||It has been suggested that Culture of Second Life be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2017.|
||This article needs to be updated. (January 2017)|
|Initial release||June 23, 2003|
18.104.22.1683027 / January 25, 2017
22.214.171.1243359 / February 3, 2017
|Initial release||June 23, 2003|
17.01.27.323172 / February 7, 2017
Second Life is an online virtual world, developed and owned by the San Francisco-based firm Linden Lab and launched on June 23, 2003. By 2013, Second Life had approximately 1 million regular users. In many ways, Second Life is similar to massively multiplayer online role-playing games; however, Linden Lab is emphatic that their creation is not a game: "There is no manufactured conflict, no set objective".
The virtual world can be accessed freely via Linden Lab's own client programs or via alternative Third Party Viewers. Second Life users (also called residents) create virtual representations of themselves, called avatars, and are able to interact with places, objects, and other avatars. They can explore the world (known as the grid), meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, build, create, shop, and trade virtual property and services with one another.
Built into the software is a 3D modeling tool based on simple geometric shapes, that allows residents to build virtual objects. There is also a procedural scripting language, Linden Scripting Language, which can be used to add interactivity to objects. Sculpted prims (sculpties), mesh, textures for clothing or other objects, animations, and gestures can be created using external software and imported. The Second Life terms of service provide that users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management (DRM) functions. However, Linden Lab changed their terms of service in August 2013, to be able to use user-generated content for any purpose. The new terms of service prevent users from using textures from 3rd-party texture services, as some of them pointed out explicitly.
- 1 History
- 2 Classification
- 3 Residents and avatars
- 4 Economy
- 5 Accessibility
- 6 Land ownership
- 7 Technology
- 8 Applications
- 9 Criticism and controversy
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
In 1999, Philip Rosedale formed Linden Lab with the intention of developing computer hardware to allow people to become immersed in a virtual world. In its earliest form, the company struggled to produce a commercial version of the hardware, known as "The Rig", which in prototype form was seen as a clunky steel contraption with computer monitors worn on shoulders. That vision changed into the software application Linden World, in which people participated in task-based games and socializing in a three-dimensional online environment. That effort eventually transformed 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 early virtual world experiments during his college years at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied physics.
In 2005 and 2006, Second Life began to receive significant media attention, including a cover story on BusinessWeek magazine featuring the virtual world and Second Life avatar Anshe Chung. By that time, Anshe Chung had become Second Life's poster child and symbol for the economic opportunities that the virtual world offers to its residents. At the same time, the service saw a period of exponential growth of its user base.
In January 2008, residents 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 2010, Kingdon was replaced by Rosedale, who took over as Interim CEO. After four months Rosedale abruptly stepped down from the Interim CEO position. It was announced in October 2010, that Bob Komin, Linden Lab's chief financial officer and chief operating officer, would take over the CEO job for the immediate future.
In May 2009, concurrent users averaged about 62,000. As of May 2010, concurrent users averaged about 54,000. According to Tateru Nino of Engadget, the decline was due to new policies implemented by Linden Lab reducing the number of bots and campers.
In June 2010, Linden Lab announced layoffs of 30% of its workforce.
In November 2010, 21.3 million accounts were registered, although the company has not made public figures for actual long-term consistent usage. However, Wagner James Au, who blogs and writes about Second Life, said in April 2013 that he had it on "good authority" that "Second Life's actual active userbase is about 600,000".
In 2015 alone, Second Life users had cashed out approximately $60,000,000 (60 million US dollar) and Second Life had an estimated GDP of $500,000,000 (500 million US dollar), higher than some small countries.
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.[who?] Unlike a traditional computer game, Second Life does not have a designated objective, nor traditional game play mechanics or rules. It can also be argued that Second Life is a multi-user virtual world, because the virtual world is centered around interaction between multiple users. 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[vague], 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. In March 2006, while speaking at Google TechTalks, Rosedale said: "So, we don't see this as a game. We see it as a platform".
Second Life used to offer two main grids: one for adults (18+) and one for teens. In August 2010, Linden Lab closed the teen grid due to operating costs. Since then, users aged 16 and over can sign up for a free account. Other limited accounts are available for educators who use Second Life with younger students.
