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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Over the last few years, many people's real lives have begun to spill over into their online lives, and the population of virtual worlds is booming. Six and a half million quest for powers and treasures in the world of Warcraft, and hundreds of thousands live at least part of the time in a world called Second Life.

For those of us still immersed in our first lives, a virtual world is an interactive, Internet environment which can be accessed by multiple users, all at the same time. And not all of these worlds are games. In Second Life, some people have businesses that generate thousands of dollars in real money. Some socialize, and some attend events that blur the line with the real world.

Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, recently held a Q and A in Second Life. Ben Folds performed a live concert there, and first-life journalists from CNET, Wired, and now Reuters have opened bureaus in Second Life. And as the economies of virtual worlds develop, some lawmakers are beginning to consider real-world taxes.

Later in the hour, we begin a series of conversations with current and former officials and military officers who made decisions about strategy and tactics in Iraq. What do they think should happen now? Rethinking Iraq begins with Richard Perle.

But first, in the midst of the virtual world media blitz both in and out of the these worlds, we're going to take you on a tour of them and find out what they're for, what they can do, and why they're so popular. If you have questions, give us a call. If you have a Second Life, call us and tell us what you do there and why. Our phone number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And joining us now from the quite solid studios of the BBC in London is reporter Adam Pasick. He's the chief of the Reuters Second Life bureau where he reports under the name of Adam Reuters. Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. ADAM PASICK (Chief, Reuters Second Life Bureau): Hi, thanks for having me.

CONAN: And you report as an avatar. Adam Reuters is an avatar. What's an avatar?

Mr. PASICK: An avatar is your kind of representation in Second Life, so he's a person that can look like whatever you want. He can be tall or thin or a stuffed animal or a robot, for that matter.

CONAN: And can he fly in Second Life?

Mr. PASICK: Yeah, that's one of the perks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And does he wear a fedora with press cards sticking out of it?

Mr. PASICK: Yeah, you know, it's funny, I do have one of those. I don't always wear it, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So you can take clothes on and off in Second Life.

Mr. PASICK: Yeah, you can customize your avatar to look about however you like.

CONAN: How do you join?

Mr. PASICK: It's free to sign up. You go to the Second Life Web site, and you pick your name, and you pick basically what you want to look like. You have a couple of choices. And then you log on through a computer program that you download.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, and this is free.

Mr. PASICK: It is free, yes.

CONAN: But it could cost you money if you want to, for example, buy property in Second Life.

Mr. PASICK: Right, so there's a premium subscription free. It's about 10 bucks a month, I believe, and that lets you own land. And a lot of people who have their own businesses in Second Life do that.

CONAN: And how do they operate businesses in Second Life? They don't use regular dollars, do they?

Mr. PASICK: No. Second Life has quite a big economy, and it's based on its own currency, which is called the Linden dollar. And one of the interesting things about it is that the Linden dollar can be freely exchanged for the U.S. dollar. So for all intents and purposes, it's real money.

CONAN: In fact, one of the things that I understand Reuters does on - in Second Life is keep track of the exchange rate.

Mr. PASICK: Right. So we're going in and reporting on the kind of financial and business sector in Second Life, and that includes everything from the exchange rate to the kind of day to day spending, which is about half a million U.S. dollars at the moment, to covering…

CONAN: A day?

Mr. PASICK: A day, yeah. So it's quite a lot of money. And we cover the businesses that are going on in Second Life and the general economy.

CONAN: What kind of businesses are there in Second Life?

Mr. PASICK: Just about everything that we have in the real life is in Second Life as well. So there are banks, there are retail stores, there are car dealerships.

CONAN: Car? You can buy a car to drive - a virtual car to drive in a virtual world?

Mr. PASICK: Exactly. Just in the last week or so, GM and Nissan have both gone in and opened up kind of car dealerships. And long before they arrived, there were people in Second Life designing their own cars.

CONAN: You'd think, since you don't actually have to manufacture it, you don't have to - it could presumably do lots of nifty things that real cars can't.

Mr. PASICK: Exactly.

CONAN: Hmm. As you go around, the interesting thing is there is no broadcast in these virtual worlds. A lot of people are doing things, and they're totally unaware of people doing other things on some other screen, somewhere else.

