Living A Second Life

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About a year ago in my first visit to Second Life, the popular online virtual world, I spent half an hour trying to make my avatar, or online character, look like a hotter version of myself — which isn't easy when you don't know how to use the tools. When I finally made it onto Money Island to mingle, a stranger approached me and said, 'Hello there, Devon.' I froze. Then I tried to run. I was desperately searching for the teleport tool when my sister walked into the room, peered over my shoulder at the computer screen and said, 'Why'd you make your avatar ugly?' I logged off.

  1. Living A Second Life In Dreams
  2. A Second Life Download

Switch up your living space with this modern & elegant set consisting of the Vulni Sectional, art canvas with 6 texture choices & hanging lamp with 3 height variants. Sofa comes with texture change HUD and seats 4 avatars with 100% bento animations. See item in Second Life ®. Welcome back to Second Life! If it something for you, consider the business of selling private land. The bigger landowners all have sales agents whose job is it to contact anybody landing on one of their vacant lots and try to sell (technically rent) them land for their home or business.

I didn't realize how instructive my sister's question was until recently, when I discovered research being done at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL). Jeremy Bailenson, head of the lab and an assistant professor of communication at Stanford, studies the way self-perception affects behavior. No surprise that what we think about ourselves affects the confidence with which we approach the world. What is a surprise is that this applies in the virtual world too. With my plain=Jane avatar and my inexperience in Second Life, I did what most people would want to do in an uncomfortable social situation: run away.

What's more, Bailenson's research suggests that the qualities you acquire online — whether it's confidence or insecurity — can spill over and change your conduct in the real world, often without your awareness. Bailenson has found that even 90 seconds spent chatting it up with avatars is enough to elicit behavioral changes offline — at least in the short term. 'When we cloak ourselves in avatars, it subtly alters the manner in which we behave,' says Bailenson. 'It's about self-perception and self-confidence.' But researchers are still trying to figure out the psychological mechanisms at work, and which way the effect flows: 'Do you consciously wear your power suit to feel confident, or is it that you're in this suit and you're feeling up, but you're unaware of the reason?' says Bailenson.

Bailenson's findings have a lot more real-world meaning than you'd think, if only because so many people are spending so much time in the unreal world. Some 13 million people have visited Second Life at least once, with about 450,000 residents online in a given week. Even more popular is the online game World of Warcraft, which has 10 million active subscribers who pay to participate. People spend on average about 20 hours a week in alternate worlds like these, and at VHIL, whose high-tech virtual world is entered by way of a $24,000 helmet, Bailenson and his Ph.D. students are trying to figure out how these increasingly common virtual experiences bleed into reality. 'I've been doing this for years and people have been laughing at me,' says Bailenson. 'All of a sudden, I have people calling and asking about what I do.'

In one experiment, published in Human Communication Research last year, researchers assessed how an avatar's attractiveness affected human behavior, both online and off. Thirty-two volunteers were randomly assigned an attractive or unattractive avatar (attractiveness was rated by undergrads in a survey beforehand) and instructed to look at them in a virtual mirror for 90 seconds. Then they were asked to interact with other avatars, controlled by the experimenters, in a classroom-like setting. Overall, subjects using good-looking avatars tended to display more confidence, friendliness and extroversion, just as in the real world: they approached avatar strangers within three feet, and in conversations tended to disclose more personal details. Ugly-duckling avatars, meanwhile, stayed five and a half feet away from strangers and were more tight-lipped.

Lead researcher Nick Yee, a former Stanford graduate student who now works for the nearby Palo Alto Research Center, replicated his study, then appended a second part: an hour after their forays online, the same volunteers were told they were participating in an unrelated study about online romance. They were instructed to pick two potential dates out of nine photos in an online-dating pool. People who had used attractive avatars seemed to hang on to some of the self-assurance that came from being handsome, choosing better-looking dates than those who had homely avatars. 'They thought they had a shot,' says Bailenson.

If feeling pretty builds confidence, what does height do for you? To find out, Yee recruited 50 volunteers, randomly assigned them to short or tall avatars, then instructed them to divide a virtual pool of $100 with another participant — one player would suggest how to split the pot, and the other could accept or reject the offer, with each person getting nothing if offers were rejected. People with tall avatars (three or four inches taller than the stranger avatar) negotiated more aggressively than the short ones, while short avatars were twice as likely as the tall ones to accept an unfair split — $25 versus $75.