There are three activity-based classifications, called "Ratings", for sims in Second Life:
- General (formerly "PG"—no extreme violence or nudity)
- Moderate (formerly "Mature"—some violence, swearing, adult situations, some nudity)
- Adult (may contain overt sexual activity, nudity, and violence)
Residents and avatars
There is no charge for creating 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 (5 per household, 2 per 24 hours) but at present does not do so. A Premium membership (US$9.95 monthly, US$22.50 quarterly, or US$72 annually) 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, and after 45 days that resident will receive a L$700 bonus, making it L$1,000 for that week. This amount has decreased since the original stipend of L$500, which is still paid to older accounts. Certain accounts created during an earlier period may receive L$400. This stipend, if changed into USD, means that the actual cost for the benefit of extended tech support for an annual payment of US$72 is only about US$14, depending on the currency exchange rates. However, the vast majority of casual users of Second Life 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. They may choose even more abstract forms, given that almost every aspect of an avatar is fully customizable. Second Life Culture consists of many activities and behaviors that are also present in real life. 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 Second Life, 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 travel via walking, running, vehicular access, flying, or teleportation. Because Second Life is such a vast virtual world, teleportation is used when avatars wish to travel instantly and efficiently. Once they reach their destination, they may travel in more conventional means at various speeds.
Avatars can communicate via local chat, group chat, global instant messaging (known as IM), and voice (public, private and group). 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 126.96.36.199, voice chat, both local and IM, was also available. 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.
Second Life has an internal economy and closed-loop virtual token called the "Linden dollar (L$)". L$ can be used to buy, sell, rent or trade land or goods and services with other users. The "Linden Dollar" is a closed-loop virtual token for use only within the Second Life platform. Linden Dollars have no monetary value and are not redeemable for monetary value from Linden Lab. A resident with a surplus of Linden Dollars earned via a Second Life business or experiential play can request to refund their Linden Dollar surplus to PayPal. Linden Lab reports that the Second Life economy generated US$3,596,674 in economic activity during the month of September 2005, and in September 2006 Second Life was reported to have a GDP of $64 million. In 2009, the total size of the Second Life economy grew 65% to US$567 million, about 25% of the entire U.S. virtual goods market. Gross resident earnings are US$55 million in 2009 – 11% growth over 2008. In 2013, Linden Labs released an info graphic that showed that over 10 years $3.2 billion in transactions for virtual goods had exchanged between Second Life residents, with an average of 1.2 million daily transactions.
There is a high level of entrepreneurial activity in Second Life. Residents of Second Life are able to create virtual objects and other content. Second Life is unique in that users retain all the rights to their content which means they can use Second Life to distribute and sell their creations, with 2.1 million items listed on its online marketplace. At its height circa 2006, hundreds of thousands of dollars were changing hands daily as residents created and sold a wide variety of virtual commodities. Second Life also quickly became profitable due to the selling and renting virtual real estate. 2006 also saw Second Life's first real-world millionaire; Ailin Graef, better known as Anshe Chung (her avatar), converted an initial investment of $9.95 USD into over one million dollars over the course of two and a half years. She built her fortune primarily by buying, selling, and renting virtual real estate.
Major tech corporations have tried to use Second Life to market products or services to Second Life's tech-savvy audience. For example, IBM purchased 12 islands within Second Life for virtual training and simulations of key businesses processes. Musicians, podcasters, and news organizations (including CNET, Reuters, NPR's The Infinite Mind, and the BBC) all established a presence within Second Life.
Virtual goods include buildings, vehicles, devices of all kinds, animations, clothing, skin, hair, jewelry, flora and fauna, and works of art. Services include business management, entertainment, and custom content creation (which can be broken up into the following six categories: building, texturing, scripting, animating, art direction, and the position of producer/project funder). L$ can be purchased using US dollars and other local currencies on the LindeX exchange provided by Linden Lab. Customer USD wallets obtained from Linden Dollar sales on the Lindex are most commonly used to pay Second Life's own subscription and tier fees; only a relatively small number of users earn enough profit to request a refund to PayPal. According to figures published by Linden Lab, about 64,000 users made a profit in Second Life in February 2009, of whom 38,524 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.
