10 Things You Need to Know about Second Life

1. Second Life is not a game.
In the beginning, there was Philip Rosedale. "I'm not building a game, I'm building a country," said the brains behind Second Life. Today his project is actually more than a country, it's a multiplatform metaverse, designed to allow techies the freedom to create their own community across multiple computer servers. There are no dragons to slay, no levels to reach—and the possibilities for creativity, business and social interaction are endless. And it's still not a game.

2. It's free to join, and you can make money doing it.
Second Life's in-world currency, the Linden dollar, is not Monopoly money. It's real in the sense that users convert real-world currency into Linden dollars through Second Life's exchange bureau. When you go abroad on vacation, you exchange money into local currency—same goes for a visit to Second Life. You can use those Lindens to buy everything from clothes to furniture to property, all of which are being sold by users who reap profits off of your purchases.

3. Who owns Second Life?
Second Life is owned by Linden Lab, but everything created by residents within Second Life is owned by the residents themselves.

4. Second Life is open-sourced.
Why should you care? Well, that means that developers from around the world can create code in conjunction with Linden Lab in an effort to maximize Second Life's creative process. In essence, tech-savvy programmers are unlimited in what they can create—whether it be consumer products, dwellings or services—and they own the rights to whatever it is they do make.

5. You can choose what you look like in Second Life.
In Second Life, you can be anyone. A male user can create a female avatar, for instance, while a corporate exec may choose to run around Second Life sporting a T shirt and a mullet.

6. How do you communicate in Second Life?
Second Lifers communicate via a number of ways. The program is equipped with standard instant-messaging features, so you can have a private conversation with whomever you choose. You can also "chat," which is similar, except that everyone in a room will see your words and can respond to what you're saying. Many users also pair that technology with Skype so they can actually talk to one another with voice calls. Linden Lab is beta-testing voice-integrated software in Second Life and plans to roll it out in the next few months.

7. Are there really no rules in Second Life?
Lawlessness is relative. Second Life basically operates under an honor code. If a resident feels that personal rights have been violated—if one is subject to an unwelcome sexual advance, for instance—he or she can report it to Linden Lab and the transgressor may be ejected.

8. Celebrities are taking to Second Life.
Mia Farrow spoke out about Darfur in Second Life, while Duran Duran and Suzanne Vega have performed live there, streaming concerts all over the world. Barack Obama's avatar even had a "living room" discussion with supporters back in March.

9. Does Second Life allow freedom of religion?
All faiths are welcome in the virtual world, and some have established churches. There are Buddhist temples, Roman Catholic churches and mosques. (There's an Islamic Society that welcomes non-Muslims, too.) The First Second Life Church of Elvis ensures that no faith will go unrecognized.

10. People have sex in Second Life.
No joke. Your avatar doesn't come complete with genitalia, but resident vendors sell the necessary parts. Likewise, users can buy equipment ranging from beds and other furniture to fanciful torture devices that come with attached software to animate the user's avatar through the motions of sex. From there, it's up to your imagination.