Linden Lab's online community, in which participants' avatars chat, and trade virtual goods such as artworks and real estate, has fed on the credulity of the press. Ooh, the world's first virtual Reuters correspondent! A virtual land baroness! Online marketers discover Second Life! The press coverage is embarrassingly breathless, but that's because it suits everybody involved.
It's cheap publicity for Linden Lab, the San Francisco startup funded by Benchmark Capital, Jeff Bezos and Mitch Kapor, among others; Linden's Second Life, which is all techno-utopian and collaborative, needs all the help it can get to compete with the more violent attractions of World of Warcraft.
The coverage feeds the egos, and the nominal net worth, of Second Life's most active participants, so they play along: the release about the game's first virtual millionaire was put out by Anshe Chung, the avatar, rather than by Second Life itself. And reporters play along with these Second Life stories, because they seem innocent enough, and fun, a glimpse into the future first imagined by novelists such as William Gibson.
Only Second Life, with it's exhortation to new users, Buy Land Now, tells us less about the cyberpunk future, and more about the hype-driven present. When the press finally turns more cynical, which it will, Second Life will pay a heavy price for all the good publicity it's been getting.