Alternative user interfaces
Since the Second Life viewer was made open-source, a number of accessibility solutions have been developed (listed in 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 web-based client developed by the University of Nevada that allows users who are visually impaired to access Second Life using built in speech synthesis. 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. This web interface is also accessible using a smartphone.
- IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Center, with the IBM Virtual Universe Community, 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.
- Max, The Virtual Guidedog, developed by Virtual Helping Hands, 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.
- METAbolt is an open source text client developed by the METAbolt Development Team which is fully accessible and also compatible with accessibility client applications (Microsoft platforms only) such as JAWS.
- SLTalker is a talker-like (text-based) interface for Second Life. The user can connect to it using telnet-ssl or any talker or MUD client that supports SSL secure connections.
A study showed that one of the biggest barriers to making Second Life accessible to visually impaired users is its apparent lack of metadata, such as names and descriptions, for virtual world objects. This is a similar problem for the accessibility of the web, where images may lack alternative tags. The study found that 32% of the objects in Second Life are simply named "object", and up to 40% lack accurate names.
In 2007, Brazil 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 written languages and character sets, providing the ability for people to chat in their native languages. 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. Most versions of the viewer have language translation built into them. Within the current generation of the Second Life viewer, Linden Labs has incorporated language translation from Google.
Premium membership allows the Resident to own land, with the first 512 m² (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 65,536 m². 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 65,536 m2 (16.194 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 65,536 m2 (16.194 acres) regions at auction (although smaller parcels are auctioned on occasion, typically land parcels abandoned by users who have left). Once Residents buy land, they may resell it freely and use it for any purpose that 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 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 unless it is a clear-cut matter of 'land fraud'. Users can report such matters to Linden Lab if they occur and they will look into it.
|Additional land||Parcel size (m2)||Square equal line length (m)||Max prims|
|1⁄128 mainland region||512||22×22 (16×32)||117|
|1⁄64 mainland region||1024||32×32||234|
|1⁄32 mainland region||2048||44×44 (32×64)||468|
|1⁄16 mainland region||4096||64×64||937|
|1⁄8 mainland region||8192||90×90 (64×128)||1875|
|1⁄4 mainland region||16,384||128×128||3750|
|1⁄2 mainland region||32,768||181×181 (128×256)||7500|
|1 mainland region||65,536||256×256||15,000|
|"High prim" island (grandfathered)||65,536||256x256||20,000|
Second Life land use (New mainland max prim limits as of late 2016)
|Additional land||Parcel size (m2)||Square equal line length (m)||Max prims|
|1⁄128 mainland region||512||22×22 (16×32)||175|
|1⁄64 mainland region||1024||32×32||351|
|1⁄32 mainland region||2048||44×44 (32×64)||702|
|1⁄16 mainland region||4096||64×64||1,405|
|1⁄8 mainland region||8192||90×90 (64×128)||2,812|
|1⁄4 mainland region||16,384||128×128||5,625|
|1⁄2 mainland region||32,768||181×181 (128×256)||11,250|
For mainland fees, the fee determines only the area of land available; the number of prims available is determined by the land itself. Some 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.
There are only a few grandfathered "high prim" islands, which are otherwise identical to regular islands but have a higher limit set in the server software. They can be resold but are rarely available for purchase.
The grid is made of regions, each a square of side 256 (= 28) meters. 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. But, a user's "point of view" can enter a region without a server.
The full grid is a square with sides of 228 meters, for a total area of 72×109 km2, roughly 140 times the Earth's surface area. It supports up to 240 (more than 1012) regions. But all or most regions with servers are in the extreme northwest corner of this vast theoretical area. As of April 2011, 2,059.86 km2 of this area was allocated to 31,431 actual regions, a little smaller than the country of Luxembourg.
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.
Linden Lab provides official viewers for Windows, macOS, and most distributions of Linux. The viewer renders 3D graphics using OpenGL technology. The viewer source code was released under the GPL in 2007  and moved to the LGPL in 2010.
There are now several mature third party viewer projects that contain features not available in the Linden Lab 'Official' client, target other platforms or cater to specialist & accessibility needs. The main focus of third party development is exploring new ideas and working with Linden Lab to deliver new functionality.
An independent project, libopenmetaverse, offers a function library for interacting with Second Life servers. libopenmetaverse has been used to create non-graphic third party viewers.
