Second Life / Second World

A few years ago Second Life was everywhere. It wasn't just in the papers; the papers were in Second Life with Reuters famously employing a journalist, Adam Reuters, to scout for interesting in-world news. There was a political riot when the French Front National set up shop; companies like Rivers Run Red sprouted up as even bigger companies pored in. The Linden Labs were a web colossus in the making, bestriding the future with their all conquering intimation of cyberspace and the metaverse predicted by Gibson and Stephenson years before.

Then it all sort of dropped off the radar for a while. Second Life was no longer the cool kid. Everyone was too busy microblogging and the like. However it never went away and recently we all saw the frankly rather bizarre story of Second Life infidelity and suddenly it's back on the agenda, or at least in the headlines (who can tell the difference?)

The neglect of Second Life smacked slightly of the obsession with newness and the bleeding edge that characterises much activity on the web. As soon as one product is launched people are myopically searching for the Next Big Thing, even while the Last Big Thing is struggling along with a couple of users as the average surfer wades through something several iterations of Big Things back.

It was with a view to the long term that the Nature Publishing Group has developed the Elucian Islands, an extension of the previous Second Life portal Second Nature and the shop front for the Macmillan Group in virtual worlds.

They are pretty damned impressive. They feel more like an impossibly utopian Californian technology campus than our offices in rainy, grimy Kings Cross, London. On the islands there are Skylabs for experiments, conference halls, books to be read, videos, spaces for scientific collaboration and communication, areas with information about the company. Whatsmore the Elucian Islands have a business model backing them up, so rather than being an example of corporate new media self indulgence they should make a contribution by being available for hire, with scientific events being the main target. If you are interested give us a shout and we can put you in touch with the right people.

The launch of the Elucian Islands co-incided neatly with the publication of a new techno thriller from Pan, Eddy Shah's Second World. It imagines a future of totally immersive and ubiquitous second life spaces- a second world, then injects a dose of hardcore page-turning rip-roaring action right in the middle of it. The author himself has styled it as being a Snow Crash for a mass audience. Eddy spoke eloquently at the Elucian Islands of how technology can become a part of people's lives, and the novel sets out this vision, it's opportunities and threats, with characteristic panache.

So it made sense to put them together. At the launch party we hooked up a link to the Elucian Islands so people could get a taste for life in a virtual world at a virtual launch party, with virtual copies of the book available for reading. The guys at Red Rocket Design knocked up a trailer, which you can watch below, that gives a sense both of the Elucian Islands and offers some clues about what happens in the novel.

In truth nobody knows where things are going. Google announced the launch of Lively last year but it seems to have faded pretty quickly (from my radar at least). Habbo Hotel remains popular though. Meanwhile MMORPGs like mighty World of Warcraft keep quietly generating insane profits with their fiercesomely addictive gameplay. Perhaps it is this element of Second World that will prove most prescient.

My guess is that gaming and various forms of 3D interfaces are only going to get stronger and more prominent. Open source projects like Genecys might also gain more exposure, and do for virtual worlds what apache did for web servers.  Aside from that, if second life does becomes second world we should be well placed.