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A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend in Second Life, asking about his Real Life job as he worked on a Second Life project. He wasn’t enjoying his job … but it didn’t sound that bad, I thought, as Real Life jobs go.

“What would you ideally want to be doing?” I asked him. “What would be your ideal job?”

“This.” He said.

I immediately understood what he meant. For a lot of us, Second Life is a luxury and a pleasure and a relief. Some Residents use it as an escape, and others interweave it with their Real Lives so that it’s really part of their Real Lives and not something separate. But clearly a lot of us-a lot of us-wish we could make our livings in Second Life.

Camping for Lindens: One of the many Second Life businesses that
twinks its search rankings by enlisting (virtually) warm bodies for a
trickle of Lindens.

So I think I’ve been misunderstanding the money tree/camping phenomenon. If you’re in Second Life, you will certainly have heard of it: people go to commercial locations in the world to collect free money … in miniscule amounts. You’ll sit somewhere for ten minutes, pushing up the search ranking of the store or casino or whatever it is because that’s based on traffic, and you’ll get, say $5L. Real money equivalent? About two cents. That’s twenty cents an hour. Just for sitting, I grant you … but twenty cents an hour?

And I know other people who work jobs in Second Life, earning a dollar or two an hour if they’re lucky. I didn’t understand this until today. Didn’t they value their time? Why were they working in Second Life for next to nothing when they could earn many times as much in Real Life?

Well, think about it, Kate: because it’s in Second Life. People don’t want to earn money; they want to earn money by being in virtual reality.

Which leads me to a possible Next Big Thing. This is a strange idea, but it has a lot to recommend it, and I’m curious whether anyone’s doing it yet: Second Life Telecommuting. Are some people working their normal jobs-building Web sites, bookkeeping, researching legal cases-from a Second Life environment yet? If not, why in the world not?

True, Second Life isn’t exactly optimized for these things as it stands, but it could be. [Later addition: what I mean by this is that you’d probably need a csimulated omputer in Second Life, running on a server somewhere, that you’d control with your Real Life keyboard and mouse, and voice chat would probably be necessary, and some other little technological bits. In the end, it might start feeling so much like a real office environment that it wouldn’t be fun any more!] You can easy IM and chat with your fellow workers, exchanging information and files. You can do various kinds of engineering work in-world, make presentations, hold meetings, read paperwork … so why not?

Or maybe it’s better to ask “why?” because there are a couple of nifty answers to that question. My first answer is that traditional telecommuting has at least one major problem-oversight. Employers want to be certain that telecommuters are doing their work and, let’s face it, given a chance to goof off, a lot of people will. If those people are in Second Life, their employers have a chance to keep an eye on them at work. That sounds a big Big Brotherish, but for one thing, they’re paying for the time, so it seems fair, and for another thing, it’s no different from being in a cubicle in an office building somewhere and being overseen there … except that you’re physically speaking at home in a comfy bathrobe slurping your favorite hot beverage while your cat annoys you, and you’re virtually speaking in a Grecian Temple with fountains and trees and robots delivering messages wearing a $5,000 suit.

Which brings me to my second answer to the question “why?”: because people love to be in Second Life. If you offer a boring job at low pay in Second Life, I bet you a thousand dollars (Linden dollars, of course) you’ll have qualified people banging down your door begging you to employ them. And you won’t have to provide an office or make sure the coffee gets delivered to the kitchen or issue them an ID badge.

Well, here I am sounding like I’m advocating this, when really I’m just picturing it. So I’m curious: is anyone out there doing this, offering Real Life jobs in Second Life? And if so, how is going?

And I guess I should recognize that Second Life telecommuting wouldn’t be quite the same thing as “This.” I think “This” is building or scripting or designing, travelling, discovering, spending time with friends … if you find someone willing to pay your way in life for doing that, for heaven’s sake let me know how you did it.

Thanks to Carl for the fascinating conversation that got me thinking about some of these things. Carl’s working with a partner on a project to provide translations, initially into Spanish and German, of the Metaverse Messenger. He had no idea that throughout our entire IM conversation, I was naked as the day I was born, experimenting with turning my skin green.