Mr. PASICK: Right, so it's a pretty big world. If you take the virtual real estate - I think it's about the size of Boston or Amsterdam. So it's quite spread out. You can kind of fly around random places. You can go to specific places, like the Reuters building that we built, for example. And you can really do just about whatever you can think of.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners on the line. If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. We'll begin with Kevin. Kevin's with us from Phoenix, Arizona.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi there. Yes, I've been a Second Life user for about a year. My online name is Lascivian(ph), and I'm a builder and scripter. I do a little bit of, you know, specialty things - board games, etc. But I wanted to make a comment about something that has come up.

Second Life says it's a platform to be used for creativity, scripting, building, but Linden Labs controls the accounts completely. And it has come up recently that a lot of accounts have been removed, no reasons given, and supposedly you have copyright abilities over what you've created, but if you can't use it, then it becomes moot.

CONAN: Hmm. Adam Pasick, is this a story that Adam Reuters has been working on?

Mr. PASICK: Yeah, well, it's certainly an interesting issue in Second Life, because Linden Lab - which is a company in San Francisco that created Second Life - they are kind of the combination deity/government in Second Life, and so they can control who's in, who's out. They control the economy and quite a lot of things, and so there are some controversies.

CONAN: And, Kevin, other than that, do you find this a helpful, useful, interesting place to be?

KEVIN: I find it extraordinary. I love it. It's a hard learning curve. It takes a lot to get into, but once you understand it - the modeling engine, the scripting engine - you can do almost anything.

CONAN: And what do you like best that you can do in Second Life that you can't do in your first?

KEVIN: All kinds of things that humans are really incapable of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEVIN: Skydiving, you know, without worry. I like to be able to recreate games that are too complicated to build in real life. Think of board games with pieces the size of a human being.

CONAN: Huh. I saw Mel Brooks play one of those in the movies, but that was different. He was the king of France at the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Kevin, thanks very much for the call.

KEVIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's get - this is Sarah. Sarah's on the line from Toledo, Ohio.

SARAH (Caller): Hi, Neal. I'm addicted to Second Life. I started about a month ago. I've bought land.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARAH: Trying to start my own business. We're going to renovate the Campion chairs eventually. But I just wondered what your caller - or what your guest thought about the future of Second Life.

CONAN: Adam, what you think?

Mr. PASICK: Well, it's a very interesting question, and there's so many diverse things going on that I think it's hard to say with any specificity one thing that's going to be happening with Second Life. But one thing - one trend that's become very clear in the last few months is that there are a lot of real-world companies - companies like Reuters, but also like Toyota and Adidas and General Motors - that see something going on in Second Life that they want to have exposure to that audience.

So for Reuters, it's a chance for new people to read our content. For GM, maybe they're thinking that, you know, there are some people who like to build cars there, so let's have them build cars with GM parts. So corporations are very interested, and I think that's caused some mixed feelings in people that have been in Second Life for a long time. And I've heard more than a few describe it as the Starbucks-afication of Second Life.

CONAN: Yeah, there's a lot of commercialization going on in this virtual world, isn't there?

Mr. PASICK: There is an increasing amount, yeah. And I think you can also draw the line - not all corporations go in the same way. Some I think go in for a quick PR hit. Some make an effort to really bring something to the community. Hopefully, we would fall in that latter category.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Sarah, you still having a good time there?

SARAH: Oh, I love it. I find myself putting off sleep to stay up later at night and do it, and I've got a pretty full schedule. I go to school fulltime, and I work fulltime, so it's a habit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So you're going to need some Starbucks to keep you awake, anyway. Go ahead.

SARAH: Exactly.

CONAN: Sarah, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

SARAH: Thank you.

CONAN: Second Life is full of entrepreneurs. One of them is Bill Lichtenstein, president of Lichtenstein Creative Media, which is where the Infinite Mind Public Radio programs are produced. And he joins us from those studios that are in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. BILL LICHTENSTEIN (President, Lichtenstein Creative Media): Good afternoon. Thanks a lot for asking me.

CONAN: And I understand you're in your first life studio. What made you want to open one in Second Life?

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Well, it seemed to us producing the Infinite Mind Public Radio show and other public radio and television programs that, you know, as a lot of media, we've tried to connect in the most in-depth and experiential way with our listeners and viewers. And this provided a chance for us to create an environment where we could really interact in a much more thorough way than I think the Internet has provided up to now.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. A lot of people involved in Second Life and other worlds like this talk about transmitting experience, yet you're sitting in front of a computer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Well, that's true. And, in fact, that came from an essay that we did for - we did a series of four broadcasts live from Second Life, and one of them featured a live performance of Suzanne Vega, which made it the first performance by a major artist and the first broadcast out of Second Life.

