Tattered Cover Book Store's Reviews > The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World

The Making of Second Life by Wagner James Au
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's review
Jul 16, 2008

bookshelves: staff-recommends, nate-recommends

So there is this thing on the internets, maybe you have heard of it. If not, there is probably a good chance you will. I hear it is going to be big.

If you're not already aware of it, Second Life is an online... Well, it's a little hard to qualify. It looks like a game, in that it has 3D graphics, but there aren't really game-like goals to achieve. It's a little like a chat room, in that you can meet and interact with many other users around the world, but there's much more to it than conversation. It is, for lack of a better term, a virtual world, complete with its own geography, population, and economy. Apart from the ground itself, everything in it was created by users, using the provided software tools, including buildings, vehicles, furniture, clothing, and even character animations. With an active user base of over 600,000 members ("residents," in the parlance of SL) and growing, this frenzy of user-created content has birthed an economy with a gross "national" product greater than that of, if I am not misquoting the book here, Belgium. Real-world companies have taken notice, with such institutions as IBM, Pontiac, and Playboy having set up virtual headquarters. SL also plays host to real-world events, broadcast live through virtual venues - concerts, university lectures, even a presidential candidate's campaign speech. Wild.

Truth be told, I heard about Second Life a few years ago, but never really gave it a Second Thought (heh) until I picked up this book. The author, Wagner James Au, was retained by SL's creators early on in its existence to document its development, and while his coverage of this virtual world-building is at times less than objective, he really paints an interesting picture. As he describes it, and it really does make sense when you think about it, such a user-generated virtual world is just an extension of the participation culture of so-called "Web 2.0" sites like MySpace and YouTube. I don't know if this particular application is destined to be the future of the internet, but at least it seems to be an important step in the development of global information sharing. Not so much a story of the development of a piece of software as a story of the development of a community, I wouldn't call this book a must-read, but anyone with an interest in the internet's burgeoning participation culture (or "Read-Write Culture," as Lawrence Lessig calls it) might find it a ascinating insight into where it's headed.

-Nate R


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