I don't really blame the people who think there's nothing to do in Second Life. One of the areas where Second Life is weakest is in introducing newcomers to the world. The user interface is confusing, and, worse, once you've got that mastered, it's hard to figure out what to do. The newbie is confronted with an array of cybersex areas, online casinos, and sleazy make-money-fast schemes. But once you get past that initial barrier, you'll find plenty of things to do in Second Life.
This list is a work in progress. I plan to update it over time with links, more detailed information, and screen captures, while keeping it short, so it's useful as a fast, informative read for the curious, and a quick guide to newbies. Watch the Second Life category of this blog for notices of significant updates.
And look for the links in this post from the word "SLURL." They're Second Life URLs. If you have Second Life installed on your system, clicking on a SLURL in your browser will open Second Life if it's not already open and take you where you want to go. Like many things in Second Life, it's a little buggy and you have to fiddle with it a bit; sometimes it takes you directly there, sometimes you have to open the map in your client software and click the teleport button.
I've added SLURLs for about half the places named in this article; I'll continue to work on it and add more.
Here's the list of things to do:
Visit Amsterdam. It's one of the leading destinations in Second Life, because it's extremely well-done. It's a beautiful re-creation of real-life Amsterdam.
It's also one of the most popular sex businesses in Second Life, but that's not why I'm sending you there. Just walk and fly around and check it out. If you stand still for long, you'll probably be approached by a streetwalker, but that can happen in a real-life city, too. You won't be hit by lightning and die if it happens; just say, "No, thank you," and be on your way.
Talk to other people. I interviewed one Second Life skeptic who dismissed SL, saying it's just a chat room with graphics.
But that's actually one of its strengths.
I have very little patience with IRC and chat rooms on the 2-D Internet, but the 3-D nature of Second Life allows me to suspend disbelief and be somewhere else, not at my desk staring at a screen.
I can chat in Second Life for quite some time, exchanging jokes or having deeper discussions with friends.
Dancing. Here's how it works: You send your avatar off to a SL dance club or bar. There's music playing -- it's streaming audio that plays over your PC speakers. Everybody hears the same music. You click on a "dance ball," and away you go -- your avatar starts dancing, with all the other dancing avatars. Sure, it looks silly, but that's part of the fun. And while you're dancing, you're engaged in text chat with the other dancers around you.
So there you are, in a chat room while watching interesting graphics and chatting with pleasant people. What's not to like?
I've become a regular at a place called the Elbow Room. SLURL It's the equivalent of a neighborhood bar in Second Life. The architecture isn't much; you'll find thousands of "builds" that are far nicer; it's just a big, empty room. The music isn't special either, just your basic dance mix with a strong bent toward '80s oldies. But the people are friendly, and the staff makes you feel welcome. I stop in there for 20 to 40 minutes four or five times a week, generally just before I'm about to go to bed in real life. It's a pleasant way to end the day.
Listen to live music and attend other live events. One of the most popular activities in Second Life. Real-life musicians and DJs use streaming audio to send their sounds into SL, and avatars gather to listen. You can find just about every genre and era of music, from jazz to hip-hop. Check the Live Music category of the Second Life Events Schedule.
Indeed, the Events Schedule is worth looking over. It's unfortunately become littered with garbage events; it sometimes reads like the list of subject lines in your e-mail spam folder. But there's gold mixed in with the trash.
Building and creating things. Earlier this month, I attended the O'Reilly ETech Emerging Technology Conference and sat at a lunch table with some of the brightest minds in Web 2.0. They were dismissive of Second Life, which I've learned to expect from people who aren't regulars in SL.
One of the people at the table was Cory Doctorow, blogger, cyber-civil-libertarian, science-fiction writer, and all-around smart guy. Wouldn't it be swell (Cory mused) if there were a game called "World of Craft," where you made things? Sure, there's craft in World of Warcraft and Everquest, but it's really just repetitive mousing and clicking, not involving real thought or creativity. What if you could really build things in-game, and that was the whole point of the game?
That game exists. It's Second Life.