Again, the behavior held up in real life. When Yee had the subjects shed their avatars and negotiate face-to-face, sitting down, people who had inhabited tall avatars bargained more aggressively, suggesting unfair splits more often. And participants who had had short avatars accepted less-than-even money more often than the tall ones. How tall the people were themselves became less important, if only temporarily, than the height of their online alter egos.

Virtual behavior may even affect real-world health. Stanford graduate student Jesse Fox randomly assigned avatars to 75 volunteers and divided them into three groups: one group watched their look-alike avatars run on treadmills for about five and a half minutes; another group saw their virtual counterparts lounge around; and a third watched avatars who did not look like them, but were of the same age and sex, run on treadmills. A day later, Fox found that participants who watched avatars of their own likeness exercising had themselves exercised an hour more in the intervening 24-hour period than people in the other two groups. (It's worth noting that the volunteers were all Stanford undergraduates, who were likely more active and fitter to start than the average adult.) 'What I'm hoping to find out by picking apart these mechanisms is what motivates people and why this works,' says Fox. 'If you are energized by seeing yourself run, maybe you can put an avatar on the bottom of your computer screen for five minutes and it would persuade you to go to the gym.'

The possibilities are — virtually — endless. Inhabit buffed-up versions of yourself to lose weight, cuter versions of yourself to gain confidence, or older versions to start putting money away for the future (that last one is being studied at Stanford now). 'The most stunning part is how subtle the manipulations are and how difficult they are to detect,' says Bailenson, 'but how much it affects real life later on.'

Of course, the effect could potentially work both ways — for good or for bad. 'In a therapy setting, we could use these virtual environments to get people to become more confident,' says Yee. 'But they can also be used in advertising and as propaganda.'

Living A Second Life

Before I entered Second Life again I upgraded my avatar to much cuter dimensions. This time I found myself conversing with people instead of logging off. I was more outgoing. Next, I'm considering giving my avatar a cottage by the sea and a job doing charitable work. Maybe some of the positive vibes will rub off into my real life. I'll let you know how it works out.

Find out what entrepreneurial opportunities the virtual world of Second Life has to offer.

A million dollars of virtual loot. It's a concept that's difficult to wrap your head around, but in November, that's exactly what virtual real-estate developer Anshe Chung accomplished in the 3D virtual world Second Life, in which users live 'second' lives as avatars. When her entrepreneurial success story hit the press, it spread like wildfire, leading many to ask: What exactly are the business opportunities available in Second Life? Are people really turning their love for Second Life into a full-time business?

Marketers have already been exploring the world, with big-name businesses like American Apparel, Starwood Hotels, Scion and Cisco setting up virtual areas for their products--a store for American Apparel, a hotel for Starwood--in Second Life. Even Reuters has assigned a bureau chief specifically to the site.

If you've never visited Second Life--or even heard of it-here's a quick look at it. Second Life is a 3D virtual world where people use avatars to explore and commune with other people. It's often lumped in with such online games as World of Warcraft or Star Wars Galaxies (which insiders refer to as 'massively multiplayer online role playing games' or MMORPGs), but it's a different beast. There's no slaying of dragons to level up a character or collecting weapons to prepare for battle, but you can buy and develop online real estate, import images to craft your own in-world creations, or attend a drum circle with avatars created by users from all over the world. Based on the futuristic Metaverse from Neal Stephenson's seminal sci-fi novel Snow Crash, Second Life aims to truly be a second life for users, with opportunities for both work and play.

It's the work element--the embrace of entrepreneurship--that's perhaps most unique to Second Life. Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life, has welcomed the entrepreneurial inclinations of its community in two important ways. First, Linden dollars, the in-world currency, are easily traded for U.S. dollars at an official currency site. Second, Linden has taken the remarkable step of allowing players to retain the copyright for their in-game creations. It's these aspects of Second Life that attract entrepreneurs like Peter Lokke.

Time to Quit the Day Job
Lokke started his online adventures in the 3D virtual universe There. It was 'there' that he discovered his love for virtual clothing design. That's also where he met his business partner, Theo Lament, and it was Lament who introduced Lokke to Second Life in 2004. Once he'd learned how much more creative he could be in this new world, he was hooked. Linden's intellectual property policies also helped.

'When I found out how expressive I could be in Second Life and that I retain copyrights for the things I make, I knew I was in Second Life to stay,' says Lokke, who lives in Brooklyn, while his partner Lament, whom he's never met face to face, lives in Milwaukee.

Lokke has never considered himself a gamer but he did enjoy tinkering with computer graphics. Creating online clothing came naturally, and after designing his own duds in There and Second Life, he found that others wanted them, too. '[My business] has grown from [generating[ a few bucks a month two years ago to selling more than enough to live on now,' says Lokke, who goes by the name Crucial Armitage in Second Life. 'And it's growing every month.'

