of SL do not upgrade beyond the free "basic" account.

Avatars may take any form users choose (human, animal, vegetable, mineral, or a combination thereof) or residents may choose to resemble themselves as they are in real life, or they may choose even more abstract forms, given that almost every aspect of an avatar is fully customizable. See Second Life Culture for more details. A single resident account may have only one avatar at a time, although the appearance of this avatar can change between as many different forms as the Resident wishes. Avatar forms, like almost everything else in SL, can be either created by the user, or bought pre-made. A single person may also have multiple accounts, and thus appear to be multiple Residents (a person's multiple accounts are referred to as alts).

Avatars can communicate via local chat or global instant messaging (known as IM). Chatting is used for localized public conversations between two or more avatars, and is visible to any avatar within a given distance. IMs are used for private conversations, either between two avatars, or among the members of a group, or even between objects and avatars. Unlike chatting, IM communication does not depend on the participants being within a certain distance of each other. As of version 1.18.1.2, voice chat, both local and IM, is also available on both the main grid and teen grid, using technology licensed by Vivox, a provider of similar services to other MMO worlds.

Instant messages may optionally be sent to a Resident's email when the Resident is logged off, although message length is limited to 4096 bytes. If a message is sent to an offline Resident it will also be saved to be viewed when they log on.

Economy

Second Life has an internal currency, the Linden dollar (L$). L$ can be used to buy, sell, rent or trade land or goods and services with other users. Virtual goods include buildings, vehicles, devices of all kinds, animations, clothing, skin, hair, jewelry, flora and fauna, and works of art. Services include "camping", wage labor, business management, entertainment and custom content creation (which can be broken up into the following 6 categories: building, texturing, scripting, animating, art direction, and the position of producer/project funder). L$ can be purchased using US Dollars and other currencies on the LindeX exchange provided by Linden Lab, independent brokers (such as VirWoX and ACE Exchange) or other resident users. Money obtained from currency sales is most commonly used to pay Second Life's own subscription and tier fees; only a relatively small number of users earn large amounts of money from the world. According to figures published by Linden Lab, about 64,000 users made a profit in Second Life in February 2009, of whom 38524 made less than US$10, while 233 made more than US$5000 . Profits are derived from selling virtual goods, renting land, and a broad range of services. In March 2009, it has become known that there exist a few Second Life entrepreneurs, whose profits exceed 1 million US$ per year.

Some companies generate US dollar earnings from services provided in Second Life. Examples are Languagelife.com, Rivers Run Red, BNT Holdings, and Beta Technologies. This opportunity is extending to normal residents and non-Second Life users via affiliate programs. The total value of these transactions has not been calculated but in 2008 consultancy firms Rivers Run Red and Electric Sheep have reported annual revenues of $6 million.

Accessibility

Second Life has been criticized for its lack of accessibility as users unable to use a mouse or unable to see are excluded from accessing Second Life using the second Life viewer. However, since the Second Life viewer was made open source a number of solutions towards making Second Life accessible have been developed (listed chronological order):

  • A modification of the Second Life viewer has been developed that allows users who are visually impaired to navigate their avatar using force feedback . Different object types are distinguished through different vibration frequencies.
  • TextSL is a text client developed by the University of Nevada that allows Screenreader users to access Second Life. TextSL allows users who are visually impaired to navigate, communicate with avatars and interact with objects using a command based interface inspired by the Zork adventure game.
  • IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility Center developed a Web based interface for Second Life that can be accessed with a screen reader. This client provides basic navigation, communication, and perception functions using hotkeys.
  • The guide dog project developed by the Virtual Ability Group offers a virtual guide dog object that can be “worn” by a user’s avatar. The guidedog provides a number of functions such as navigation and querying the environment through a chat-like interface. Feedback is provided using synthetic speech.


A recent study shows that one of the biggest barriers towards making Second Life accessible to users who are visually impaired is its apparent lack of meta data, such as names and descriptions, for virtual world objects. This is a similar problem for the accessibility of the web where images may lack . The study found that 32% of the objects in Second Life are called 'object' and it is estimated that up to 40% of the objects in Second Life lack an accurate name .

Localization

In 2007, Brazilmarker became the first country to have its own independently-run portal to Second Life, operated by an intermediary—although the actual Second Life grid accessed through the Brazilian portal is the same as that used by the rest of the worldwide customer base. The portal, called "Mainland Brazil", is run by Kaizen Games, making Kaizen the first partner in Linden's "Global Provider Program". In October 2007, Linden Lab signed a second "Global Provider Program" with T-Entertainment Co., LTD., Seoul, South Korea and T-Entertainment's portal called "SERA Korea" serves as a gateway to Second Life Grid. Previously, starting in late 2005, Linden Lab had opened and run their own welcome area portals and regions for German, Korean and Japanese language speakers.

Public chat within the world supports many different written languages and character sets, providing the ability for people to chat in their native language. Several resident-created translation devices provide machine translation of public chat (using various online translation services), allowing for communication between residents who speak different languages.

Land ownership

Premium membership allows the Resident to own land, with the first 512m² (of Main Land owned by a holder of a Premium account) free of the usual monthly Land Use Fee (referred to by residents as Tier, because it is charged in tiers). There is no upper limit on tier; at the highest level, the user pays US$295 for their first 65536m². Any land must first be purchased from either Linden Lab or a private seller.

