Second Lifers first learned about the software in a February 8 Reuters report by embedded Second Life correspondent “Adam Reuters” (the avatar of the news agency’s Second Life bureau chief, who in “Real Life” is a technology journalist named Adam Pasick). Several bloggers have said they’re anxious to try the new software. For cellular operators, says Steinmetz, the program’s appeal should be twofold: not only will cellular subscribers have an incentive to spend more time using lucrative broadband data services, but users already inside Second Life will be able to communicate with friends on specific cellular networks using virtual phones branded and sold by the carriers themselves. “Operators get an immediate audience of 3.5 million people who don’t necessarily belong to their geographical area,” says Steinmetz.
Average Second Lifers in Europe may get to use the software within “a few months,” according to Steinmetz. At least one major European wireless carrier is close to signing a deal with Comverse to include the software on its phones, she says.
The company has no word on how soon the software might be available to cellular subscribers in North America, but Steinmetz says that so many operators and other conference-goers from around the world tried to visit Comverse’s Second Life booth that the company had to block the virtual doors and restrict access to invited guests.While Comverse may be the first to tap into such a large potential community of virtual-world inhabitants, its software isn’t the first example of an attempt to port online environments to mobile phones. In December, Habbo Hotel, a teen-oriented Sims-like environment run by Finnish firm Sulake, launched Mini Friday, a stripped-down version of Habbo for phones. And Comverse is likely to have more competition soon, thanks to Linden Lab’s recent decision to open-source the software code behind the Second Life viewer, the browser-like client program that allows Second Lifers to connect to the online world.
Meanwhile, the population and economy of Second Life continue to swell. Half a million new members joined between November and December 2006, and another 865,000 between December and January, according to statistics released by Linden Lab. Economic transactions in January alone amounted to 1.34 billion Linden dollars–the equivalent of almost $5 million in real U.S. dollars. The government of Sweden recently announced plans to open a virtual embassy inside Second Life. It will be a replica of the real Swedish embassy in Washington, D.C.
Basic membership in Second Life is free, but to buy virtual land and build structures, members must pay a $9.95 monthly subscription fee, and more in virtual “property taxes,” depending on the amount of land they own.