Second Life is a virtual community allowing "citizens" to design Avatars to represent themselves and to acquire land, objects or otherwise profit from interactions within the virual world.
Second Life is one of several virtual worlds that have been inspired by the science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. The stated goal of Linden Lab is to create a world like the metaverse described in the novel, a user-defined world of general use in which people can interact, play, do business, and otherwise communicate.
Residents of Second Life are represented in the environment by an Avatar, which may be customized in a variety of ways. The basic avatar is humanoid in shape and, through a series of GUI controls, allows for a large amount of modification as to size, build, color and hair style. Residents can also create or buy clothing, and attach 3D objects to their avatars to further customize them. The result can either be faithful to the original humanoid avatar, or can result in a completely non-humanoid representation of the character.
Second Life is comprised of rich, diverse, user-driven subcultures and countercultures.
Some Second Life cultures revolve around established "groups." Groups can be created by resident for a fee of L$100. Residents are then given 3 days to recruit an additional 2 members, or their investment is lost and the group is deleted. A group must then maintain a membership of at least 3 members at all times in order to remain active. The groups that each resident belongs to are displayed in that user's profile.
Each group comprises officers and members, with titles determined by group leadership. The officer or member title may appear superimposed above the name of the resident's avatar. Residents may participate in up to 15 groups, and may choose which group's title to display at any given time. Group activity is usually centered on a particular interest, so creating groups can give people a common ground for discussion and provide an easy way to break the ice. Some groups maintain websites to bridge the gap between real-life (referred to as "first life", or abbreviated to "RL" for "real-life") and Second Life (commonly abreviated as SL, but 2L is also used) interests.
Groups are allowed "ownership" of land and resources, so they comprise the closest thing to a corporation within the Second Life environment.
Aside from groups, many of the subcultures found in Second Life revolve around events. Events include many activities related to arts/culture, charity/support groups, commerce, discussion, education, games/contests, nightlife/entertainment, pageants, sports, etc.
Second Life is also being influenced by many Internet phenomena which include the Moskau Dance, Ulae, and Jean-Luc Picard. Many of these memes are in the form of gestures, which are animations that the avatar uses. These gestures are a cause of Internet cultural diffusion|culture spread in Second Life.
Second Life blogs are also rapidly popping up across the Internet. Here, residents detail their second lives, sometimes more extensively than their first lives.
Not all Second Life subcultures are productive or possitive. Second Life's world and its users have been targeted by Users known as Griefers. Griefers use terrorist-like malintention to afflict both harm and chaos to Second Life and its inhabitants. Linden Labs tries to do their best to remove Griefers, but there are still attacks on the Second Life world.
- Second Life has its own economy and a currency referred to as Linden dollars (L$). Residents receive an amount of L$ when they open an account, and a weekly stipend thereafter--the amount depending on the type of account. Additional L$s are acquired by selling objects or services within the environment. Residents may purchase L$ directly or convert between Linden currency and U.S. currency through Linden Lab's currency brokerage, the LindeX Currency Exchange. The ratio of US$ to L$ fluctuation|fluctuates daily as residents set the buy and sell price of L$ offered on the exchange. Linden Lab has stated that the Second Life economy generates an average of $500,000(US) in economic activity each week.
- Nature of roles and enjoyment in the economy: Because there are no entry-level jobs, and creating content requires the user to have real-world talent, many users find themselves with very limited amounts of money.
- Role of the in-world currency: Linden Lab has been criticized for marketing SL as a viable business channel for making real money, while at the same time including provisions in the Terms of Service which give Linden dollars no legal value, so that (for instance) Linden Lab is not required to pay any compensation if L$ is lost from the database.
- Effect of in-world economy changes made by Linden Lab: Certain changes made or proposed by the developers have had the effect of creating new markets, but also have on occasion destroyed or removed the value of existing ones, or given the market leader at a particular (often arbitrary) time unique advantages that entrench them as a market leader in the future, thus creating a coercive monopoly.
- Lack of zoning: With minor exceptions, Linden Lab has not placed any zoning or content restrictions on what land owners can place on their real estate. This has resulted in a wide variety of architectural variations, frequently with mixed success. Part of the problem concerns the amount of activity/resources from objects on business property causing lag for neighbors of that area that use it more of a personal manner. E.g. a business property could use objects that take up a lot of loading/rendering time or communicating with the servers, thus causing lag for others that may not be on the same property but nearby due to the nature of Second Life and everything in a certain distance must cache. The lack of zoning is also a prime target for graffiti, deliberately obstructive and/or offensive content with the intent of defacing the local view. Such proneness to vandalism has been leveraged on occasion as a low-level form of extortion, destroying the quality of the local view in an attempt to force neighbors to buy the offending parcel of land at greatly overpriced value.
- Land sales system: Building any permanent in-world object usually requires the rental of land (from Linden Lab or another resident) the former requiring an increased monthly subscription as more land is required. A number of people deliberately speculate on the land market for profit, leaving other people who just want to build resentful of being forced to pay extra money to a middle man. Also, the high monthly charges have resulted in regions being focused on those which can make money, reducing the variety available.
In the News
- In Second Life, the world is virtual. But the emotions are real: Houston Chronicle story on Second Life
- Money matters in cybercash game: BBC News article on Wells Fargo's activities in Second Life (dated Thursday, 15 September 2005)
- BBC starts to rock online world: BBC News article on BBC Radio 1's presence in Second Life for Radio One's Big Weekend 2006