There are four types of land regions; Mainland, Private Region, Homestead and Openspace. A region comprises an area of 65536m² (16.1943 acres) in area, being 256 meters on each side. Mainland regions form one continuous land mass, while Private regions are islands. Openspace regions may be either Mainland or Private, but have lower prim limits and traffic use levels than Mainland regions. The owners of a Private region enjoy access to some additional controls that are not available to mainland owners, for example they have a greater ability to alter the shape of the land. Residents must own a region (either Mainland or Private) to qualify for purchasing an Openspace region.

Linden Lab usually sells only complete 65536m² (16.1943 acres) regions at auction (although smaller parcels are auctioned on occasion, typically land parcels abandoned by users who have left). Once a Resident buys land they may resell it freely and use it for any purpose that it is not prohibited by the Second Life Terms of Service.

Residents may also choose to purchase, or rent, land from another Resident (a Resident landlord) rather than from Linden Lab. On a Private region, the built in land selling controls allow the landlord to sell land in the region to another Resident while still retaining some control. Residents purchasing, or renting, land from any other party than Linden Lab are not required to hold a Premium membership nor to necessarily pay a Tier fee, although typically the landlord will require some form of upfront and/or monthly fee to compensate them for their liability to pay the Land Use Fee charged by Linden Lab. However Linden Lab acknowledges only the landlord as the owner of the land, and will not intervene in disputes between Residents. This means, for example, that a landlord can withdraw a Resident's land from availability, without refunding their money, and Linden Lab will not arbitrate in the dispute.

Fee schedule

Second Life General Fees
Fee Benefit
Free Sign Up, Avatar Creation, Login ID, Access, Participation
US$1 250 Linden Dollars (variable) - brokered purchase; may go to LL or a resident seller
US$0.30 per transaction fee for buying Linden Dollars on Lindex currency exchange
3.5% of transaction value per transaction fee for selling Linden Dollars on Lindex currency exchange
US$9.95/month Premium membership (access to higher mainland ranges as below, 300 Linden Dollars per week, access to live and ticket support)
US$125/month Land as below, plus Concierge service (live support access)
US$150 Island relocation
US$50 Island rename
US$100 Island interuser transfer (includes relocation and renaming)
US$500 plus 20 premium memberships Unique avatar surname for an organization


Second Life Land Use Fees
Monthly Land Fee Additional Land Parcel Size (m2) Square Equal Line Length (m) Max Prims
US$5 1/128 Mainland Region 512 22x22 117
US$8 1/64 Mainland Region 1024 32x32 234
US$15 1/32 Mainland Region 2048 44x44 468
US$25 1/16 Mainland Region 4096 64x64 937
US$40 1/8 Mainland Region 8192 90x90 1875
US$75 1/4 Mainland Region 16,384 128x128 3750
US$75 OpenSpace 65,536 256x256 750
US$125 1/2 Mainland Region 32,768 181x181 7500
US$125 Homestead 65,536 256x256 3750
US$195 1 Mainland Region 65,536 256x256 15,000
+US$95 +1/2 Mainland Region (when already at US$195 level) 32,768 181x181 7500
US$195 Private Island on pre-2007 server technology (second hand purchase only) 65,536 256x256 15,000
US$295 Private Island on current server technology 65,536 256x256 15,000


For Mainland fees, the fee determines only the area of land available; the number of prims available is determined by the land itself. The values shown above are the norm but some rare mainland regions offer more prims in the same land area. For non-mainland fees, the fee sets both the land area and the prim count.

Technology

Second Life comprises the viewer (also known as the client) executing on the user's personal computer, and several thousand servers operated by Linden Lab.

Client

Linden Lab provides official viewers for Microsoft Windows 2000 / XP / Vista / 7, Mac OS X, and most distributions of Linux. A third-party version is available for Solaris and OpenSolaris. The viewer renders 3D graphics using the OpenGL technology. Since the viewer is open source, users may recompile it to create their own custom viewers; modified viewer software is available from third parties. One such example is the Nicholaz Edition. This viewer, produced by Nicholaz Beresford, includes bug fixes developed outside Linden Lab that are not yet included in the Linden Lab code. More recently a client known as Emerald , created by a group of residents who previously made their own clients yet have since banded together to work as one, has become very popular among the user base of Second Life due to the large number of features they have added to the original client.

An independent project, libsecondlife, offers a function library for interacting with Second Life servers. libsecondlife has been used to create non-graphic third party viewers, including SLEEK, a text browser using.NET, and Ajaxlife, a text viewer that runs in a web browser and TextSL a text client inspired by the Zork adventure game that allows users who are visually impaired to access Second Life using a Screenreader.

In February 2008 a partnership between Linden Lab and Vollee was announced. In May,Vollee launched an open Beta trial for a Second Life mobile application that lets Residents travel and communicate in-world by logging in from a handset using an existing account. The service, introduced for free, requires downloading a thin client to a 3G or Wi-Fi enabled handset. As of June 2009, it seems Vollee no longer exists as their web sites are no longer available.

A special beta client is available, which is updated very regularly, and is used for constant software testing by volunteers. The beta client connects to a "beta grid" which consists of a limited number of regions mirrored at regular intervals from the real grid. The mirroring process overwrites any changes made on the beta grid, and thus actions taken within it are not stored by the servers; it is for testing purposes only. Every few months, the standard software is replaced by the beta-grid software, intended as a big upgrade. The Second Life user-base is growing rapidly, and this has stimulated both social and technological changes to the world; the addition of new features also provides periodic boosts to the growth of the economy.