Indeed, 2007 may prove to be a watershed year for Lokke: He's quitting his 17-year job as a supermarket manager to make the 50 hours he already spends in Second Life as the owner of Crucial Creations his true, full-time career.

Julian Dibbel, an MMORPG expert who chronicled the year he spend trying to earn an income in Ultima Online in his book Play Money, says Second Life--and not MMORPGs--is the place to look if you want to make a virtual living online. For one thing, it's often hard to earn much in online games because they often shut down the accounts of those selling in-game items, since such activities are against the rules.

Another major issue with multiplayer game money-making, as opposed to Second Life, is that many foreign businesses have cornered the market on entrepreneurial opportunities using inexpensive labor and cheap overhead. Dibbel says this isn't yet an issue in Second Life. 'What's not so easily off-shored is the really creative and culturally specific stuff, and that's what you see in Second Life.'

What's also interesting about Second Life, says Dibbel, is that while you can be wildly creative, you don't have to be. The aforementioned Anshe Chung (real name: Ailin Graef), who was the first Second Life entrepreneur with a net worth of more than $1 million, made her cash through virtual real-estate dealings. The German resident has even gone real-world with her talents, starting Anshe Chung Studios, a 3D environment developer with offices in Wuhan, China.

Opportunities Abound
The number of opportunities available is really only limited by your imagination. Real estate is a big moneymaker, as evidenced by Chung's success. Even Lokke has a side business as a landowner, subletting property on the 10 islands he owns. There are also numerous opportunities for coders who want to build more complex creations using Second Life's unique scripting language.

Even a B2B community has sprung up. When Dibbel decided to promote Play Money in Second Life, the infrastructure already existed. He found a bookmaker to create a virtual version of his book, and a pre-existing vending machine to sell it in. 'There's already a community of solo entrepreneurs there to fill the gap on a B2B level,' says Dibbel. 'If you have an idea you think would be a good thing to have programmed up, you don't necessarily have to do the programming at this point.'

Next Big Thing?
In December, Linden Labs reported there were more than 2.3 million Second Life 'residents' (avatars that people have created), and that number seems likely to continue to rise. Some have criticized this population figure as not being representative of the true user base because it includes people who visited Second Life only once and never returned, as well as users who have more than one avatar. Regardless, there's no doubting that Second Life's popularity is growing and the media circus surrounding the virtual lifestyle has exploded.

But the bottom line for entrepreneurs is, will Second Life really pan out? Or is it just hype, since the majority of people have never ventured virtually or even heard of it?

Possibly both. After all, there are a lot of people who could care less about blogging, but it's now a well-established publishing and marketing tool that's here to stay. The audience for blogs may not be universal, but it's big enough that some writers--like Heather Armstrong of or the four bloggers behind bringing in a nice, full-time chunk of change for crafting their thoughts for the world.

Living A Second Life In Dreams

Second Life may prove to be a similar venture. Your mom may never understand exactly what a 3D world is, or the point of an avatar. But enough other people do that a whole new class of entrepreneurs has been born to serve their needs. Just ask Peter Lokke.

Getting Started in Second Life
First and foremost, you've got to start visiting this virtual world. It's free to start an account, but tiered pricing levels will allow you more access to the world in the form of a Linden dollar allowance and the ability to own property. And you can't jump into a Second Life business--you've got to get to know the world and decide if it's the type of place you want to really build another life in.

From there, your personal interests will guide you to potential business ideas. (Check the list below for some ideas from Linden Labs.) You'll also want to start developing your own community of contacts. Much of the work in a virtual world business--like a real-world business--comes from networking and building a list of contacts and friends.

Finally, be prepared to spend a heck of a lot of time on Second Life. Just because it feels like a game doesn't mean your work will always be fun. Like any hobby-turned-business, the 'business' parts can suck much of the fun out of what was once your passion. Be prepared to spend 40 or 50 hours, as Lokke does, on top of your normal, full-time job before you can break free and take it full time.

A Second Life Download

Second Life Business Ideas
On the Second Life website, the company lists the following businesses as some real examples of in-world enterprises run by residents:

  • Party and wedding planner
  • Pet manufacturer
  • Tattooist
  • Automotive manufacturer
  • Fashion designer
  • Custom avatar designer
  • Jewelry maker
  • Architect
  • XML coder
  • Freelance scripter
  • Game developer
  • Tour guide
  • Real estate speculator
  • Publicist

For the complete list, click here.