Second Life is not just gambling and porn

More adventures at

The Second Life Library 2.0 panel gave one of the best (and shortest) explanations of Second Life I’ve heard so far: “Its a community, not like a game with a point.”

It might not have a point, but it does have momentum: it recently crossed the one million residents mark, companies like American Apparel have opened shop there, IBM has held employee meetings in its virtual space, and Reuters has a bureau in-world.

So a bunch of geeky librarians have banded together to build Info Island and offer a variety of library services. You could say they are a bit of an obsessive group (“employers don’t understand it yet, so people are doing it on their own time”) and in that way, they are just like any other evolving online community. I think the things they are learning about as a result will have application beyond the library world:

  • How to collaborate with and manage virtual teams spread across five continents
  • How to create links between in-world activity and real-world information resources
  • Dealing with the potential stigma of porn and gambling getting there first (“Pornography and gambling tend to lead in innovation technology.”)

Because I think environments like Second Life are going to be around for some time, I enjoyed the predictions the panel made:

  • Library services to avatars will thrive [What other avatar services will be needed?]
  • Architecture will evolve away from real-world architecture [It is a world with flying and teleportation — you can change the laws of physics, Captain]
  • Libraries will include elements from museums, theme parks, etc. [Budget constraints are very different when you build in an existing virtual world]
  • Exhibits and events will be more useful than traditional collections [Rich media wins in the digital world — books are still too clunky unless they are analog]
  • Demand will grow for immersive, experiential learning such as walk-in books and 3D interactive mashups [Fully inhabiting virtual worlds means moving past physical world analogies and developing new forms and experiences]

Between four and five thousand visitors teleport in to Info Island on a typical day. That makes it busier than all public libraries outside of larger cities as well as more trafficked than many college and university libraries.

When will the first “real” store will see significant revenue from virtual world activities? Which businesses will hold digital company-wide meetings?

More, related:

First Impressions of Second Life

I decided to check out Second Life because I figured the only way to really answer my questions about it (starting with, what is the appeal?) was to explore on my own.

In a very short time, I’ve come up with a whole other set of unexpected questions:

  • If you are entering a virtual world, why is the first thing you have to choose male or female? I mean, this is a world where flying and teleportation are apparently the most common modes of travel — why are things so different and so not different at the same time?
  • Why are the default choices so human? If you are going to have a second life, why not start it as a robot or marine mammal or space alien or some floating noncorporeal entity?
  • Why, no matter how low you set your shirt or how high you set your pants, do these two items of clothing never meet if you are female? (Tip: if you want to avoid a strip of avatar flesh showing around your middle before you venture to the main grid, create yourself a jacket from scratch, make it long enough to reach the waist of your pants, and close the jacket.)
  • If gender is so important, why don’t avatars wear wedding rings?

The flying is cool, like flying dreams when I was a kid, so I’m willing to forgive a lot. My odd-looking virtual self spent the day sleeping (I’m guessing; the away from keyboard pose looks rather slumpled over) in a church in Venice. My next big plan involves going to the library, and actually talking to another SL person. Maybe.

For great bloggy coverage on Second Life and virtual worlds, see:
Clickable Culture
Terra Nova

And for extra-geeky academics:

Second Life Library 2.0
Social Sim