Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual community created entirely by its membership. Members assume an identity and take up residence in the environment, creating a customized avatar or personage to represent themselves. The avatar moves about in the virtual world using mouse control and intuitive keyboard buttons.
The virtual world also includes sound; wind in the swaying trees, babbling brooks, audible conversation, and built-in chat and instant messaging. Residents buy property, start businesses, game with other residents, create objects, join clubs, attend classes, or just hang out.
In the fall 2006, over 3,000 residents were reportedly make an excess of $20,000 US Dollars (USD) per year running businesses in Second Life. Most of them sell objects they’ve created that other residents want. One resident landed a Business Week cover story for earning a three-figure income — that’s real-world dollars — selling virtual real estate.
Property purchased in Second Life is owned by the buyer using a scheme referred to as Internet Protocol (IP) copyright. Some owners reward members for staying at their property with Linden dollars, the community's currency. Linden dollars can also be purchased with real dollars using a credit card. Part of the exchange rate goes to Linden Inc., with the site purportedly generating over $64 million USD a year.
Real world corporations also took an interest in the virtual world. In September 2006, Popular Science reported that Wells Fargo Bank bought an island on Second Life, where could one day offer real world banking. Several companies considered offering corporate training classes in the virtual world — a business model that could save money in travel and lodging fees. Future possibilities include virtual universities that replicate their real-life counterparts with classrooms and professors teaching interactive classes in real time, virtual interactive congressional sessions, and three-dimensional customer and tech support.
Second Life is the brainchild of Philip Rosedale, the former RealNetworks guru credited with spearheading the development of online streaming technologies. Anyone over 13 years of age can open a free account, though members between 13 and 18 participate in a separate virtual community. Within the adult version, there are PG areas and adult areas where different modes of behavior are acceptable. According to the terms of service contract, harassment of any kind in the community results in permanent expulsion.