Server

Each region in the Second Life "grid" runs on a single core of a multi-core server, running proprietary software on Debian Linux. These servers run scripts in the region, as well as providing communication between avatars and objects present in the region.

Every item in the Second Life universe is referred to as an asset. This includes the shapes of the 3D objects known as primitives, the digital images referred to as textures that decorate primitives, digitized audio clips, avatar shape and appearance, avatar skin textures, LSL scripts, information written on notecards, and so on. Each asset is referenced with a universally unique identifier or UUID.

Assets are stored on Isilon Systems storage clusters, comprising all data that has ever been created by anyone who has been in the SL world. Infrequently used assets are offloaded to S3 bulk storage. , the total storage was estimated to consume 100 terabytes of server capacity. The asset servers function independently of the region simulators, though the region simulators request object data from the asset servers when a new object loads into the simulator.

Each server instance runs a physics simulation to manage the collisions and interactions of all objects in that region. Objects can be nonphysical and non moving, or actively physical and movable. Complex shapes may be linked together in groups of up to 255 separate primitives. Additionally, each player's avatar is treated as a physical object so that it may interact with physical objects in the world. , Second Life simulators use the Havok 4 physics engine for all in-world dynamics. This engine is capable of simulating thousands of physical objects at once.

Linden Lab pursues the use of open standards technologies, and uses free and open source software such as Apache, MySQL, Squid and Linux. The plan is to move everything to open standards by standardizing the Second Life protocol. Cory Ondrejka, former CTO of Second Life, has stated that a while after everything has been standardized, both the client and the server will be released as free and open source software.

OpenSimulator

In January 2007, OpenSimulator was founded as an open source simulator project. The aim of this project is to develop a full open source server software for Second Life clients. OpenSIM is BSD Licensed and it is written in C# and can run under Mono environment. The community is fast growing and there are some existing alternative Second Life grids which are using OpenSimulator.

Applications

Education

Second Life is used as a platform for education by many institutions, such as colleges, universities, libraries and government entities. There are over one hundred regions used for educational purposes covering subjects such as chemistry and English. Instructors and researchers in Second Life favor it because it is more personal than traditional distance learning. Research has uncovered development, teaching and/or learning activities which use Second Life in over 80 percent of UK universities. At least 300 universities around the world teach courses or conduct research in SL. New educational institutions have also emerged that operate exclusively within Second Life, taking advantage of the platform to deliver a high quality service to a world wide audience at low cost.

Info Islands uses library programming sponsored by the Illinois' Alliance Library System and OPAL currently offered online to librarians and library users within Second Life. Another virtual continent called SciLands is devoted to science and technology education. While initially centered on the International Spaceflight Museum, it now hosts a number of organizations including NASAmarker, NOAA, NIHmarker, JPLmarker, NPR, National Physical Laboratory, UKmarker, and a host of other government agencies, universities, and museums. In December 2008, the United States Air Force launched MyBase, a Second Life island overseen by the Air Education and Training Command.

Second Life's usefulness as a platform for pre-K–12 education is limited due to the age restrictions on the main grid and the difficulties of collaborating among various educational projects on the teen grid. New approaches to fostering collaboration on the teen grid, such as the Virtual World Campus, offer some hope of overcoming some of these obstacles. For now, however, the primary utility of Second Life for pre-K–12 education is in the education and professional development of teachers and school librarians. Still, K–12 educators use Second Life to meet each other and to create objects and structures that help them develop curriculum, as EnergyTeachers.org does with its Sustainability Energy Science Lab.

Needs to hold a meeting of more people than can be supported by a region's server, has prompted a behavior called "four-cornering", i.e. meeting where four regions with servers all meet; this is unwelcome, as it tends to put excessive load on the system sending object and texturing information between those four regions' servers.

Language education

Language learning is the most widespread type of education in virtual worlds, with many universities, mainstream language institutes and private language schools using 3D virtual environments to support language learning.

Arts

Second Life residents express themselves creatively through virtual world adaptations of:
  • art exhibits
  • live music
  • live theater


Art exhibits

Second Life has created an environment where artists can display their works to an audience across the world. This has created an entire artistic culture on its own where many residents who buy or build homes can shop for artwork to place there. Gallery openings even allow art patrons to "meet" and socialize with the artist responsible for the artwork and has even led to many real life sales. Numerous art gallery sims abound in second life. Most notable of these is the art gallery sim "Cetus", which has been in continuous operation since 2006 as a planned, mix-use art community of galleries, offices and loft apartments for residents. Created by avatar Xander Ruttan, it has resulted in many collaborative efforts amongs artists, designers and builders from across the world.

The modeling tools from Second Life allow the artists also to create new forms of art, that in many ways are not possible in real life due to physical constraints or high associated costs. The virtual arts are visible in over 2050 "museums" (according to SL's own search engine).

