"Three years ago, I underwent one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life – and I barely even left the office.
"I spent a week virtually living and breathing inside Second Life: the massively multiplayer online world that contains everything from lottery games to libraries, penthouses to pubs, skyscrapers to surrogacy clinics.
"Oh, and an awful lot of virtual sex.
"Back then, the world and his dog were falling over themselves to “be a part of it”. Rock stars were queuing up to play virtual gigs, Microsoft and IBM were setting up elaborate pixellated offices to host staff training seminars, Reuters even despatched a correspondent to report back on the latest in-world developments.
"At its peak, the Second Life economy had more money swilling about than several third-world countries. It had even produced its own millionaire, Anshe Chung, who made a very real fortune from buying and selling property that existed only on Second Life servers.
"Three years on, and the hype has been extinguished. Second Life has seen its status as the web wonderchild supplanted by Facebook and Twitter. The newspapers have forgotten about it, the Reuters correspondent has long since cleared his virtual desk, and you can walk confidently around tech trade shows without a ponytailed “Web 2.0 Consultant” offering to put your company on the Second Life map for the price of a company car. "
"But what has happened to Second Life? Have the hundreds of thousands of registered players logged off and found a real life? Has the Second Life economy collapsed? And what’s become of the extroverts, entrepreneurs and evangelists I encountered on my first visit? There’s only one way to find out. I’m going back in."
"Has Second Life become a digital ghost town? Not according to its makers, Linden Labs. 'In total, users around the world have spent more than one billion hours in Second Life,' the company claimed in September
"And it isn’t just using that big figure to distract attention from a slowing interest in the online world: 'user hours grew 33% year-on-year to an all-time high of 126 million in Q2 2009,' Linden insists."
"A little research soon reveals why Second Life seems a lot quieter than the numbers suggest. In June, the company opened Zindra – Second Life’s 'adult continent', a huge plot of the virtual universe dedicated to content rated as 'mature', 'adult' or even 'PG'.
"Given that sex and gambling accounted for the majority of the 'most popular places' when I first visited, it was suddenly apparent why I was as lonely as a cloud in the parts of the Second Life universe that wouldn’t upset the clergy.
"So why did Linden establish its very own red-light district? It seems the company decided it was time to clean up its act. In 2008, a management shake-up saw founder and CEO Philip Rosedale move into the role of chairman; his replacement was Mark Kingdon, a man who spent 12 years as a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers – about as far from Linden’s 'anything goes' culture as you could possibly get."
"Kingdon apparently realised that companies such as IBM (which has more than 50 in-game properties) and Microsoft don’t want their reputations sullied by being part of a virtual world where XXX DANA’S NAUGHTY PLAYHOUSE XXX is the star attraction.
"So instead of bulldozing the sex shops and brothels, Linden decided to relocate them to their own dedicated island. Now Big Blue and the blue-movie theatres can both comfortably entertain their clients, and never the twain shall meet.
"Other vices were quashed a little less amicably. In 2007, Linden caused enormous upset after shutting down casinos and other in-world gambling dens overnight, following an FBI investigation into whether the site was breaking the US ban on online gambling. People who’d invested enormous amounts of time and hard cash into developing their own casinos found they’d literally been wiped off the map, without compensation" (http://www.pcpro.co.uk/features/354457/whatever-happened-to-second-life/1, accessed 01-27-2010).