Check out this mind-blowing story on Second Life, the simulated online world where people socialize, shop for actual products, attend legitimate university classes, even buy virtual real estate—using real-world money.
... Like the computer game The Sims, Second Life is software that enables you to guide your avatar through a 3-D landscape, chat with other avatars, and build objects with tools. But SL, as it’s known to its 300,000 members, or “residents,” isn’t a game. It’s more like an animated version of real life. There’s no way to win and no specific objective.
... [I]ncreasingly, people are logging on to work, shop, or go to class. Of course, the same thing could have been said about the Web 10 years ago. Like the Web, all but the basic infrastructure in SL is built by the people who populate it. Want a conference room where you can swap blueprints with a team around the world? Create one, and other avatars can come inside. Want to sell your band’s music? Build a jukebox, fill it with MP3s, and charge SL residents in Linden dollars (SL’s currency) to download them.
... With its natural interactivity and open platform for creation, Second Life, or something like it, may very well be the next generation of the Web.
... SL’s now-thriving economy ... currently has an annual gross domestic product of $64 million (U.S. dollars). Residents buy and sell Linden dollars for real money (Linden takes a small cut of all currency exchanges) and can do a brisk business peddling everything from developed real estate to exotic body parts for residents who don’t want to design their own. There are at least 3,000 entrepreneurs making $20,000 or more a year on SL businesses; BusinessWeek devoted a recent cover story to Anshe Chung, who earns hundreds of thousands of (actual) dollars as SL’s biggest real-estate mogul.
Most people use Second Life to chat with friends and make new ones.