Today in Second Life: Microsoft, T-Mobile, Verizon Recruiting/The Green Webisodes on Sundance Island

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Second Life (SL) is the virtual-reality, fully user-created playground where members fashion their own identities (3-D beings called “avatars”), buy, sell, trade, dance, fly and, in short, live an entire imagined existence.

Tech leaders think it’s a gold mine. Second Life grew from 1 million members in October 2006 to 6 million by May 1, 2007 (although not all accounts are necessarily active). And Wired recently published a list of must-haves for living in the SL virtual world.

The space attracts a techy audience, so much so that today and tomorrow, Microsoft, eBay, Verizon, T-Mobile, H-P and others are recruiting at the “Network in World Career Fair” (NiW), the first, virtual 3-D interactive job fair. It’s located on TMP2 Island, a virtual-reality space within SL. Presumably, company reps have already created their own avatars to chat with the avatars of the applicants attracted to the SL space. Here’s how the fair organizers say it works.

SL members also use SL tools to produce machinima (video), including one clever, short vid titled Stephen Colbert’s Dream (click on “more” if the vid doesn’t come up in the first set).

Or go here to screen the 2006 winner for the best SL promotional spot featuring a Stargate. Stargates are popular on SL. I understand you can even buy one to install on your “property.”

It may only be a matter of time — and perhaps lowering barriers to entry, which, beyond the basics, are steep — before television networks follow their viewers into this robust world.

A few networks have ventured into Second Life. Last weekend, Showtime aired the first episode of The Tudors in a specially designed Renaissance village. But when my avatar returned a few days later, Showtime had, apparently, dismantled its spaces. At least, the spaces no longer appeared in the search function.

Sundance, on the other hand, imagined a detailed and varied world on SundanceIsland. Its stone, wood and glass compound sits on the banks of a lake, surrounded by mountains and swaying ponderosa pines. Once a week, Sundance airs a Webisode of The Green in its SL screening room.

Last night, the Webisode screening was coupled with a discussion led by host Simran Sethi. The topic: “What does organic really mean and how can we eat better within our understanding of the food systems?” The screening was well attended by a number of avatars, including one who brought along her virtual-reality pets — two mewling cats that playfully leaped over the chairs after the screening.

Avatars retreated to a lounge with a crackling fireplace, others to the outdoor patio to sit, splash and float in a jetted hot tub adjacent to a tumbling waterfall. (All of this was accompanied by the appropriate swishing sounds and mist.) The more adventurous could fly across the lake and relax next to a bonfire.

But one major media company with an impressive SL presence isn’t American, it’s Australian — the Jetsons-inspired island constructed by the Australian Broadcast Corp. The island teems with eye candy — revolving, clickable info signs, whirling windmills, red porcupine creatures balancing on spindly legs, floating black octopuses with long wavy tentacles and flying satellites that roam the skies.

Last night, in ABC’s SandboxTower, Second Life building expert Gizzy Electricteeth conducted a special training session for anyone wanting to improve their prim skills.

There are nine play areas. In the info dome, the latest news scrolled on the ticker. Vids are screened in the media pods — open domes floating on a lake, each one equipped with a screen. Playing in the comedy pod: a street “cop” writes out tickets to unsuspecting mothers for giving their children stupid names. In the level below, a glassed-in underwater room, schools of tropical fish drifted by.

Given viewer enthusiasm for writing fan fiction around their favorite shows — a creative movement spawned by ST-TOS (Star Trek-The Original Series) — SL could be the next big, interactive attractant for viewers. But networks would have to let go of the reins and allow the users to control the content — something that’s probably anathema to the creatives.

Avatars can be anything you like: man, woman, Joker, Tankgirl, clown and maybe even a transsexual white lion. NiW probably won’t be a suit-and-tie affair. On SL, it’s all about clever avatars and prims (small in-world objects).