In 2008 Haydn Shaughnessy, real life gallerist, along with his wife Roos Demol hired a real life architect, New Yorkmarker based, Benn Dunkley to design a gallery in Second Life. Dunkleys goal was to design an interactive gallery with art in mind in a virtual world. "Ten Cubed" is a radical departure in art exhibition, a futuristically designed gallery showcasing art in a unique setting. On January 31, 2008, "Ten Cubed" was launched.For its inaugural exhibition, Crossing the Void II, owner and curator Shaughnessy selectedfive artists working in and with modern technologies. These artists included Chris Ashley based in Oakland, CAmarker, Jon Coffelt based in New York, NYmarker, Claire Keating based in Cork, Irelandmarker, Scott Kildall based in San Francisco, CAmarker and Nathaniel Stern originally based in New York, NYmarker now in Dublin, Irelandmarker. Real life as well as Second Life editions are available from the gallery.

The virtual creations from the metaverse are disclosed in real life by initiatives such as Fabjectory (statuettes) and Secondlife-Art.com (oil paintings).

In 2007, artists Adam Nash, Christopher Dodds and Justin Clemens won a AUD$20,000 Second Life Artists in Residence grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. Their Babelswarm installation was launched in Second Life and The Lismore Regional Gallery in NSWmarker, Australia on April 11, 2008 by Australia Council Chairman James Strong.

Live music

Live music performances in Second Life takes place in three distinctly different ways;
  • With in-world voice chat, where the user dons a headset and microphone then enables a Second Life browse to "broadcast" his voice to other users, much like a telephone conference call.
  • With streaming, where vocal and instrumental music by Second Life residents can be provided with the aid of Internet broadcast software, such as Shoutcast. This is input, via microphones, instruments or other audio sources, into computer audio interfaces and streamed live to audio servers. Similar to webcast radio, the audio stream from the live performance can be received in Second Life for the enjoyment of other Residents on their computer speakers. This started with performances by Astrin Few in May 2004 and began to gain popularity mid 2005. For example the UK band Passenger performed on the Menorca Island in mid-2006. Another UK band, Redzone, toured in Second Life in February 2007.
  • With inworld samples, where sounds samples are uploaded and an inworld user interface – instruments – is made to trigger those. Unlike streaming, performing with inworld samples make use of the Second Life environment and creates a three-dimensional sound experience to the audience. The Avatar Orchestra Metaverse featuring among other composer Pauline Oliveros is the most prolific representative with this approach.


Linden Lab added an Event Category "Live Music" in March 2006 to accommodate the increasing number of scheduled events. By the beginning of 2008, scheduled live music performance events in Second Life spanned every musical genre, and included hundreds of live musicians and DJs who perform on a regular basis. A typical day in Second Life will feature dozens of live music performances.

In 2008 the UK act Redzone announced they would release their new live album only via Second Life.

Many amateur performers start their music careers in Second Life by performing at virtual karaoke bars or Open Mic, then progress to performing for "pay," or Linden dollars, in-world.

Theater

Live theater is presented in Second Life. The SL Shakespeare Company performed an act from Hamlet live in February 2008. In 2009 the company is producing scenes from Twelfth Night.

In 2007 Johannes von Matuschka and Daniel Michelis developed Wunderland, an interactive SL theatre play at Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin, Germany.

In 2007, HBO hosted a comedy festival in Second Life, using live streaming audio. In March 2009, SL residents staged a two-day Virtually Funny Comedy Festival to "help build awareness for Comic Relief, Red Nose Day 2009 and of course, comedy in Second Life."

In December 2008, The Learning Experience, a not-for-profit virtual education campus in Second Life, staged its first live theater events with the production of two short plays, A Matter of Husbands by Ferenc Molnar and Procelain and Pink by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 2009, the TLE theater company began producing full-length plays in Second Life, starting with The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde in February, and followed by Candida by George Bernard Shaw in April.

Work solutions

Second Life give to the companies the option to create virtual workplaces to allow employees to virtually meet, hold events, practice any kind of corporate communications, conduct training sessions in 3D immersive learning spaces, simulate business processes, and prototype new products.

Religion

Religious organizations have also begun to open virtual meeting places within Second Life. In early 2007, LifeChurch.tv, a Christian church headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma, and with eleven campuses in the USA, created "Experience Island" and opened its twelfth campus in Second Life. The church reported "We find that this creates a less-threatening environment where people are much more willing to explore and discuss spiritual things". In July 2007, an Anglican cathedral was established in Second Life; Mark Brown, the head of the group that built the cathedral, noted that there is "an interest in what I call depth, and a moving away from light, fluffy Christianity".

Egyptian owned news website Islam Online has purchased land in Second Life to allow Muslims and non-Muslims alike to perform the ritual of Hajj in virtual reality form, obtaining experience before actually making the pilgrimage themselves in person.

Embassies

The Maldivesmarker was the first country to open an embassy in Second Life. The Maldives' embassy is located on Second Life's "Diplomacy Island", where visitors will be able to talk face-to-face with a computer-generated ambassador about visas, trade and other issues. "Diplomacy Island" also hosts Diplomatic Museum and Diplomatic Academy. The Island is established by DiploFoundation as part of the Virtual Diplomacy Project.

In May 2007, Swedenmarker became the second country to open an embassy in Second Life. Run by the Swedish Institute, the embassy serves to promote Sweden's image and culture, rather than providing any real or virtual services. The Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, stated on his blog that he hoped he would get an invitation to the grand opening.

In September 2007, Publicis Group announced the project of creating a Serbiamarker island as a part of a project Serbia Under Construction. The project is officially supported by Ministry of Diaspora of Serbian Government. It was stated that the island will feature Nikola Tesla Museum, Guča trumpet festival and Exit festival. It was also planned on opening a virtual info terminals of Ministry of Diaspora.