And what we noted was that what we were actually transmitting was something different than almost any media had previously and that was experience, that you're really not just seeing something or hearing it, but you're able to actually experience something. And when it hits your eyes and ears and your brain, it actually feels more like an experience than almost any other media experience to date.

CONAN: Because you have this identification with this avatar figure that wonders around in this - well, what a lot of people would believe, say, was a make-believe world.

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Well, or the way that your brain might process sitting on a beach and the sun's going down and the sand under you and the waves are rolling in and there's a palm tree. And looking at that, you know, conveys, say, a relaxed feeling, while possibly, you know, walking through a very crowded clothing store with people bumping into each other might give you a different kind of feeling.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: And those are experiences that really up until now couldn't be conveyed through a film or television or the Internet. But being in an immersive environment where you're actually there and able to walk around and experience things allows you to transmit experience.

CONAN: Now do you find yourself being so absorbed that you're not thinking click, click, click, pushing the mouse this way, but actually I'm walking?

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: I would say that's true. I would say, you know, especially - and Second Life I think is skewed to a much older audience than videogames. It's not a game, you know, as Adam pointed out. It's really a community where people do all sorts of things, and I think it's just very intuitive.

Kurt Vonnegut, who is on our show Live from Second Life - who's sort of a technological Luddite - had not been in - not worked or been in Second Life before, and we were interested to see what he thought. And he really enjoyed it. And I think it was the intuitive nature of it, that you're not trying to click on things or try to figure how to use this program. You're simply walking around and interacting in a way that you would in the real world.

CONAN: It's not trying to out-clever you.

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: That's correct.

CONAN: All right. We're going to take a short break. We're talking with Adam Pasick and with Bill Lichtenstein about life in Second Life and other virtual worlds. And when we come back from a break, we'll take some more of your calls: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

We're talking about the booming population and the potentially booming profit in online virtual worlds. If you want to see what we're talking about, what it's like to tool around Second Life, you can go to our Web site. You can see virtual interviews with Suzanne Vega and Kurt Vonnegut. We've just mentioned them. That's at npr.org.

Our guests are Adam Pasick, Reuters' Second Life Bureau Chief, and Bill Lichtenstein, the president of Lichtenstein Creative Media. Of course, you're welcome to join us. If you're a resident of one of these virtual worlds, tell us what you do there and why. If you have questions about it, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Leslie's with us, Leslie calling from Kansas City.

LESLIE (Caller): Hi, I - you know, I've listened to the whole program, but I need a little more explanation if you don't mind.

CONAN: No, I don't mind.

LESLIE: You know, this is all being experienced, then, via the computer. Is that correct?

CONAN: Adam?

Mr. PASICK: Yeah, that's absolutely right. So you're looking at a computer screen.

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: You've got a figure, your avatar is in front of you, which is your kind of person in this world.

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: You can walk around. You can fly. You can talk to people.

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: And interestingly, in Second Life, you can - everything that's in the world, whether it's a tree or a house or a T-shirt, has been built by the users. So they've got these kind of simple tools where you use little building blocks, and they can be built into pretty much anything in the world. You can build a helicopter if you feel like it.

CONAN: And when you say you talk to people, you type out hello.

Mr. PASICK: Right. So it's - there's no voice chat, and you can't talk to someone with your own voice, but you can - it's like an instant messaging program.

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: And also, what a lot of people do is - you know, if you're hanging out with a friend, you could also talk to them on the phone, while in the computer, you're kind of looking at each other's avatars.

LESLIE: So someone's actually created this kind of the building blocks you use, or…

Mr. PASICK: Right, so Linden Lab, which is the company that runs Second Life, has created the world itself, like the land.

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: And they've created all these tools that you can use, and then so the users have gone and they've used those tools to build a whole city, a whole world.

LESLIE: Okay. And does it just have like real photographs? Or is it more...

Mr. PASICK: No. You look…

LESLIE: I mean I'm kind of…

Mr. PASICK: …you look more like a cartoon character.

LESLIE: Okay, Okay.

CONAN: But if Leslie could make herself, if she chose, her avatar to be an older man?

Mr. PASICK: You can look like absolutely whatever you want. I've seen some very creative and unique avatars inside. I think people - once your imagination's unleashed, it's quite amazing what people can do.

LESLIE: Okay, well, it's quite interesting. Although I'm still trying to get my mind around it. Because if you're paying for things, are they like using credit cards? Are they - you know what I mean? I mean…

Mr. PASICK: Right. Well, you're paying for things in the Linden dollar...

