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Second Life, the New Hot Place for Business – or Not?

Editor’s Note: Every week on my radio program (broadcast live over the WSRadio.com network), I do a five-minute segment at the end of each show called “Today’s Trend.” I outline a trend impacting entrepreneurs and small businesses in some way, or the beginnings of a trend to watch. In yesterday’s show I spoke about Second Life. It peaked some interest, apparently, based on some emails I have received. So here is the original written version of yesterday’s radio segment, “Second Life, the new hot place for business – or not?”

Earlier this year MySpace [1] was all the rage as supposedly the new place for businesses [2] to promote their companies, products and services online. Well move over, MySpace. Enter Second Life.

Second Life [3] is a 3D world online. Yes, you heard me — it’s a world online. In Second Life you create a cartoon-like figure called an avatar. You give your avatar a name.

Don’t like the way you look in real life? No worries. You can tailor the look of your avatar to look any way you want.

Then you can explore the online world of Second Life. Using your computer mouse and a set of online controls, you make your avatar move around in the world of Second Life. While you are there you can use a special instant messenger program to communicate with other avatars (er, people) in Second Life. In other words you can network.

You also can purchase real estate in Second Life. No kidding. Your real estate amounts to an online portion of the Second Life world (er, site). You even can sell things in Second Life [4] — things such as development services, graphic design and so on.

Oh, and you use virtual currency called Linden dollars. There is even a virtual exchange showing the exchange rate between virtual Linden dollars and U.S. dollars.

If all this sounds like one of those massively multiplayer online games, well you’re not far off. It does resemble an online game in some ways.

However, this game is not about vanquishing your fictional enemies or taking over the world. After spending a few hours in Second Life, it struck me that a large component of the point of Second Life is about making money — and spending money.

So aside from making and spending fictional money in a fictional world — money that you have to buy in the first place with real hard U.S. currency — where does the business aspect coming in?

Large companies have discovered Second Life. Companies such as Dell are setting up stores and kiosks and other presences in Second Life [5]. Partly it seems to be a way to get their brands out in front of those who are participating in Second Life.

And a lot of people are participating. According to the Second Life website, over 1.5 million people have registered on the site, and over 600,000 have been there during the past 60 days. In the past 24 hours alone, they spent over $625,000 U.S. dollars.

But there’s more involved. Some companies, such as IBM, are using Second Life as a kind of experimentation sandbox and proving ground for what might become the future way we interact on the entire World Wide Web: a 3D Web, if you will. As one IBM executive noted, most of the way selling is done on the Web today is through catalogs. It would appear that IBM is partly looking at it as a way of setting up virtual storefronts that people might navigate through — 3D storefronts, if you will.

Where will this all lead? It’s hard to tell if this is the latest fad or a peek into the revolutionary new way we do business on the World Wide Web in the future.

What I can say and suggest is that it’s worth your time some weekend to set aside time to download the Second Life software and explore Second Life. You at least want to know what it’s all about. Who knows? While you are there you may think of some ways to get your small business brand out there and promote your company.