On Tuesday December 4, 2007, Estoniamarker became the third country to open an embassy in Second Life. In September 2007, Colombiamarker and Serbiamarker opened embassies. As of 2008, Macedoniamarker and the Philippinesmarker have opened embassies in the "Diplomatic Island" of Second Life. In 2008, Albaniamarker opened an Embassy in the Nova Bay location. SL Israel was inaugurated in January 2008 in an effort to showcase Israel to a global audience, though without any connection to official Israeli diplomatic channels.

Maltamarker and the African country Djiboutimarker are also planning to open virtual missions in Second Life.

Online sex

Second Life is used by some for sex games."Whatever brings you to SL, you'll soon find that sex is everywhere. You'll be curious, and probably tempted to jump in right away, and I bet you'll be surprised by what it's like in this strange virtual environment." SL offers an environment for BDSM style games without the risks of power exchange games as they would in the real, non-online world. In March 2009 Linden Lab started a project to create a new continent especially designed for adult content which came online in October 2009.

There is a booming business in sexually themed furniture including beds, rugs, BDSM-themed items such as stocks, created by adding menus and animation to common-place items. Complete "scenes" of animation are available such as a doctor's office in which to (obviously) "play doctor".

In addition, besides nude beaches (some of which forbid sexual activity or display) there are pornographic movie houses, orgy rooms and back alleys containing sexual "poseballs" and sex furniture.

Some of the numerous bars and nightclubs feature escorts.

Live sport entertainment

Popular forms of live entertainment have been making their appearance in Second Life. Many sports have appeared, allowing residents to watch or participate in many popular activities. Sporting leagues have sprung up in Second Life for Cheerleading, American football, Association football, boxing, and auto racing. Two large outlets are:
  • The Digital Championship Wrestling Federation (DCWF), providing live wrestling for residents regularly. It holds two main shows, Showdown on Saturdays at 12pm SLT and WarZone on Wednesdays at 4pm SLT. It also hosts regular exhibition matches and holds its monthly Main Events on the first Saturday of each month.
  • RAGE Fighting Championships brings mixed martial arts to Second Life, allowing residents to have a virtual career as a professional prize fighter. Free training and equipment is available to get users started. Users can choose fighting disciplines including boxing, muay thai, kung fu, capoeira, kick boxing, and many others. RAGE Fighting Championships offers an extensive amateur circuit and events held several times each week.


Gaming

What appears to be the most widespread gaming application of Second Life is user-created multiplayer role-playing games - areas set up with a theme (such as Wild West+Vampires, Steampunk, specific Anime or TV shows, etc) to allow a gaming/roleplay experience in that canon where the userbase is too small, or the theme too specific to justify a "traditional," full-scale MMORPG.

First-person shooter combat is also a popular gaming choice in Second Life, with many in-world military groups battling each other, vying for prestige.

Racing vehicles, be it motorcycles, cars, hovercraft, airplanes, or other, more fantastical craft is also a common choice, with some courses spanning multiple simulators.

Board games, including chess, Go, and Mahjongg, also have many in-world incarnations.

Although Linden Labs prohibits gambling in Second Life, there are still very many games that mimick the appearance of traditional "casino" games, but base their payouts to some extent on some degree of skill (e.g., Zyngo, Quince), thus sidestepping the prohibition.

The ability in Second Life for anyone to create means that just about any style of game can and has been created, at least to some extent, in-world by people who are passionate about it.

Criticism and controversy

Bragg v. Linden Lab

In 2006, attorney Marc Bragg initiated a lawsuit against Linden Lab, claiming that it had illegally deprived him of access to his account after he discovered a loophole in the online land auction system which allowed regions to be purchased at prices below reserve. Although most users and commentators believed that Bragg would have no chance of winning, a number of legal developments occurred as a result of the case, including a court ruling that parts of the Second Life Terms of Service were unenforceable, due to being an unconscionable contract of adhesion. The case eventually ended with Bragg's virtual land and account being restored to him in a confidential out-of-court settlement. As such, a settlement created no precedent and thus left users with confusion as to what legal rights they truly had with respect to their virtual land, items, and account. Many of Bragg's legal arguments rested on the claim—advertised on Linden Lab web site—that virtual land within Second Life could be "owned" by the purchasing user, which was removed shortly after the settlement, leading to speculation that this was part of the reason for the settlement.

Regulation

In the past, large portions of the Second Life economy comprised businesses that are now regulated or banned. Changes to Second Life's Terms of Service in this regard have largely had the purpose of bringing activity within Second Life into compliance with various international laws, even though the person running the business may be in full compliance with the law in his own country. Typically, Linden Lab offer no compensation for businesses that are damaged or destroyed by these rule changes, which can render significant expenditure or effort worthless.

On July 26, 2007, Linden Lab announced a ban on in-world gambling, in fear that new regulations on Internet gambling could affect Linden Lab if it was permitted to continue. The ban was immediately met with in-world protests.

In August 2007, a $750,000 in-world bank called Ginko Financial collapsed due to a bank run triggered by Linden Lab's ban on gambling, which halved the size of the Second Life economy. The aftershocks of this collapse caused severe liquidity problems for other virtual "banks," which critics had long asserted were scams. On Tuesday, January 8, 2008 Linden Lab announced the upcoming prohibition of payment of fixed interest on cash deposits in unregulated banking activities in-world. All banks without real-world charters closed or converted to virtual joint stock companies on January 22, 2008. After the ban, a few companies continue to offer non-interest bearing deposit accounts to residents, such as the e-commerce site XStreet, which had already adopted a zero-interest policy 3 months before the LL interest ban.