There are several Alternate Viewers published by Linden Lab used for software testing by volunteers for early access to upcoming projects. Some of these clients only function on the "beta grid" consisting of a limited number of regions running various releases of unstable test server code.
Each full region (an area of 256×256 meters) in the Second Life "grid" runs on a single dedicated core of a multi-core server. Homestead regions share 3 regions per core and Openspace Regions share 4 regions per core, 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 Second Life world. Infrequently used assets are offloaded to S3 bulk storage. As of December 2007[update], 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 256 separate primitives. Additionally, each player's avatar is treated as a physical object so that it may interact with physical objects in the world. As of 9 July 2014[update], Second Life simulators use the Havok 2011.2 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, stated in 2006 that a while after everything has been standardized, both the client and the server will be released as free and open source software.
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. In 2008, there were some alternative grids using OpenSimulator.
The graphics, the Linden Scripting Language, and the Havok physics engine enable the simulation of various real or imagined machines and devices. There are many light houses, some with detailed Fresnel lenses. Steampunk buoyant airships are also common. There are combat weapons systems. A large part of the Linden Scripting Language Guide describes the features available for modeling vehicles. Popular uses of this include cars, boats, motorcycles and airplanes. Manned vehicles have advantages, but there can also be autonomous or remotely controlled vehicles.
A major obstacle is region (sim) border crossings, which unlike cell phone handoffs, are a problem for users, even at walking speed. Recent work by Linden Lab has greatly improved this, and if the user in question has few resources assigned to him or her, the crossing can be almost seamless.
Second Life "physics" (based on computer game physics) consists mostly of avoidance of interpenetration of avatars and other "physical" objects with other objects, "physical" or not; but for "physical" objects, most importantly vehicles, there is an approximation of real world motion. Avatars can "sit" on vehicles and their users can control them. The scripting language includes many system calls specialized for vehicles, to define their movement and control, but the correspondence to real world motion is not quantitatively defined. Second Life vehicles typically act like real world vehicles only in superficial ways. To some extent, the differences are needed to deal with the sim crossing problem (including the oldest known bug in the Second Life software), the time step (at best about 1/40 sec.) the Internet communication latency (lag), and so forth. For some types of moving objects, a fairly high degree of realism is possible within these limits, but, with the provided system calls, simpler motions are easier to script.
Second Life technological progression
In its almost one and a half decade of existence, Second Life as a platform has received continuous updates aimed to improve its users' experience. Other than improvements and bug fixes, below are some major updates that Second Life has received that have made significant impacts in the virtual world.
"Mesh is the capability to bring 3D models, known as meshes, created in third-party tools into Second Life." - Second Life Official Wiki
Ever since mesh support was introduced to Second Life, the average visual quality of items in the virtual world has increased exponentially thanks to third-party tools' capabilities to create much more detailed and refined 3D objects compared to Second Life's built-in 3D object building tools. The built-in 3D object building tools are still widely used, however, mostly when creating things that are simple enough that using mesh would be a waste of time and energy, during testing of scripts, or by people who are still learning the intricacies of Second Life's object creations and people who are not too well-versed with third-party 3D modeling tools.
Materials update brought the capability of putting normal maps and specular maps on creations in Second Life, which can increase visual fidelity of objects by a substantial margin if utilized properly.
A wide variety of recreational activities, both competitive and non-competitive, take place on the Second Life Grid, including both traditional sports and video game-like scenarios.
Second Life is used as a platform for education by many institutions, such as colleges, universities, libraries and government entities.
Since 2008, the University of San Martin de Porres of Peru has been developing Second Life prototypes of Peruvian archeological buildings, and training teachers for this new paradigm of education.
The Maldives 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, Sweden 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 Serbia 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 the Nikola Tesla Museum, the Guča Trumpet Festival and the Exit Festival. It was also planned on opening a virtual info terminals of Ministry of Diaspora.
On Tuesday December 4, 2007, Estonia became the third country to open an embassy in Second Life. In September 2007, Colombia and Serbia opened embassies. As of 2008, Macedonia and the Philippines have opened embassies in the "Diplomatic Island" of Second Life. In 2008, Albania 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.
