Is There A Second Job For You Via Your Own Avatar?

second lifeSitting one row ahead of an animated conversation on a recent cross-country flight, your tech-savvy author was utterly confused as he eavesdropped on this discussion about somebody's "second life." The befuddlement ensued because a second life is often how people describe the time after a fateful event such as a divorce or getting fired. But the conversation I had cued into didn't include ex's, lawyers or hated bosses. Instead this story included names like Apache, Squid and Havok, plus talk about textured primitives for somebody's avatar.

The more I listened, the more I realized that the conversation certainly didn't concern life in this world. I checked into things after regaining freedom from the aluminum tube. I quickly realized that the aforementioned talk about a second life was really about, an Internet world created just a few years ago by Linden Labs, a tech firm based in San Francisco, CA.

Second Life is not a game, per say, because participating in its virtual world has no ultimate goal. It just "is." People participate in the world as they desire. It is a low-risk laissez-faire social experiment conducted in a digital Petri dish. There are no treasures to hunt for or gophers to bonk, one just wanders around a user-created world, interacting with other users via a chat feature or instant messaging. Knowing that people are searching for something, entrepreneurial pastors have even set up virtual churches to spread The Gospel in cyber space. For the record, Apache, Squid and Havok are all programming languages that help make Second Life the rich, animated world that it is.

Current Internet banter hypes the possibilities of making real-world money in the virtual, three-dimensional world of Second Life. After all, anybody can open a Second Life account for free to begin a virtual life. Your second life (or third and fourth depending on how many personas-avatars-you create for yourself) has many characteristics of the real physical world, including the need to pay virtual rent for on-line real estate.

So what are these jobs? With a little poking around, we found openings for virtual DJs, club hosts and hostesses, French/English translators, and software writers. There was even a request for a complete jazz band. Unfortunately, like most societies, Second Life has a dark side. Searching the site shows numerous positions open for exotic dancers and adult escorts. (My avatar is now making the "looser" gesture toward these untoward elements.)

The currency used (and earned) in the Second Life world is the Linden Dollar ($L). Thousands of Second Life businesses exist, while many more have come and gone. Organized gambling, for instance, is no longer permitted in Second Life, but it once was a huge business. Businesses tend to mimic small enterprises in any town or city. These businesses offer clothing for your Second Life avatar, designs for the Second Life home you can build in a Second Life subdivisions. This list reads like a Yellow Pages, and even includes even ring tones for your Second Life home's doorbell.

Beyond the fantasy, big businesses like Cisco Systems officially utilize Second Life for training purposes, virtual meetings, and general communications. For their on-line meetings, Cisco recommends proper business attire (suits), which are available through a Cisco-developed in-world orientation process. Clothing is big business in Second Life, with a professional suit running about $L300, or about $1.50 in real currency. Other Fortune 500 companies utilizing Second Life include IBM, 3M, QTLabs, Starwood hotels, and Sun Microsystems.

In addition to meeting with colleagues from their own companies, businesses openly interact with their customers on-line, holding seminars and presentations or fielding questions about products. It's important to note that conversations held on Second Life are not confidential, so one wouldn't want to discuss proprietary information.

Books have been written on Second Life businesses, including Julian Dibbell's Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot and Daniel Terdiman's The Entrepreneur's Guide to Second Life: Making Money in the Metaverse. These books cover what can't be covered here; the huge opportunity that exists in a world that doesn't.

Chances are that if you don't already know something about Second Life, this story may seem to be as relevant as learning about the latest techniques in commercial chinchilla farming. But perhaps after you wander into Second Life, you'll come upon an idea that could make you a millionaire in two worlds at once.

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