Second Life is a massive multi-player universe (MMU) set in a 3D virtual world created by San Francisco-based software maker Linden Labs.
Second Life was founded by the former CTO of RealNetworks, Philip Rosedale. Rosedale intended the virtual world to closely mirror the "metaverse," a 3D version of the Internet set in the near-future as described in the cyberpunk novel "Snow Crash" written by Neal Stephenson. Residents can design and build residences on land that they own or rent from either Linden Labs or other residents. There is a high level of entrepreneurial activity in Second Life. As of late 2006, hundreds of thousands of dollars were changing hands daily as residents created and sold a wide variety of virtual commodities. Linden Labs provides the software tools for 3D design for free, but many residents prefer to purchase what more knowledgeable programmers have created than try to build things themselves.
Major tech corporations have used Second Life to market products or services to a niche tech-savvy audience. IBM for instance, has purchased 12 islands within Second Life for virtual training and simulations of key businesses processes. Musicians, podcasters and news organizations, including NPR's "The Infinite Mind," the BBC, CNet and the Reuters news agency, have all established a presence within Second Life.
Second Life uses a decentralized server architecture to meet the demands of thousands of users who may be online simultaneously. Rosedale designed the architecture of Second Life to mirror that of the Internet, spreading the virtual environment over thousands of servers in what he describes as a "tiled network." Those who wish to enter Second Life must first download a freely available client program from Linden Labs. Each user, described as a "resident" creates an avatar to represent themselves. Residents can travel through the virtual world by walking, flying or teleporting. Residents can link to specific locations within Second Life from Web pages outside of the environment by using specially formatted hyperlinks called SLURLs.
Second Life recorded its one millionth resident in late 2006. The year also saw its first real-world millionaire, " Anshe Chung," who parlayed an initial investment of $9.95 USD into over one million dollars over the course of two and a half years. She built her fortune primarily by buying, selling and renting virtual real estate.
Second Life faced a significant challenge to potential viability of its virtual economy when a resident released CopyBot, software that allowed the unpaid copying of objects within the MMU. While Second Life took steps to neutralize the issue, the threat of unlimited copies of the intellectual property residents create has been likened to the unlicensed distribution of online content that musicians and filmmakers face.