People spend huge amounts of time in Second Life building and scripting houses and furniture and especially clothing and avatars. Users write scripts to control haw the avatars move. They create vehicles to drive or fly around or through Second Life.
They give a lot of this stuff away and sell a lot of it, too. Which leads me to...
Doing business. You can make real-world money in Second Life. But that's not what I'm talking about here. Most of the people in business in Second Life aren't making any significant amounts of money at all. Business is a game in Second Life.
The amounts of money changing hands are mostly pretty small. You can buy a nice suit of clothes in SL for about a buck and a quarter American. You can buy a house for less than 10 bucks.
Doing business in Second Life has many of the same benefits that it has in the real world. To do business, you have to talk to other people. In SL as in RL, you have to find a place to sell your stuff, you have to advertise it and market it, you have to deal with customers.
Consider a Second Life dance hall: Somebody built it (more likely a team of somebodies). They employ DJs, spinning music over streaming audio. The dance hall will employ hosts and hostesses to make guests feel welcome. There are often people who work security, to guard against in-world pranksters, known as "griefers." All these people are building community by talking and working together and having fun.
The employees -- DJs, hosts and hostesses, and security guards -- generally make only a nominal amount of money. Like the business owners, they're mostly in it for fun, role-playing at having jobs.
Shopping. With all those people building clothes and avatars and vehicles and things, Second Life has plenty of shops, and you can while away many pleasant hours committing SL retail. I like to do it alone, but many people do it with friends, same as shopping in the real world.
Shopping is cheap in Second Life. You can buy yourself a nice suit of clothes for a buck and a quarter U.S., or a house for about 10 bucks.
Here are just a few of my favorite spots:
Brutal Gear (SLURL) for a nice-looking supply of clothes for regular guys: jeans and shirts and leather jackets. The store itself is a real treat. Most SL stores are unremarkable, like real-life shopping malls, but somebody had some fun and exercised some real creativity in designing the Brutal Gear store. It looks like a sleazy auto-repair shop, the kind of place that'd rip you off for a brake job and then sabotage your transmission while you're in there. Be sure to climb the stairs and visit the apartment -- but wash with plenty of antibacterial soap right afterward.
Hoffman Designs (SLURL) has nice realistic furniture and prefab homes.
DE Designs (SLURL) for men's and women's partywear. Good place to pick up leather pants or jacket. Or you can pick up an entire leather outfit and look like a heavy-metal rocker.
Role-playing games: The Second Life variety of RPG is half improvisational theater, and half re-enactment (like Civil War re-enactors in real life). Players behave and move in character, and interact with each other. Examples: Midian is sort of like Sin City or Bladerunner with vampires and hellhounds. The activity in Midian sometimes involves cybersex, so be warned.
Roma is a re-enactment of the pageantry, holidays, and gladiator combat of ancient Rome.
Tombstone re-creates the cowboy town of Tombstone, Ariz., at the time of the gunfight at the OK Corral.
Other kinds of games. You can find WoW/Everquest-style fantasy games in SL, as well as shoot-em-ups, and even quidditch, from the Harry Potter novels. The other night, while wandering around SL, I found a delightful bowling alley, with one of those futuristic space-age signs that were so popular in the real world in the 1950s.
See the sights. Sightseeing is one of my favorite things to do. Just wander around Second Life, exploring and looking at all the beautiful things users have built.
How do you know where to go?
Well, you can ask people -- and that gets back to the very first item on our list, talking to other people.
The SL search tool, which is part of the software client, has a list of popular places, along with their coordinates. You can also search on keywords.
When you're going somewhere, don't take the most direct route. Wander and look around a bit.
Or just click places on the game map at random and see where you end up.
Sailing. The Nantucket Yacht Club and other in-game venues offer sailing in Second Life. Capture the virtual winds and cruise around the world. I actually haven't been sailing yet, but it's extremely popular.
Surfing. You can get a virtual surfboard in Second Life and hang ten on the digital waves. I did this once, and have been meaning to go back and keep it up; it's fun.
That does it for our dozen things to do in Second Life.
Server Market SplitsvilleJust because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.