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: …which is convertible to the U.S. dollar. So say you put $5 in your account.

LESLIE: Okay.

Mr. PASICK: That gives you a couple hundred Lindens to spend, and you can go buy whatever your like.

CONAN: And, Leslie, if you want to go to our Web site, which is considerably less confusing…

LESLIE: Okay.

CONAN: …there are pictures of Adam and his avatar there, so you can get an idea what this looks like.

LESLIE: Okay. Thanks very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

LESLIE: Mm-hmm, bye.

CONAN: Let's talk with - this is Connie, Connie with us from Columbus, Ohio.

CONNIE (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi.

CONNIE: Hi, I've never called in before, but I was just so taken back by this. I have to say I'm pretty disgusted by the whole thing. I'm not experienced with it, so maybe I can't be so critical, but I just feel that there are so many real problems in the world and real things that maybe this creative energy could go toward solving a lot of the basic problems and things that are going on in Africa, and I just - I don't know.

I just feel that - I'm sure there's some good coming out of it, and a lot of people are getting some creative, maybe like new car designs or other things that I just - I don't know. I'm very, very surprised at the amount of energy that people spend on things like this when there are people that can't even have clean water and food.

CONAN: Bill Lichtenstein…

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Yeah, I'd like…

CONAN: …is this escapist nonsense?

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Well, I think one of the things that it's important to remember is it's often tempting to compare media to the real thing. So is it better to take a trip to the rain forest or a trip to Paris or read about it or see a film about it? Obviously, if we could all go to Africa and help, you know, deal with the issues there, that would be preferable to reading about it or seeing it.

But the purpose of media is to transmit either information or experience or, you know, transmit a real-life experience to those who are not there or to preserve it. And I think if you compare Second Life to other media, it provides an opportunity to engage people in a way that they haven't before.

So for example, you could create a classroom environment for children in Africa or in underdeveloped countries where they could experience things that they couldn't otherwise. And I think one of the big promises of Second Life is while the first iteration of it was very heavily focused on entertainment and diversion, one of the things - and one of the reasons we wanted to go in there with the public radio broadcast and I think one of the great opportunities is to be able to use this medium for education, for health, for social organizing, for all kinds of things where, you know, a conference call or a photograph or a book or leaflet doesn't do it.

But being able to bring together, for example, public health officials from around the world and play a video for them or share information in a way that is much more real and dynamic I think has huge possibilities.

CONAN: You say it could be useful to those children in Africa, if they had computers and a high-speed connection.

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Well, if there were one computer and a high-speed connection - which I think the promise of the $100 laptop, which is an evolving, you know, effort to bridge the digital divide. But I think, you know, there is a social, a huge evolving social value of this that I think is yet fully untapped.

CONAN: We should point out that the host of the Second Life program that you do is John Hockenberry, who used to be the host of this program.

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: That's correct, and I think he - you know, one of the things we really try to do is explore, I think, what some of those, you know, uses are and to encourage others - you know, at the Harvard Law School, for example, is teaching their first course in cyberspace, and that allows them to bring guests in from around the world as an example of the kind of (unintelligible) activity that this provides.

CONAN: And thanks very much for the call, Connie. Bye-bye.

CONNIE: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: And Bill Lichtenstein, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. LICHTENSTEIN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bill Lichtenstein is president of Lichtenstein Creative Media. He joined us from his studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If you want to see video of his radio program in Second Life, you can go to npr.org.

And where the media descends, you can be sure that there's a little bit of hype along with enthusiasm. Here to decipher some of that is Mark Glaser. He's editor of PBS's MediaShift, a Web blog covering technology and media. He joins us by phone from San Francisco. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. MARK GLASER (Editor, MediaShift): Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And as you pointed out in a recent entry, the line between Second Life and real life is getting a little blurry. How do you tell the difference sometimes?

Mr. GLASER: Yeah, that's basically what people are saying. Now that you have a reporter from Reuters there and you have all these virtual buildings and companies that are selling things, people wonder, you know, what is the difference between reality and virtual reality?

CONAN: Well, you can fly for one thing.

Mr. GLASER: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLASER: Exactly, but I guess the thing that - there are a few things about it that I thought were getting a little bit over-hyped lately. One of them is the number of residents of Second Life. They've been touting the number of being a million people. They've gone over the number one million registered users, but that's the number of people who signed up to try it out over a period of years. If you'd look at the numbers of people who are really on there online now - I just looked it, and it was about 10,000 people. And in the last 60 days, I think 400,000, which, you know, it's a good number, but it's not…

CONAN: It's not a million.

