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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
BBC starts to rock online world
By Jonathan Fildes
BBC News science and technology reporter

The virtual stage in Second Life, BBC
A virtual version of the stage has been created in Second Life
The BBC has staked a claim to a virtual tropical island where it can stage online music festivals and throw exclusive celebrity parties.

The rented island exists in online game Second Life and will hold its first event this weekend with bands including Muse, Razorlight and Gnarls Barkley.

The virtual party will mirror BBC Radio 1's real-world, One Big Weekend event, being held in Dundee from 12 May.

Radio 1 plans to use the island to debut new bands over the next year.

Sweet music

"What we'd like to do is use it as a place for people to put on public music events," said Daniel Heaf, interactive editor at Radio 1.

"We'd really like to use it for unsigned musicians. [But] we're open to invitations as to who wants to use it and how they want to use it."

The virtual music festival is not the BBC's first foray into the virtual universe of Second Life.

Last year, Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and business correspondent Paul Mason broadcast TV's first ever face-to-face studio session from inside the computer game.

Virtual radio, BBC
It's about providing interaction between our listeners
Daniel Heaf, interactive editor, Radio 1
Second Life is one of several online games, known as "massively-multiplayer online games" (MMOG) that allow people to inhabit alternative virtual worlds as a character of their choosing.

In Second Life, these avatars, as the virtual representations of people are known, play out their lives in 20,000 acres of digital space.

Like other games the online world has a real world cash economy.

The Second Life economy works by allowing gamers to exchange real currency for Linden Dollars (L$) and back again.

One US Dollar is approximately equivalent to L$ 250.

Thousands of players make real world money out of their Second Life businesses, which may include designing virtual clothes, making vehicles or owning a casino.

There are currently nearly 200,000 people players who regularly meet, run their business or just hang out in the game.

In April another MMOG called Project Entropia blurred the virtual and physical worlds even further by issuing real world cash cards to players to make cash withdrawals from the virtual accounts.

A gamer in the Entropia Universe also made headlines, and the record books, when a virtual space station was sold for $100,000 (56,200).

Island life

Radio 1 has only rented its island for one year.

This weekend's festival will be their attempt at staging a concert. It will also be the first ever festival with a professional line-up to take place in a virtual universe.

The radio network believes up to 400 people will be able to attend the event with admission controlled by computerised bouncers.

Chris Moyles' avatar, BBC
Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles has been recreated in Second Life
In comparison, the real world event in Dundee expects to attract nearly 30,000 revellers.

Although those attending the Second Life rock festival will not be able to see avatars of their favourite artists, they will be able to watch and listen to live streams of the bands on stage in Scotland.

They'll also be able to take part in a dance-off in the DJ tent, take a hot air balloon ride or have an authentic festival experience on a virtual mud-slide.

Avatars of some Radio 1 DJs and as yet undisclosed celebrities will also be circulating on the island, but Mr Heaf says the festival is really for the Radio 1 audience.

"It's about providing interaction between our listeners," he said.

Virtual festival goers will also be able to take away a free memento of the event.

All visitors to the island will be issued with a virtual digital radio that will allow them to listen to Radio 1 long after the event.

The free sets will continue to be available after One Big Weekend to all Second Life residents who visit the venue.

"It means people can take a radio away to their own spaces and continue to listen to Radio 1," said Mr Heaf. "It's a long-term thing."

As well as encouraging listeners to the network, the Radio 1 team also hope to use the island to bring the audience closer to existing artists in the future.

"There may be opportunities to have people like Justin Timberlake on spaces like this," Mr Heaf said. "[That will] allow a level of interaction with the audience that we have never tried before."

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