'Virtual' Journalism in an Online 'Second Life'

Article excerpt

Last October, British media giant Reuters made global headlines by opening an all-digital bureau within the online virtual universe (or "metaverse") program Second Life. The bureau is physically modeled on its New York and London offices, and is staffed by veteran reporter Adam Pasick, whose in-world character name is Adam Reuters.

At the virtual Reuters bureau, users can meet and chat with the character Adam Reuters, gather in comfy niches to discuss the news of the day and pick up a device that displays headlines either directly on their computer screen while visiting Second Life or on in-world monitors they can install on their own digital land.

Some of those headlines relate to events within Second Life, while others concern the outside world. Adam also writes articles for the website Secondlife.reuters.com, which also features a mix of virtual and real-life (known to many metaverse dwellers as "meatspace") news.

Launched by San Francisco-based Linden Lab in 2003, Second Life is a 24-hour virtual universe that has become a thriving Internet community. Building upon years of advancement in video game technology, Second Life allows users a tremendous range of freedom in communicating with other live players and interacting with ever-changing digital landscapes.

Users create characters known as "avatars," which are widely customizable in terms of body type and dress (many have wings, grossly exaggerated or animal features or even rainbow coloring), and then navigate through rich 3D environments, buying property, building elaborate structures and forming friendships, families and societies.

The number of created avatars in Second Life has been showing double-digit growth in recent months. with more than 1 million logins within the past 60 days, according to Linden Lab. At any given moment, one can expect to encounter 15 to 25,000 active users. As Reuters reported in October, people shell out an average of $350,000 a day, or $13 million a year, in real money that buys them enhancements within Second Life -- although users can also enjoy the virtual world without spending a dime.

One of the Reuters site's more popular features is a steady tracker of the exchange rate between Linden and U.S. dollars.

There's also a Second Life newspaper. A rival paper recently shut down.

***At his office in San Francisco, Daniel Terdiman spends an average of an hour a day as his character GreeterDan Godel in Second Life. However, Terdiman doesn't have to worry about getting in trouble with his boss, because his time spent in the virtual world is part of his job as a reporter for the technology-focused media company CNET.

While Terdiman says he does enjoy visiting Second Life for fun during his spare time, he primarily logs in to do research and interview sources. "With our virtual CNET bureau, and all the real-life companies that are opening up operations and hosting press conferences within Second Life, there is a lot for me to cover these days," said Terdiman, who specializes in writing about cultural and business aspects of the Internet.

CNET's Second Life bureau closely resembles an immaculate, polygonal version of the company's San Francisco brick-and-mortar home, at least on the outside. "The only functioning part so far is on the top floor, where there's a theater," explained Terdiman.

About once a week, Terdiman's avatar GreeterDan Godel hosts in-world (meaning in Second Life) interviews in the virtual theater with prominent people from both the real world and within the program. Subjects have included Philip Rosedale, the CEO of Linden Lab, and DigiBarn's Bruce Damer, who is a historian of virtual worlds. A recent interview featured the chief gaming officer of Fortune 500 company Sun Microsystems.

Also, according to Terdiman, "Because it's 3D and interactive, people can express themselves in ways they couldn't in a chat room. …