Technology, Writing

Living a Second Life

Many of you know that I am an avid user of the 3D virtual world called Second LifeTM (SL) by Linden Labs.  I first heard about SL from the This Week in Tech podcast in the spring of 2006 though I have been most active with the system in the past 6 months or so.  I realize many people think of it as a game and put it in the same category as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) but I think it is something different – a platform for building interactive 3D virtual technologies.

 What is Second Life?

SL is basically a virtual 3D interactive world rendered in a computer application (called the Viewer – now fully open source which I find encouraging) that runs on personal computers running Windows, OS X and Linux.  The virtual world is simulated on a grid of thousands of servers (each called a “sim” – short for simulator) that together along with a number of other servers (which manage the inventory of virtual objects, virtual money, etc.) provide a fairly immersive simulation of a virtual world.  The Second Life system means different things to different people – some use it as a role playing game for fun, others use it explore facets of their own lives that they are unable to experience in real life because of social stigmas or laws in their country.  Others, like me see Second Life as a very neat platform for building and developing virtual technology.

There has been much hype in the press over the past year about SL.  Some of it positive such as real life bands like Duran Duran coming into Second Life, IBM’s presence in the virtual world, or Sun Microsystem’s holding a press conference.  Some of the press has also been negative – focusing on the “adult” imagery and activity in SL (yes – like many emerging technologies – some of the first adopters of it are from the pornography industry) or the fact that there are a disproportionate number of virtual shopping malls within the SL world.  The reality is somewhwere in the middle.  Reuters has established a virtual bureau within SL and provides news from within the virtual world.

Second Life is a 3D virtual world that has:

  • Facilities for real people represented as “avatars” to interact with a simulated environment and with other avatars.  Avatars can communicate by typing to each other (voice chat is in beta testing) or by activating gestures that cause the avatar to animate and make audible noises (my second life avatar can dance significantly better than my real life body!).  Avatars can explore the virtual world by walking around, flying (yes you can do this), or riding in virtual vehicles.
  • Virtual land consisting of virtual parcels of real estate that are simulated and rendered by servers. These land parcels can be bought and sold.  Each land parcel represents a slice of land within the virtual world and controls how many objects you can have on the land (the larger the land, the more objects you can place on it) to control the load on the servers.
  • A platform for creating virtual content using building tools to create objects.  Objects are made out of geometric primitives (called “prims”) and can have textures (JPEG images) applied to them.  These objects have digital rights to control copying, distribution, etc.   These objects interact with each other and avatars through a physics engine that is part of the simulation.
  • A scripting language called LSL (Linden Scripting Language) that is very PHP/C like and provides a means for giving interactivity and “intelligence” to virtual objects.  The language has a extensive library of functions for interacting with the virtual world, other objects, avatars, etc.
  • A virtual economy with a currency called Linden Dollars. This economy facilitates in-world businesses that can sell virtual objects they create and provide services to other avatars and businesses. Linden dollars can be purchased for real currency or can be “converted” back to real currency. It is possible to make real money in Second Life this way.

What do I do in Second Life?

Well Corey and I have a private island which is basically 65,536sm of land (and allows us to have 15,000 object primitives) simulated on a dedicated CPU core in the SL grid (info on private islands – yes, they’re expensive).  To give you an idea of the capabilities of the technology here are some pictures of some of the things we have built or arranged on the island:

And some pictures inside the house:

Obviously the concept of a house in Second Life is rather superfluous because avatars have no need to eat, sleep or take care of other biological functions but building and arranging this house shows the power of the technology and tools to mimic the real world. Many of the objects in this house are “functional” – doors open and close, the television can display streams of video from the internet, chairs can be sat upon, the globe in the Library room rotates, the fish in the fish tank swim, etc.

For fun I have been building a replica of a certain cartoon house on a Fox television show. Check out these pictures of my virtual 742 Evergreen Terrace:

Here is a video tour of the island in a virtual helicopter (excuse the quality – it’s hosted on YouTube):

Why am I doing this?  Well partly as a hobby because it’s fun (its a lot like model building without the stinky glue and broken pieces) and mostly because I think its a really neat emerging technology.  Will technologies like Second Life become Web 3.0 and create a 3D web?  Time will tell but for now I am enjoying it and even exploring some possibilities for using the technology within the healthcare field for serious purposes. If you want to join me in Second Life – download the viewer and send me an email for my details otherwise stay tuned and we’ll see where it all goes…..

Leave a Reply