Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 17:47 UK

Virtual worlds and web 'merging'

CEO of Second Life, Mark Kingdon
Second Life boss, Mark Kingdon, said identity is key in virtual worlds

"You take one avatar and you cross multiple virtual worlds… that is going to be a really powerful and important part of the virtual world future," predicted Mark Kingdon, the boss of Second Life.

This online fantasy space had 1.4m users over the past two months, out of its 17m registered users, who can access to products and places replicated from real life.

The residents can spend their time visiting exact replicas of actual tourist hotspots, shops, or even bizarre fantasy lands.

Videos on the site's homepage aim to help users find content that interests them within the vast 3D environment.

Second Life may have been one of the first virtual worlds of its kind, but six years on, the competition is fierce.


Newer digital destinations include exact copies of real shopping areas. Fot instance, the Near virtual world has a digital copy of London's Regent Street.

There are also spaces, such as There, aimed at children and teenagers, which tailor activities and products to that younger audience.

Videos on Second Life homepage
Videos on the Second Life site guide users through its content

Mr Kingdon, defined these online worlds as more "niche oriented". By contrast Second Life had advantages because it did not adapt itself for one group of users.

"By having a broad-based platform that appeals to a large audience, and supplying the tools and experiences they are looking for, you can reach a very wide audience," he said.

However, he saw the collaboration between virtual worlds as beneficial because residents did not want to be limited to one platform.

Linden Lab, the firm behind Second Life, has been working with IBM to enable multiple online destinations to become connected.

"The virtual world space is about your presence, your identity, your avatar, and your interactions with others," said Mr Kingdon.

"So, if all of a sudden if you want to move to go to another virtual world, you want to be able to take your identity with you," he said.

More integrated

As in the real world, money also plays a big part in many of the online spaces.

Most are free to join, but offer the option to upgrade if a user buys a premium service that gives them a few added perks.

Near Global image of shopping street in London
Virtual world Near is an exact replica of shopping streets in London

Plus, sales of digital goods in-world is big business. The more someone accessorises their avatar or virtual space, the more money companies make.

"Buying and selling of digital goods is a big part of the virtual world experience," the boss of Second Life said.

He thought that "digital extensions of physical products" would start appearing in the 3D online landscape.

"Increasingly we'll buy digital facsimiles of real world products. So if you go to my home I have a really wonderful Eames chair from Herman Miller.

"If you go to my office in Second Life, I have 12 Eames chairs that are wonderful but they are digital facsimiles of the real thing," he explained.

He believes that virtual worlds were also becoming more integrated with the rest of the web and its offerings of an escape.

"A lot of the interesting things we are seeing are applications where people are merging the web with the virtual world," he noted.

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