Mr. GLASER: It's not a million, and they're not, as you pointed out before, they're not all in one place looking at your product or looking at your performance or whatever you're doing in Second Life.

CONAN: So when we say there's been a Ben Folds concert in Second Life, how many people actually went?

Mr. GLASER: According to reports, there were 25 people who were there. So, you know, but it got covered in the media and it's been written about, so there's been - it seems to me there's been more media attention than reality to what's going on there. I think that it's a really interesting societal thing to have people in there living their lives in this Second Life way, and the way that it bleeds into reality is really interesting from a cultural perspective.

But as far as a business perspective, I think some people are making money, but I think it's a little bit overblown that everyone can get in there and start a business and make a lot of money.

CONAN: Adam Pasick, would you agree with that?

Mr. PASICK: I agree that the media attention and the growth in the number of registered users - I think those have fed each other quite a bit. So last week when we saw tons of media attention, there were 120,000 people that signed up. So like you said, they're not all on at one time. It tends to be 10-15,000 people on at one time.

But in any given month, you're up in the couple of hundred thousand number in terms of how many people have gone in. And so, they do kind of feed on each other. And if you look at the growth - I mean, a year ago, there were only 50,000 registered users.

So I completely agree that, you know, that million number, you can debate about how important that is. But if you do look at - if you look at the growth, I don't think that there's any doubt that Second Life is kind of hitting that really steep part of the curve and seems to be getting more and more important.

CONAN: Mark, I wonder, have you visited Second Life? Are you a user?

Mr. GLASER: I'm not a user of it, I have to admit. However, I did use some of the earlier virtual worlds, like the AlphaWorlds, which came out in the mid-90s when I was writing more about online gaming and Ultima Online. So I saw some of the earlier versions of it.

And what I noticed then and what I'm hearing about now a lot is that people are having some technical difficulties with the game in that the requirements are pretty high. You have to have a certain kind of video card, you have to have -if you have a Mac you have to have a G4. If you have a PC, you have to a Pentium III.

And I think a lot of people are hearing about it and getting excited and then realizing they don't have the requirements or they go into the game and they're having difficulty getting around, it's really slow performance. And that's been something that's dogged online gaming for a long time.

And, you know, especially this talk about people in Africa - kids in Africa -being able to go on and have a classroom experience. I think that's really unrealistic, because you really do have to have not only a broadband connection, but pretty high-end computers to see everything and experience it in a really good way.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question, this from Brian. Is there crime in the Second Life world?

I guess that's to Adam Reuters.

Mr. PASICK: You'll find just about everything in Second Life that you find in the real world, and that includes the darker side of human behavior. There's certainly crime in Second Life. There's sex in Second Life. There is even terrorism in Second Life.

In the last couple of months, people have been creating these objects that self-replicate. So one becomes two becomes four becomes sixteen. And pretty soon, there's so many of them that they crash the entire world. So, yes, there are definitely - all the evils of mankind you will find in Second Life.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Cami(ph). Cami with us from San Antonia.

CAMI (CALLER): Hi. By the way, Bill's off the line, but I really love the Infinite Mind Island. They have a nice museum there that you can go through and do a bunch of exhibits. So that's pretty cool.

CONAN: He may be listening, and I'll suspect he'll enjoy that description. Go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CAMI: I'm a blogger. I have a blog called Communication Overtones, and I follow communication trends. And so we decided a couple of months ago that we would start putting together a meet up in Second Life once month of communicators from all around the world. And in September we had 17 show up, and in October we had 27.

But literally, we were sitting across from people living in Australia, San Antonio where I am, New York, San Francisco, you name it. We're all sitting there looking at each other and having a discussion about the ramifications of this new world and what kind of communication strategies we're going to have to have to operate there. So I do think it's a really good tool for that kind of collaboration across, you know, oceans.

CONAN: Mark Glazer, that doesn't sound like a bad idea. And if you're not getting into designer gowns for these sort of meetings, Cami, I can't imagine that it's all that expensive.

CAMI: No. In fact, I'm still on a free account there, haven't spent a dime while I'm there. And I think what's really interesting about the place is that I think that this technology will be incorporated into other kind of Web technologies over time.