Technical issues

Due to Second Life's rapid growth rate, it has suffered from difficulties related to system instability. These include increased system latency, and intermittent client crashes. However, some faults are caused by the system's use of an "asset server" cluster, on which the actual data governing objects is stored separately from the areas of the world and the avatars that use those objects. The communication between the main servers and the asset cluster appears to constitute a bottleneck which frequently causes problems. Typically, when asset server downtime is announced, users are advised not to build, manipulate objects, or engage in business, leaving them with little to do but chat and generally reducing confidence in all businesses on the grid.

A more disturbing fault, believed to be caused by the same issue, is "inventory loss" in which items in a user's inventory, including those which have been paid for, can disappear without warning or permanently enter a state where they will fail to appear in world when requested (giving an "object missing from database" error). Linden Lab offers no compensation for items that are lost in this way, although a policy change instituted in 2008 allows accounts to file support tickets when inventory loss occurs. Many in-world businesses will attempt to compensate for this or restore items, although they are under no obligation to do so and not all are able to do so. A recent change in how the company handles items which have "lost their parent directory" means that inventory loss is much less of a problem and resolves faster than in recent years. "Loss to recovery times" have gone from months (or never) to hours or a day or two for the majority of users, but inventory loss does still exist.

Second Life functions by streaming all data to the user live over the Internet with minimal local caching of frequently used data. The user is expected to have a minimum of 300 kilobits of Internet bandwidth for basic functionality, with 1000 kilobit providing better performance. Due to the proprietary communications protocols, it is not possible to use a network proxy/caching service to reduce network load when many people are all using the same location, such as when used for group activities in a school or business.

Alternative accounts

The policy allowing the easy creation of multiple accounts by the same real person is alleged to have resulted in degraded system performance, and increased incidence of griefing. In addition, several users argued that the ability for single real individual to create an unlimited number of accounts for free had the effect of highly exaggerating the "residence" figures, pointing out that the actual activity of the board was roughly nine percent of the claimed residency figures, with paying membership below two percent. Blogs and forum posts regularly allege exaggerated membership and performance claims.

Image:Graph of Second Life population.png|Second Life signups from January 2006 to March 2007. (Period shown at center of right graph.)Image:SecondLife premiumgrowth.png|Premium account growth from February 2005 to July 2008.


At the same time Linden Lab keeps logs about the identity of the computers used to login.

Fraud and intellectual property protection

Although Second Life's client and server incorporate Digital Rights Management technology, the visual data of an object must ultimately be sent to the client in order for it to be drawn; thus unofficial third-party clients can bypass them. One such program, CopyBot, was developed in 2006 as a debugging tool to enable objects to be backed up, but was immediately hijacked for use in copying objects; additionally, programs that generally attack client-side processing of data, such as GLIntercept, can copy certain pieces of data. Such use is prohibited under the Second Life TOS and could be prosecuted under the DMCA.

Linden Labs may ban a user who is observed using CopyBot or a similar client, but it will not ban a user simply for uploading or even selling copied content; in this case, Linden Lab's enforcement of intellectual property law is limited to that required by the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires filing a real-life lawsuit. Although a few high-profile businesses in Second Life have filed such lawsuits, the majority of businesses in Second Life do not make enough money for a lawsuit to be worthwhile, or due to real-life work commitments cannot devote enough time to complete one; thus, they are effectively unprotected.

There have also been issues with the use of false DMCA takedown notices. Once a DMCA takedown notice is served, reversing it requires an individual to expose his personal information to the filer (filing a notice does not require this); for the penalty of perjury to be enacted, a lawsuit is required (anything less, the false DMCA claimer can just claim it from a different account every week causing legitimate business unlimited losses). In addition, the technical process of removal and re-instatement of content on Second Life is subject to failure which can result in content becoming unusable to its owner. This does not effectively prevent content theft; a thief who is subject to a DMCA takedown notice will not challenge it, but will simply create a new account and re-upload the content, often releasing it with all permissions available to maximize propagation out of spite.

Most users in the world as paying, private individuals are, likewise, effectively unprotected. Common forms of fraud taking place in-world include bogus investment and pyramid schemes, fake or hacked vendors, and failure to honor land rental agreements. Some residents have claimed that there is also a high incidence of sales of content to users unaware of its value (for example, weapons which would require the buyer to own a private island, as firing them in any other area would violate the terms of service; or avatars which appear to represent advanced roles but which, in reality, are nothing more than party costumes due to the inability to support those roles in a world with free social behaviour ).

OpenSpaces

Linden Lab, for a long period, offered OpenSpace regions to users: regions which were purchased in packs of four, with all four running on a single CPU core, intended to be placed next to an existing region to create the effect of larger size. The fee for 4 OpenSpaces was identical to that for a single private region. However, in March 2008, this rule was modified to permit OpenSpaces to be bought individually and placed elsewhere, as well as increasing the prim load each one could handle. OpenSpaces were made available for a US$415 downpayment plus a US$75 monthly fee.

In October 2008 Linden Lab announced that the OpenSpaces being used for this purpose were being misused; there was in fact no technical throttle limiting their usage. Linden Lab raised the monthly fee per OpenSpace to US$125, the same cost as half a region; added an avatar limit of 20; and renamed it to Homestead.

