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10/30/2006
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Increasing Interest, Popularity Drive 'Second Life' Growth, Economy

The virtual online world is drawing older visitors, large companies, advertising agencies, and other traditional institutions. Whether the number of older participants rises will be closely watched.

Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual online world, is increasing in popularity and drawing older people and institutions, according to Hitwise, an Internet metrics company.

In addition to a recent announcement that Reuters had dispatched a journalist to cover the virtual world, there is more evidence the site, with its own economy and social system is gaining ground.

Second Life traffic grew 219 percent for the week ending Oct. 21, compared with the same period last year, according to Hitwise. Visits more than doubled from Oct. 7 through Oct. 21, the online intelligence company reported. Internet searches for "second life" increased 73 percent in one week ending Oct. 21, just days after Reuters announced that it would regularly cover Second Life, according to Hitwise.

Large companies, like Reebok, Toyota and IBM have entered the site, along with several advertising agencies. At the same time, Hitwise reports that the population is broadening, with older people visiting.

For the four weeks ending Sept. 23, nearly 33 percent of the visitors to SecondLife.com were between 18 and 24, while less than 6 percent were over 55, according to data from Hitwise. For the four weeks ending Oct. 21, people over 55 represented more than 15 percent of the site's visitors, according to the data. During that time, visits from people between the ages of 18 and 24 fell to 25.67 percent, according to Hitwise.

Hitwise based its data on a sample of 10 million U.S. Internet users. The change in demographics reflects new visitors, not those who joined the site. Hitwise indicated it will continue to watch Second Life to see if the average age of participants increases and whether new groups attract different advertisers. Right now, participation is high among people under 45.

Second Life allows visitors to trade its currency for its real estate, make friends, take classes and hold business meetings. The site has town hall meetings to settle disputes, and a search for the term "election" turned up a Social Democratic Faction with 26 members.

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