Boasting 5.6 million "residents", Second Life, a virtual world has become quite the happening place. Second Life has its own economy measured in Linden dollars (Second Life was created by Linden Labs). People make lots of real money in Second Life as well. There is a currency exchange from Linden dollars to real U.S. dollars. Hard to believe, but in fact this is very true. Many corporations are seeing how important Second Life is to many people and have just begun investing in creating a space in this virtual world.
So, what can you do in Second Life? Pretty much anything you can think of. You can make things and sell them, you can walk around, fly around, or teleport to specific areas in Seond Life. You can create your "avatar", the personna that you take on in Second Life to look like anything you want - even your real life image! You can control what your avatar physically looks like by making it taller, smaller, wider, or thiner, and can control hair color, facial shaping, and much more. You can buy or make clothing and dress your avatar any way you'd like. Costumes of just about anything are available for you to wear while "in-world". I created a Nittany Lion costume pictured below. A colleague of mine made the stand-up JoePa by scanning an image and using it as a texture on a transparent rectangle.
Objects are built using "prims", or primitive shapes such as a box, sphere, cone, etc. Then you edit and combine shapes to form what you are trying to make. I made this guillotine that actually works. Well, it won't cut your head off, but it will allow you to lie on it and the blade will come down, then go back up in a few seconds. This was done by using Linden scripting, the native programming language in Second Life that allows you to make cars that you can drive, airplanes you can fly, watermellon cannons you can shoot, and the list is endless (more like mindless!). I've actually sold about a dozen of my guillotines through SLexchange, which is an online market for Second Life objects, furntiture, clothing, etc. Land is also sold in Second Life. Penn State purchased some land to research Second Life for educational reasons. You can build houses and other structures on your land, but no one else can unless you give them permission.
Probably one of the most wonderful things about Second Life is that you don't necessarily have to be yourself. I'll bet it's wonderful for wheelchair and homebound people, in that it probably gives them some sense of freedom from their physical restraints. They can walk, run, and even fly around. People in Second Life are generally accepting of what you look like, too. You don't even have to be your same gender or even your same species. It's all up to you.
All said, Second Life is a completely new experience and I would encourage anyone to at least give it a try. Some say the future of the Internet is closely tied with the experience in Second Life. Perhaps we will be visiting virtual spaces instead of Web pages where we can more vividly experience in what the site owner has in mind for us. As I mentioned previously, many corporations and universities are investing heavily in Second Life. They must see some value in the new marketplace.