The style of Second Life is interesting, but I also think that there's another interesting aspect in that this kind of technology will help us to have better communication with each other over distance and that kind of thing. So, anyway - but, yeah, and Adam I'll be seeing you tomorrow. So, I'm coming to your meet up tomorrow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PASICK: Excellent. I'm keeping regular office hours, so.

CONAN: Oh, really?

Mr. PASICK: Yeah, in the Reuters building.

CONAN: Mark Glazer, though, what Cami describes, it sounds like that might be -again, for people with the equipment and with the time and money - it might be very useful.

Mr. GLASER: Yeah. I agree with that, and I think that there's a lot of potential there. What I've heard from people out here in San Francisco is that the people who've checked it out are all checking it out in a business fashion, and how can I use it for my business? Can I start a business? Can I meet up with people? Can I sell something or market something?

It's not as much about using it in your free time or doing it as a fun activity. So I think that's kind of an interesting switch for a game to go from being, you know, going out on a quest to, you know, slay the monsters to let's have a business meeting or let's educate people.

I mean, I think that's a really exciting thing. And maybe the next version or a different world might be the place where that will happen. Maybe not Second Life.

CONAN: Cami, thanks for the call and good luck with your meeting with Adam tomorrow.

CAMI: Yeah. We'll grill him. Thanks.

CONAN: Good, good. We're talking about virtual worlds and Second Life. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get - this is Mike. Mike's with us from St. Louis.

MIKE (CALLER): Hi, Neal. Welcome to my virtual world here.

CONAN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE: What is interesting is a lot of people have asked a lot of different questions, and I think Connie particularly was a little disgusted by this whole idea. And the important thing is that we get a diverse input into this virtual world, because it really is going to be the future. And what we really need is enough people of different ethnic backgrounds, ages - I mean, I'm 60, almost 60, and I tried to get into Sims a few years ago and I think my age sort of knocked me out of the profile they were looking for to set up this virtual world.

But it's really an exercise in what the future will be, and we need input to develop this because without it - if we leave it to a specific type of person, specific country, a specific thing, we're going to, we will essentially lose control of the future. I mean, it's really that important.

CONAN: Adam, would I be wrong to suppose that the majority of the users on Second Life are white, male and American?

Mr. PASICK: Actually, you would. It's about 50-50 male and female. I think just over half are in the United States, but there's a pretty big international component. Average age is kind of in the mid-30s, but I think that there's pretty good data that there are quite a few people that are on the older side of that. So it is - I mean, for an online game - I'm sorry, for an online world, for something that you need to be kind of an earlier adopter of technology, it's pretty diverse.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Mike.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Celeste in Menlo Park, California.

My 11-year-old daughter plays on the teen version of Second Life. She enjoys it because she likes to build and create things. For her, it's a nonviolent video game, a creative approach to gaming. Her brother did some of his first programming building something to sell. How different is this teen version?

I was unaware of the teen version, Adam.

Mr. PASICK: Right. So there's a separate version that doesn't connect at all with adult version of Second Life that's for teens. But I haven't been in, obviously, because I'm not under the age limit, but from what the people at Linden Lab say, there are a lot of very smart kids in there learning how to basically program, how to build things, 3D design, so it must be a pretty fascinating place. I'm hoping to find a way to write about it without breaking the rules.

CONAN: Mark Glaser - we just have a few seconds left - but I wanted to ask you, if this world isn't the one that's going to make it big, somebody else is going to design a new one that is much easier to use than I understand Second Life is. Is this an unlimited future here?

Mr. GLASER: I think it could be. The one that I was talking about earlier that was called AlphaWorld and was part of Worlds, Inc. They were basically trying to create a browser that would see the Web in this 3D way with 3D objects. So there's always been this idea - well, always meaning the last 10 years, which is a long time in Internet time - but there's been this idea that you could go out and experience the World Wide Web in a 3D virtual way. So I think it's something that will evolve over time and get more exciting. And maybe this isn't' it, but eventually, something could happen to break through.

CONAN: Mark Glaser, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. GLASER: Thank you.

CONAN: Mark Glaser, editor of PBS's MediaShift, a Web log that covers technology and media. He joined us by phone from San Francisco. And we'd also like to thank Adam Pasick, who joined us today from BBC Studios in London. As Adam Reuters, he's covering Second Life, in real life - I'm getting confused, Adam. Anyway, thanks for being with us.

Mr. PASICK: My pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we'll kick off our series, Rethinking Iraq with Richard Perle. Plus, your letters. I'm Neal Conan. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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