A week after the initial announcement Linden Labs stated its intention to add technical limits. A revised Openspace product, with far fewer prims, a no-residency rule, and costing the same monthly amount, was announced

In May 2009, Linden Lab announced they were "grandfathering" OpenSpace sims (now rebranded as "Homesteads"), after a protracted protest movement caused a major amount of negative publicity and funded potential litigation.

Marketing

Second Life has been attacked for the use of various marketing techniques, which are frequently seen as dishonest. These include:

  • Manipulation of user count statistics to make the world seem more popular than it is. This includes counting multiple avatars created by the same real person as separate accounts, never removing accounts from the database, no matter how long they have been idle, counting accounts which are created for free and which never pay any money into the game equally with those that do, and implementing in-world systems which encourage the creation of bogus extra accounts (for example, "traffic bots" which simply remain stationary in a store, causing the system to rank the store as popular because there are people there).


  • Over-emphasis of minority groups. The marketing of Second Life frequently focuses on particular groups (money earners, live musicians, corporate networkers) who represent a tiny minority in the actual world, while at the same time being heavy handed in restricting the commercial opportunities LL has attracted those same people to SL to engage in.


  • Vagueness about what is prohibited. The Second Life home page and other publications by Linden Labs are extremely vague about what activities can and cannot be done in Second Life. Although ostensibly this is necessary because residents may create entirely new activities which Linden Labs could not have predicted, it is alleged that this is a deliberate technique to fool users into logging in and spending time and money pursuing activities that may initially appear to be possible but in fact are not.


Separate grids

In Second Life, there are two age-differentiated grids (one is for teens 13-17, one is for adults 18 or over). When a teen turns 18, he/she is transferred from the Teen Grid to the Main Grid. Linden Lab has received controversy for the lack of integration between teens and adults. Some parents protest that they cannot be on the grid together with their teenage children, and companies cannot market to both teens and adults in SL even if their products have universal appeal. Teen grid residents have spoken out in favor of merging the two grids with certain limitations to protect minors from adult content and predators on the main grid. This grid merge is widely supported by teen grid residents, although some also oppose it. It should be noted that the majority of those on the Teen Grid who oppose merger would want a separate "Teen Only" area, much like the recently-created "Adult" mainland in Second Life. Linden Lab employees (known as "Lindens") have also been in favor of merging the grids, most notably Blue Linden, former teen grid manager.

The teen grid and the adult grid actully are technically parts of one grid called Agni. (Some of the Second Life grids are named after Hindu gods.) However, teen residents cannot access the adult regions, and adult residents cannot access the teen regions.

On 19 January 2009 Linden Lab, Philip Linden related (in an interview with Metanomics) an intent to merge the two grids into one. This immediately attracted uproar on SL's private forums, largely from residents who feared they would be required to use the unpopular age verification system, and would be permanently under threat of a false sex-related allegation or lawsuit by a teenager or his/her parents.

The grids are made of regions each 256 meters square. Regions without servers appear as deep sea and cannot be entered and cannot be flown over, but regions with servers can be seen across regions without servers.

These regions' coordinate numbers locating them within the grid can be from 0 to (220-1), giving in theory a total grid size of about 281.475 million kilometers square; but all or most regions with servers are in the extreme northwest corner of this vast theoretical area.

Underage users, who are under 18 in real life, are not allowed onto the main grid, and being an underage user there is an offense that can be abuse reported. However, Linden Lab places burden of proof on alleged underage users, and does not check to verify anything themselves. As a result, false underage user reports are filed by some residents as a form of griefing or for revenge.

Adult content

Second life planned on restricting access to some parts of their grid, and full use of the search functions within the client to accounts which are "verified". There have been many issues with their verification.. Among the controversial aspects of this issue are:
  1. This is the first time Linden Labs explicitly supports adult aspects of Second Life (by providing map regions and search functions rated adult). They do not provide clear notice of this on registration or login.
  2. Previously full functionality had been available to any account, and Mature rated regions could be used for any allowed purpose. This will no longer be true.
  3. The verification system is supposed to provide a way to distinguish adult users, but has demonstrated false positives and false negatives, and cannot be used by everyone and many users from outside USA are having issues.
  4. Search uses a keyword filter. In other online situations, such filters have been shown to be both overbroad (filtering words with innocent meanings) and ineffective (by using synonyms): compare Scunthorpe problem.


The Adult policy went live September 15, 2009.

References in popular culture

Literature

  • In early 2008, a Second Life avatar was used as the cover art for Dr. Theodore Rockwell's fiction novel - The Virtual Librarian. The novel was introduced and promoted via Second Life by TheSLAgency.
  • The scifi book ANIMA: a novel about Second Life (ISBN 0976316897) written by the avatar Dalian Hansen was published in July 2007. It was the first complete work of fiction based in the 3D virtual environment of Second Life, and the plot included real world connections. It is book one of a trilogy that will include ANIMUS: Of Animus and Men and PERSONA: Persona Publica.
  • In Sam Bourne's 2007 thriller novel The Last Testament, Second Life plays an important part in the story and in cracking of codes.
  • "Notre Seconde Vie" is a book from the French writer Alain Monnier which translates to "Our Second Life". The novel poses the question "will the Internet replace reading paperbound books one day?".
  • The 2007 novel Another Life by Peter Anghelides, based upon the television series Torchwood, features a Second Life-inspired virtual world called Second Reality. Although the literary version is far more advanced than the real Second Life, several features of the real-life Second Life are referenced, including the ability to customize avatars, and at one point in the novel a character is banished to an area similar to Second Life's punishment area, "The Corn Field".
  • In The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz, one of the antagonists is a private detective who lives vicariously through his Second Life avatar.
  • Halting State by Charles Stross makes a casual reference to Second Life, though it is apparent that many major plot elements have been drawn from this virtual world and other metaverse platforms. (See appearances, below)


