In the past year, membership has soared to more than 8 million users—2 million having signed on in the last two months alone.This hypergrowth, driven mainly by word of mouth, is now attracting competitors.Many people are coupling the Second Life chat technology with Skype, the popular audio Internet software, so they can talk out loud while interacting inside the virtual world.Or they use live streaming video to talk and see each other in real life (sitting in front of a computer screen), as well as through their avatars inside Second Life."The unique thing about Second Life is that it's immersive," says Michael Rowe, head of IBM's digital convergence team."There's a huge opportunity here, just as in the early days of the Internet."The medium sucks people in.
Anshe Chung is a virtual land baroness with a real-life fortune.Turns out it can: Chung became Second Life's first millionaire in 2006.Her business, Anshe Chung Studios, with a staff of 60, buys virtual property and builds homes or other structures that it rents or sells to other denizens of Second Life."I flourish in Second Life," says the 33-year-old, who heads a disability-consulting firm called Enable Enterprises, out of his home in England."It's no game—it's a serious tool." Rhonda Lillie and Paul Hawkins live thousands of miles apart—she in California, he in Wales—and until this week, had never met face to face.
South Korea's Cyworld started out as a social-networking site, but has evolved into a two-dimensional equivalent of Second Life, claiming 20 million registered users from Asia to Latin America.