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 US, 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".
The First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Second Life was established in 2006. Services have been held regularly making the FUUCSL Congregation one of the longest-running active congregations in Second Life.
The 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 to Mecca in person.
Second Life also offers several groups that cater to the needs and interests of humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. One of the most active groups is SL Humanism which has been holding weekly discussion meetings inside Second Life every Sunday since 2006.
Relationships are common in Second Life, including some couples who have married online. The social engagement offered by the online environment helps those who might be socially isolated. In addition, sex is often encountered. However, to access the adult sections requires age verification. There is also a large BDSM community.
Second Life relationships have been taken from virtual online relationships into personal, real-world relationships. Booperkit Moseley and Shukran Fahid were possibly the first couple to meet in Second Life and then marry in real life. Booperkit travelled to America to meet Shukran and he returned to England with her after one week. They married in 2006, had twin boys in 2009, and are still married. Some couples meet online, form friendships, and eventually move to finding one another in the real world. Some even have their weddings on Second Life, as well as in a real-world setting.
Relationships in virtual worlds have an added dimension compared to other social media, because avatars give a feeling of proximity making the voyeur experience more intense than simply a textual encounter. The complexities of those encounters depend on the engagement levels of the people behind the avatars, whether they are engaging Disassociatively (entertainment only), Immersively (as if the avatar was them), or Augmentatively (meaning they engage for a real life purpose).
There are many destinations within Second Life which are dedicated to those who enjoy role-playing. Some of these are sexual in nature, while others focus on themes such as fantasy, history, science fiction, or other subjects. Many of these types of worlds have very specific sets of rules that each avatar who visits is expected to follow. Such rules can include things such as a dress code, a code of behavior, and world guidelines. If these rules are not followed, the avatar can be booted from the world by a game administrator. One example of one of these role-playing worlds is "The Realm of Valahari". This particular world takes place in a fantasy medieval setting. In order to exist within that world, your avatar must be dressed in fantasy or medieval attire. In case your avatar does not already own such clothing, the world provides clothing shops for you in an area which you visit before you actually enter the world. However, none of these clothing shops provide free items; all of them cost Linden Dollars (L$). Within the world, everyone is also expected to maintain the role-playing atmosphere. Anyone who is using "regular" or "everyday" language tends to be frowned upon and seen as an outsider by the other members of the Realm. "Regular" language is to be kept in private chat windows, so that the fantasy/medieval atmosphere is not polluted by it.
Another example are historical role-playing sims such as 1880s Victorian London and The 1920s Berlin Project. While only encouraged to do so in 1880s Victorian London, visitors to the 1920s Berlin Project are required to dress accurately as part of the history based immersive experience. Sims may incorporate rules that have less to do with thematic realism, and more to do with adhering to community guidelines. For instance, one rule that is commonly seen is the prohibition or restriction of underage avatars in role-playing sims that feature sexual content; these rules are separate from Linden Labs' sim restrictions, as they restrict underage characters played by adult players.
Second Life also features roleplay worlds based on other successful fictional franchises, one such example would be Midgar, a roleplay sim based on popular video game Final Fantasy VII which has been established since 2007, though the copyright legality of such locations is hotly disputed.
Role-play sims are usually either non-metered, script metered, or use the sim server health meter. In non-metered combat sims, all fighting is done through paragraph RP, usually with the assistance of role-play dice, or the players may determine the outcome they desire privately in IMs, and then role-play out the ending in character using public chat. In metered combat sims, players carry weapons that are scripted to act in conjunction with the meter. Players are then able to fight using these weapons and/or any capabilities built into the meter itself until one player's health expires and they "die". They are either resurrected by another player, automatically revive after a certain period of time, or are returned to their home sim position with their full health restored. Some metered combat sims allow for non-metered combat to be used under certain circumstances; in these cases, the method of combat used depends upon preferences of the participants in a given scene.