Television and movies

  • On April 8, 2008 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a segment on Avatar Heroes.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit parodies Second Life in its episode "Avatar".
  • Second Life was featured prominently, and used as a tool to locate a suspect, in the CSI: NY episode "Down the Rabbit Hole", which aired on October 24, 2007. It was also featured in the episode "DOA For a Day" (aired 2 April 2008).
  • Dwight Schrute from the US television series The Office is an avid Second Life resident; this was featured prominently in the October 25, 2007 episode "Local Ad". Dwight has an avatar named 'Dwight Shelford' and creates a virtual world within Second Life named Second Second Life. Jim Halpert is also seen in Second Life later in the episode, and he claims his character is "just to keep tabs on Dwight"; however, Pam Beesly comments on the detail in his character and notes it must have taken him quite some time to make it.
  • In an episode of the CBS drama Ghost Whisperer, Melinda Gordon experiences a similar online world, at one point pulling an avatar out of her computer at the shop as the user's ghost; she gets to know the local equivalent of Second Life while determining the avatar's true identity.
  • The CBC program the fifth estate, in an episode entitled "Strangers in Paradise," first aired January 28, 2009, documented two cases of families being damaged after a spouse became obsessed with Second Life. In each case a spouse formed such deep emotional and cyber-sexual relationships with another Second Life player that it resulted in their leaving their real family to join the person they had met and bonded with in Second Life.
  • The episode Goin Bananas of The Suite Life On Deck features a parody called Better Life.
  • The episode "Social Networking" on Current's "SuperNews!" involved a Second Life character with one eye and a multi-pitched psychic-esque "echo" voice, alongside MySpace, Facebook and Friendster characters.


Music

  • Duran Duran were among the first artists to join the metaverse, and they subsequently wrote their "Zoom In" song with hip-hop mogul Timbaland, clearly pointing about the Second Life experience.
  • Redzone were credited by Wired and Reuters as the first band to tour in Second Life in Feb. 2007, followed by Beyond the void as the first official rock band touring in second life (open PR, Mar. 2007).
  • The Italian singer Irene Grandi figured in her musical video "Bruci la città" some scenes of Second Life gaming.
  • Some real life musicians, singers, or groups perform live in some Second Life places. Many venues offer these public shows for free.


Other

  • A Second Life girl, caLLie cLine, was chosen to represent Second Life Girls at #95 on the "Top 100 Hottest Females of 2007" in Maxim, the first nonhuman ever to be selected.
  • Second Life is also parodied in the webcomic Kevin and Kell, in the form of an MMORPG called 9th Life.
  • Second Life is parodied by the website Get a First Life by Darren Barefoot, extolling the virtues of meatspace/real life. Material from the site includes false links to such topics as "Go Outside - Membership is Free" and "Fornicate Using Your Actual Genitals." Linden Lab proved that they had a sense of humor when Darren received, instead of a cease and desist, a Proceed and Permit letter.
  • Kelly Services, an employment agency, features Second Life in its "break room" for temporary employees.
  • Second Life CEO Mark Kingdon's email inbox was parodied by Prad Prathivi. Kingdon replied in response to the satirical mock up.


Public appearances in the grid

  • In 2006 former Governor of Virginia Mark Warner became the first politician to appear in a MMO when he gave a speech in Second Life.
  • British comedian Jimmy Carr performed a virtual show on Second Life on February 3, 2007.
  • Jimmy Kimmel & Jay-Z were both made as Second Life characters and Jay-Z had a virtual concert on Second Life at the same time as his real life performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
  • First rock-band touring in Second Life was Beyond the void at beginning of 2007 - they organized virtual concerts in different locations in the virtual world.
  • On June 21, 2008, Charles Stross held a conference in Second Life itself to discuss, "[T]he Singularity in fiction, cutting-edge technologies, [Halting State], and his upcoming novel Saturn's Children"
  • In August 2006 author Kurt Vonnegut interviewed by John Hockenberry, host of the radio show The Infinite Mind. The interview was aired live on the radio and in Second Life.


Competitors

Second Life has several competitors, including Entropia Universe, IMVU, There, Active Worlds, Kaneva, and the Red Light Center. Second Life can be accessed with Microsoft operating systems, Apple OS X systems, and with Linux operating systems. The competitors' virtual worlds can only be used with Microsoft systems, so they cannot compete for users of Apple OS X or Linux.

Secondary literature

  • Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein M. (2009) Consumer use and business potential of virtual worlds: The case of Second Life, International Journal on Media Management, 11(3).
  • Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein M. (2009) The fairyland of Second Life: About virtual social worlds and how to use them, Business Horizons, 52(6).
  • John Zerzan, Telos 141, Second-Best Life: Real Virtuality. New York: Telos Press Ltd., Winter 2007. ( Telos Press).


See also



References

External links




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