Ever wondered what Second Life is and if you should care about it? Imagine a 3-D immersive game where you control an avatar and travel through constructed environments--and now take away the game part. What's left is a fairly wide-open creative space where users can create and sell in-game stuff--houses, objects, clothing, etc--or engage in group activities ranging from concerts to political activism to prostitution. It's free to join but to own land (and receive a larger stipend of in-game cash) you have to sign up for a monthly subscription.
The online community has been growing fairly rapidly over the past year or two, now boasting over one million users who logged in during the past month. Big business has taken notice of the trend, and companies from Toyota, Microsoft and Sony BMG have all launched virtual presences in SL.
The service has been receiving some of its most enthusiastic press from educators who hope to take advantage of the free-for-all 3D spaces as tools for pedagogy. You can find a lot of engineering schools, medical institutions and, of course, the Star Trek Museum of Science on this list of science places in SL. The world's creators actively encourage educational participation and teachers from many universities (including Harvard, Columbia and more) have tried running courses or training sessions in the simulation. There is at least one skeptic out there, though: Clark Aldrich, a consultant for an e-learning company, offers up ten things he sees missing from SL as an educational tool.
Whether or not Second Life becomes a permanent fixture of the Internet landscape, it's certainly captured a lot of peoples' attention. To learn more about it check out the plethora of podcasts available on iTunes. At the very least this world does offer some zany opportunities for multiple layers of simulation. Check out this video of a U2 "virtual tribute band" performing a concert with lovingly rendered tribute avatars: