Strategic Developer: Second Life's metaverse

Sun Microsystems debuts in Linden Research's cyber world

A well-known company issues a press release inviting reporters to witness its online debut. The year? Not 1994, but 2006. The company? Sun Microsystems. I had to pinch myself when I read the announcement: "Please join John Gage for a special event in Second Life." It's been a while since I got one of those.

Once upon a time, you only had to put up a Web page to be able to toot your online promotional horn. Now you have to build a 3-D environment in Linden Research's metaverse and populate it with avatars and virtual tchotchkes.

Back in '94, not many people had mastered HTML well enough to make interesting Web pages. Likewise, few today can wield the Second Life construction tools well enough to build compelling stuff. Just as Web page authors were scarce and expensive then, Second Life builders are now. The parallels are striking.

The skills required to create "content" in the two realms, though, are very different. You write HTML markup as a linear sequence of characters that renders as a two-dimensional page. You build Second Life objects using two-dimensional gestures that render in a simulated 3-D space. I used to be handy with 3-D CAD software, and let me tell you, that third dimension is a doozy.

If you haven't tried Second Life yet, you'll spend your first hour just learning to walk, jump, fly, teleport, and look around. Because the camera can track your avatar or move independently of it, looking around can be quite a complex affair. The camera has a record button, by the way, so you can shoot movies of everything from any point of view.

Once you're fairly comfortable moving around, you can try your hand at building some stuff. After you've conjured up a few shapes and stretched, tilted, textured, cloned, and stacked them, you'll begin to appreciate the staggering amounts of time and effort that your fellow residents have invested in the bridges, waterfalls, castles, and richly detailed interiors they've built everywhere. And you'll also begin to see how these virtual artifacts can command real-world prices.

The Linden Lab Web site features a stunning example of virtual construction and virtual cinematography. It's a movie of a resident luthier making the guitar that Suzanne Vega played during her in-world appearance. You'll find it eerily thrilling to watch this avatar summon a cylinder out of thin air, shape it into a tuning peg, clone five copies, and spin the set of them into place.

You may also wonder what all this virtual stuff is for. To entertain? To sell for real-world cash? To be translated into real-world things? All are possible outcomes, but if history repeats itself, we'll find that fancy 3-D designs will ultimately prove no more compelling than fancy Web pages.

It's no accident that such minimalist modes as e-mail, chat, blogs, and wikis capture so much of our online attention. The Web began as, and keeps proving to be, an experience that's more about social interaction than passive entertainment.

3-D richness notwithstanding, Second Life is fundamentally social, too. I can't wait to see what the business world will make of it, or of systems like it, after the novelty wears off. How about this for a practical application: an island where IT administrators and their clueless users trade places. Or where programmers and their business sponsors switch roles. That'd be edutaining.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Udell

Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?