Second Life, the wildly popular 3-D virtual world website with more than 347,000 residents (and counting), is attracting corporations as well as people. CNet News is the latest corporation to open a permanent presence in this virtual world; their "building" is modeled after their San Francisco office.

Second Life started in 2003 with just 64 "acres;" it now measures 20,000 acres in size and is growing rapidly. The SecondLife.com website presents a virtual world that is similar to those found in computer games. In this game, however, you can participate in person. People join the site and create an avatar, a digital representation - a picture - of themselves; an avatar doesn't necessarily look like the real person.

If you need help, businesses exist in Second Life that will help you with clothing or other unique looks. These businesses, which are run by other participants in the game, can provide you with whatever you need in the metaverse - Second Life has a fully functional economy based on Linden dollars. How much is that in real money? The Second Life economy supports millions of US dollars in transactions every month.

Once you've created your look, you can enter the Second Life metaverse and mingle with the rest of the natives. You can attend concert events at Second Life's venue Muse Isle (see Second Life concert video).

The Second Life virtual world is old hat to science fiction readers. In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, writer Neal Stephenson laid out the entire idea:

As Hiro approaches the Street, he sees two young couples, probably using their parents' computers for a double date in the Metaverse, climbing down out of Port Zero, which is the local port of entry and monorail stop. He is not seeing real people, of course. This is all a part of the moving illustration drawn by his computer according to specifications coming down the fiber-optic cable. The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse. Hiro's avatar is now on the Street, too...
(Read more about Neal Stephenson's Metaverse)

Fans of Vernor Vinge will remember his earlier story True Names, which also lays out the basic idea of entering a virtual world using a Portal.

There have been other appearances of avatars and virtual worlds; check out these news stories:

Check out Second Life online; CNet's new building was reported here. Special thanks to Jonathan Bearce who provided the tip on the story (and helpful quotes).

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)