Second Life Gets 'Real' at Conference

Second Life leather-and-lace gathering brings online world into reality.

ByABC News
August 26, 2007, 12:39 PM

CHICAGO, Aug. 26, 2007 — -- Two men dressed in furry rabbit costumes danced the nightaway. A scantily underclad female vampire gleefully played dominatrixto a male vampire who obediently sat on the floor and mischievouslysnarled at her. A man wearing retractable wings showed off his stuff,while another in a see-through top went around spanking people with awooden paddle.

"It's just like being online at a party," said Marsha Ellstrom as sheobserved the scene Saturday night at the Second Life CommunityConvention's "Leather and Lace" Masquerade Ball here in Chicago.

Ellstrom, who sells jewelry in Second Life -- an online virtual world -- under thename Mhaijik Guillaume, was talking about the range of characters andbehaviors on display. But the party was business as usual for thegrowing virtual world company in more ways than one.

You see, the ball here last night -- just like Second Life, and justlike this conference, which runs through the weekend -- was partpleasure, but also part business. No excess was spared, but neitherwas any marketing opportunity.

The ball, for example, had an official sponsor -- Eros, the adultcompany that sells sex products on Second Life. When entering, guestsreceived a free Jenna Jameson porn DVD -- compliments of Jenna herself,the ball's organizer said. And once inside, they had the opportunity topurchase jewelry or learn about the numerous companies whose businesscards and company displays littered the sides of the dance hall.

Though business and pleasure coexist, it became clear that Second Lifemeans different things to people depending on whether they liveprimarily in the business or social side of things. Both groups wantedto communicate, but the goal of that communication differed sharply.

For those looking to network business connections and spreadtheir business cards, Second Life is about connecting people withconsumer products, whether real or virtual, and about creatingcommunities of consumers that can stir hype for a product.

But for those who seek the social experience -- the captive audiencefor the businessmen and businesswomen here -- talked of their second life as away to expand on their real-world hobbies or, more likely, a way tolead an alternate life, to be and do what they cannot or will not inthe real world.