The integration between content purchases and provision of role-playing content has occasionally caused controversy in Second Life. Some examples include:
- a user may use real money, transferred via L$, to purchase clothing or items for a role-playing area, only to be banned from that area and have the value of those items wiped out;
- "Intrusive role-play", in which avatars role-play in a disruptive way in areas that are not intended for role-playing, has caused problems in the past. Examples include avatars dressing as police officers and claiming to have authority over areas that have nothing to do with them, or a previously sold system which allowed avatars to play vampires and "bite" any other avatar to "steal their soul"; some new users were convinced this would have a permanent effect on their avatar and even paid to purchase role-playing items to restore their soul, unaware that the effect was entirely irrelevant if the player did not wish to participate in the vampire role-play;
- the range of avatar costumes and items available is much greater than the range of role-play areas and the range of playable social roles, meaning that users may purchase items not realizing that the role they are advertised as providing cannot exist. This also applies to weapons, which are regulated differently across different role-playing sims or chains of sims;
- some metered combat systems allow affiliated merchants to develop weapons using their system's API. This allows those merchants to develop and sell weapons that deal additional damage or have other mechanical effects on combat; these weapons are often more expensive than similar weapons that do not incorporate these enhancements. Depending upon the specifics of the API, a merchant's weapons may end up being more powerful than the combat system's developer intended. In these cases, the merchant's API privileges may be revoked, resulting in both the developer's new and pre-existing weapons losing their special abilities. This eliminates much of the value of the weapons, which have already been purchased by users using L$.
Second Life is used for scientific research, collaboration, and data visualization. Examples include SciLands, American Chemical Society's ACS Island, Genome, Virginia Tech's SLATE, and Nature Publishing Group's Elucian Islands Village.
Second Life can be a real-time, immersive social space for people including those with physical or mental disabilities that impair their first lives, who often find comfort and security interacting through anonymous avatars. (Indeed, some academics believe using Second Life might even help improve motor ability for people with Parkinson’s disease.)
Second Life gives 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 virtual learning environment, simulate business processes, and prototype new products.
Criticism and controversy
A number of difficult issues have arisen around Second Life. Issues range from the technical (budgeting of server resources), to moral (pornography), to legal (legal position of the Linden Dollar, Bragg v. Linden Lab). Security issues have also been a concern.
In the past, large portions of the Second Life economy consisted of 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 their own country. 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 due to federal and state regulations on Internet gambling that 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 Linden Dollar 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 "Linden Dollar 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 by 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 Linden Lab interest ban.
Second Life 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.
Another problem 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 300kbit/s of Internet bandwidth for basic functionality. Due to the proprietary communications protocols, it is not possible to use a network proxy 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.
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 Lab 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, none of the cases filed to date have gone to trial, and most have been dismissed pursuant to a settlement agreement reached between the parties. Overall, 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, they cannot devote enough time to complete one. As a result, many Second Life businesses and their intellectual property remains effectively unprotected. Another case where settlement and dismissal was gained may be found in the matter of Eros, LLC v. Linden Research, Inc. As of October 7, 2010, the case was transferred to private mediation and the plaintiffs filed for dismissal of charges on March 15, 2011.
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. A group of virtual landowners online have filed a class action lawsuit against the company, claiming the company broke the law when it rescinded their ownership rights. The plaintiffs say a change in the terms of service forced them to either accept new terms that rescinded their virtual property ownership rights, or else be locked out of the site.
The Emerald client and in-world logging scripts
The Emerald client was developed by a group of users based on an open-source branch of the Snowglobe viewer. Several groups alleged that the Emerald viewer contained Trojan code which tracked user details and demographics in a way that the developers could later recover (via in-world logging scripts), one of these groups was banned from Second Life by Linden Lab after publishing their discovery. Shortly afterward, it was discovered that one of the members of the Emerald team had attempted to use the viewer to (allegedly) DDOS another website. In response, Linden Lab revoked Emerald's third-party viewer approval and permanently banned several of Emerald's developers. Due to what happened with Emerald, Linden Lab instituted a new third-party viewer policy  The support staff and a developer (the main developers left Second Life development/were barred from further development) of the Emerald project left to work on a new viewer project, Phoenix (simply a rebranded Emerald), that did not contain any malicious code. The Phoenix team are now the developers behind Firestorm Viewer and work closely alongside Linden Lab, holding bi-weekly joint meetings with all third party viewers.
