Second Life is an online 3-D streaming virtual world where you can do just about anything. Unlike games you may have heard of such as World of Warcraft, Second Life is open-ended and has no objective or game.
You can use the world to hold meetings with friends and colleagues in a compelling way to communicate, prototype, share content, screen films or show pictures, create and store objects, brainstorm -- and save money on travel.
Why would you need a Second Life if you already have a first life and don't want to be one of those people who "have no lives"? Well, some people use Second Life to "have a life" if they don't have one, and others use it to enhance their lives with creative potential.
Did you know that there are hundreds of universities in Second Life? Classes in architecture, digital arts, literature, and science? Numerous non-profits holding strategizing conferences and fund-raising. Companies doing training and prototypes for business.
You may have heard that Second Life requires some incredibly steep learning curve or complex computer system. Trust me, I'm not technical, and it doesn't need those things. Many people now have DSL (broadband) at home or in the office -- that's what you need. Most new computers come with better video cards already installed. You don't have to spend hours learning how to build or program or create fabulous gorgeous avatars in Second Life unless you want to.
Instead, you can skip those stages, use prefab buildings and pre-existing skins that come with your account when you log-in, and fix your appearance later. Flying is easy and enjoyable -- and yes, you fly in this virtual world. The first day when you try to sit down or move objects it can be clunky -- you practice, you get help from me, and you're over it and ready to focus on what can be gained from virtuality -- which is something considerable.
Why bother, if you can just use email, Yahoo Groups, AIM, Skype, your cell phone, or even meet face to face in the real world?!
Simple. Because for no cost (basic accounts are free), you can access many interesting features:
o immersive environments that are designed to assist in your goals, i.e. a non-profit organization made a replica of an African village with homes and a school to help get their message across and inspire donations; a corporation made a wide stadium to put up PowerPoints and demonstrations; there is everything from theaters to race tracks to castles to tree houses -- someone has already made what you might be thinking is perfect for your task
o interactive communication -- when you have an avatar that is 3-dimensional and can interact with other avatars with animations and gestures in a 3-D environment, it feels like you're really meeting someone and is more compelling than an email. You can either type text or turn on voice as you would on a telephone or Skype.
o capacity for demonstrations -- you can show films, pictures, objects, texts, animations
o storage -- you can leave information, pictures, objects, etc. for others to access at any time, which builds asyncronicity, i.e. you don't have to reach everyone on the same schedule
o outreach -- you can reach people all over the globe. People are logging in to Second Life from all over the world, from countries that are rapidly expanding their broadband and computer capacity.
o groups -- you can make a group and talk simultaneously with 3 or 300 people in a group chat, which can be very useful for brainstorming and putting questions to speakers; you can also circulate messages and objects to the group members.
You may have read that people make millions in SL -- or spend hundreds of thousands to build their campus replicas. None of this is necessary. For just $9.95 a month you can get the premium account that gives you $300 in Linden cash to spend inworld and 512 m2 tier or land credit to use to purchase land). For $25 US, you can get 4096 m2 of land, which is about all you need to make a building able to hold 937 prims (or object pieces), and hold meetings comfortable with 10-20 people.
You may have also heard that terrible things happen in SL -- everything from pornography to gambling to fraud. What the news media fails to explain, however, is that you can control your environment when you own or rent land, and can set it so only you and your colleagues can use it. If you are adventurous you can explore all around, and if you are annoyed or upset about something, you can just teleport or fly away -- or log off.
Because unlike games that lock you into levelling or long periods of complex play where you don't feel as if you can leave, you can easily multi-task with Second Life, tabbing it down while you use other applications or logging on and off easily just as you would open or close email.
I'm hoping this year to get more people to try Second Life and gain its advantages. Contact me at my email address if you would like some help. Adding a Second Life account to your blog and becoming a "3-D Blogger" is a great way to get your readers to interact and give feedback and find new friends.