Dr media says, , quoting himself from Wired, 5+ years ago, “A Virtual Life is better than no life at all.”
2nd life has had explosive growth, you still can’t port an avatar from one world to another world so far as I know, thats when this will really get interesting. But for now it’s still cool, see you after the VR conference , for an update.

More Internet users getting a virtual life

Ellen Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, October 8, 2007

Internet users, get a life -- a virtual one -- as plenty ...

The online universe is brimming with dozens of virtual worlds vying to build sustainable life.

From Gaia, a Japanese anime-inspired site, to vSide, a hip nightclub scene, they represent the latest way people are interacting through the Internet. Users create alter-ego avatars to navigate these online worlds, where they meet and hang out with other people, go shopping, watch movies, even start a business.

And they’re live: Day and night, they change as people join in.

Though the idea is not new, the technology and the business to support these virtual worlds are starting to catch up. And now a new generation, inspired in part by Linden Lab of San Francisco’s Second Life, is starting to evolve.

“We call it the avatar age,” said Reuben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us, a Sausalito startup that helps create in-world communities and promotions for advertisers. “We’re able to connect with each other in real time and represent ourselves as we want to be seen.”

For some, virtual worlds could become a means of social networking, replacing static pages with live ones as destinations for people to spend time.

“The first generation of virtual words is a step in the right direction,” said Scott Raney, a partner with Redpoint Ventures and an investor in Gaia.

Estimates vary on how popular the virtual worlds will become. Technology research firm Gartner forecast this year that by 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users will have a “second life” in some sort of virtual world. Another research company, eMarketer, predicted last month that more than half of U.S. children and teens who use the Internet – about 20 million people – will visit virtual worlds by 2011.

About 8.2 million young Internet users, or 24 percent, already are checking out a virtual world once a month, eMarketer estimated.

In the past year, investors have put $1 billion in 35 virtual-world companies, according to a report advancing the Virtual Worlds Conference, being held Wednesday and Thursday in San Jose.

Some companies included in the report are more game-oriented than virtual world-oriented, and therein lies one of the debates for the nascent industry. Some draw the line between virtual worlds and games such as World of Warcraft, in which millions of players pillage and battle each other to advance. Others contend that the massive multi-player games nevertheless take place in an online world where participants don’t necessarily have to follow the arc of the story and can create an avatar just to go inside and meet other people – or orcs.

“It’s definitely a changing landscape,” said Chris Sherman, executive director for Virtual Worlds Management, which conducted the study.

The virtual worlds are taking all kinds of shapes.

San Jose’s Gaia had 2.5 million users last month, including 100,000 logged in at the same time. It was created by comic book artists, with two-dimensional avatars that resemble Japanese anime characters.

In vSide, which began about two months ago and has about 200,000 registered users, the online world is more about the music scene, with nightclubs where groups such as All-American Rejects drop in.

“You have something to come back to every week,” said Tim Stevens, CEO of Doppelganger, the San Francisco company behind vSide. “If you’re a fan, you want to get the rush you get from going to a concert or a music festival or finding that new song.”

One of the criticisms, however, is that each is its own little world, disconnected from other virtual worlds. To join another one, users have to create new avatars and find new friends.

Metaplace is testing a service that would allow people to create virtual worlds that they can share with friends and publish on their blogs and social-networking profiles.

“Our goal is to democratize virtual worlds, to put them in the hands of everybody,” said Raph Koster, founder of Metaplace.

The reality, though, is that while the virtual world is essentially limitless, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution still applies. Some aren’t easy to use, discouraging participants from returning, or they don’t have enough activities or people in them at one time to make it fun.

“It’s inevitable there will be too many,” said Raney, the partner with Redpoint Ventures. “We know there’s going to be tremendous activity in this space. There’s no shortage of places competing for people’s attention.”

And with most virtual worlds still attracting a large population, it isn’t clear how users will react.

“My biggest worry is it’s going to get so fragmented that people are going to be discouraged,” said Ben Wilson, CEO of Makena Technologies, which runs There.com and also helped MTV build a series of virtual worlds for its television shows, including “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills.”

Tiffany Stoddard, a 19-year-old psychology and sociology student at Macalester College in Minnesota, uses Zwinky and IMVU.

In Zwinky, part of InterActiveCorp, she and her friends dressed up as security officers and bugged other players in a virtual shopping mall. In another instance, she acted as a minister to “marry” her friends.

“You can’t do all that stuff in real life, so it’s an opportunity to do things you can’t normally do,” she said.

Stoddard, who is black, also experimented with race, creating avatars with different-color skins and testing how others reacted to her. She found that she received different responses as she looked for a virtual boyfriend, getting, for instance, responses only from white men when her avatar was white.

“It’s a break away from reality,” she said. “You can dress up your avatar. It doesn’t have to look like you, and you can interact with people all over the world instead of interacting with someone right next to you in the real world.”

A galaxy of virtual worlds

Gaia: gaiaonline.com

Habbo: habbo.com

IMVU: imvu.com

Kaneva: kaneva.com

Metaplace: metaplace.com

MTV: vmtv.com

Second Life: secondlife.com

There: there.com

vSide: vside.com

Zwinky: zwinky.com

E-mail Ellen Lee at elee@sfchronicle.com.