Ban of Woodbury University
Linden Lab has twice, in 2007 and 2010, banned a California educational institution, Woodbury University, from having a representation within Second Life. On April 20, 2010, four simulators belonging to the university were deleted and the accounts of several students and professors terminated, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Professor Edward Clift, Dean of the School of Media, Culture and Design at Woodbury University, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that their campus "was a living, breathing campus in Second Life", including educational spaces designed mostly by students, such as a mock representation of the former Soviet Union and a replica of the Berlin Wall. According to Professor Clift, the virtual campus did not "conform to what Linden Lab wanted a campus to be."
The article in The Chronicle of Higher Education concluded with: "Meanwhile, many people in Second Life expressed on blogs that they were glad to see the virtual campus go, arguing that it had been a haven for troublemakers in the virtual world."
The Alphaville Herald
In 2004, the newspaper The Alphaville Herald, founded and edited by the philosopher Peter Ludlow, migrated to Second Life, and in the following years the newspaper played a prominent role in reporting on Second Life and in the public discussion of the game. The newspaper, which was known as The Second Life Herald from 2004 to 2009, was later edited by the Internet pioneer Mark P. McCahill. According to scholars Constantinescu and Decu, The Alphaville Herald was the first "virtual free press," pioneering mass communication in virtual worlds.
In popular culture
Since its debut in 2003, Second Life has been referred to by various popular culture mediums, including literature, television, film and music. In addition, various personalities in such mediums have themselves used or employed Second Life for both their own works and for private purposes.
In September 2006, former Governor of Virginia Mark Warner became the first politician to appear in a MMO when he gave a speech in Second Life. Musicians followed suit, with Redzone being credited by Wired and Reuters as the first band to tour in Second Life in February 2007. Then, in June 2008, author Charles Stross held a conference in Second Life to promote an upcoming novel. Second Life was also featured prominently, and used as a tool to locate a suspect, in the television show CSI: NY in 2007. In the American sitcom The Office, Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) is known to play the game, most notably in the episode Local Ad.
Much of the published research conducted in Second Life is associated with education and learning. Unlike computer games, Second Life does not have a pre-defined purpose and allows for highly realistic enactment of real life activities online. One such study tested the usefuleness of SL as an action learning environment in a senior course for management information systems students. Another presented a case study in which university students were tasked with building an interactive learning experience using SL as a platform. Both problem-based learning and constructionism acted as framing pedagogies for the task, with students working in teams to design and build a learning experience which could be possible in real life.
Situated learning has also been examined in SL, in order to determine how the design and social dynamics of the virtual world support as well as constrain various types of learning. The paper, "The future for (second) life and learning", published in the British Journal of Educational Technology, examines the potential of Second Life to further innovative learning techniques. It notes trends within the SL innovation to date, including the provision of realistic settings, the exploitation of pleasant simulated environments for groups, and the links with other learning technologies. It also considers the creativity sparked by SL's potential to offer the illusion of 3-D ‘spaces’ and buildings, and points to infinite imaginative educational possibilities.
Healthinfo Island offers Second Life residents tips on how to stay healthy.
Second Life has also offered educational research potential within the medical and healthcare fields. Examples include in-world research facilities such as the Second Life Medical and Consumer Health Libraries (Healthinfo Island—funded by a grant from the US National Library of Medicine), and VNEC (Virtual Neurological Education Centre—developed at the University of Plymouth, UK).
There have also been healthcare related studies done of SL residents. Studies show that behaviors from virtual worlds can translate to the real world. One survey suggests that users are engaged in a range of health-related activities in SL which are potentially impacting real-life behaviors.
Another focus of SL research has included the relationship of avatars or virtual personas to the 'real' or actual person. These studies have included research into social behavior and reported two main implications. The first is that SL virtual selves shape users' offline attitudes and behavior. The research indicated that virtual lives and physical lives are not independent, and our appearances and actions have both online and offline consequences. The second deals with experimental research and supports the idea that virtual environments, such as SL, can enable research programs in that people behave in a relatively natural spread of behavioral patterns.
The SL avatar-self relationship was also studied via resident interviews, and various enactments of the avatar-self relationship were identified. The study concluded that SL residents enacted multiple avatar-self relationships and cycled through them in quick succession, suggesting that these avatar-self relationships might be shaped and activated strategically in order to achieve the desired educational, commercial, or therapeutic outcomes.
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