April 3, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

'Second Life' dreams of Electric Sheep

Phillip K. Dick would be proud of Electric Sheep Co.

The famous science fiction writer, whose short story "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" led to the movie "Blade Runner," wrote about artificial life and digital worlds. Now, Electric Sheep, a 13-employee start-up in Washington, D.C., is making a business out of creating spaces entirely in a virtual world.

The year-old company is helping big customers create a presence inside "Second Life," the popular virtual world in which people can do or build just about anything they can imagine and socialize with others anywhere in the real world.

Electric sheep creations

Suffice it to say, Electric Sheep is an entirely modern concoction. And while it might seem hard to imagine that corporate types in Fortune 500 companies would ever have the vision to engage in the creation of virtual projects in an adults-only, 3D world where it's just as easy to come across like someone looking like a butterfly as someone looking like a human being, that's precisely what is starting to happen.

Last year, for example, Wells Fargo Bank wanted to build an island in "Second Life" where the bank's young customers could play and learn lessons about financial responsibility. Instead of hiring Linden Lab, publisher of "Second Life," it hired some of the virtual world's users--though not Electric Sheep.

In fact, said Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, his company has made the decision to leave all such building projects to the "Second Life" community and focus instead on developing the infrastructure and tools that make such work possible.

That's where Electric Sheep comes in. The company, technically based in Washington D.C. but operating more often than not in the virtual world, has been booking six-figure deals from members of the Fortune 500 who want to engage their customers/communities, though Electric Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck would not name any of the corporate clients.

Of course, it's not all corporate customers. Electric Sheep's employees can find themselves hired by a client to customize an island, or what in "Second Life" is called a "sim"--a 16-acre piece of land that users can buy and do with what they like.

Verbeck said Electric Sheep tends to charge around $15,000 for a complete customization of a sim that includes terraforming the land, constructing buildings and scripting interactivity into objects throughout the space.

One organization that has hired the company for such a purpose is the New Media Consortium, a nonprofit group consisting of 200 members, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, many other top American colleges and universities and many museums.

"We're building an experimental space in 'Second Life' to look at ways a 3D environment can be used to do real work," said Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, "to bring people together, to have meetings, for knowledge sharing, for learning and to do conferences."

As such, NMC contracted with Electric Sheep to take over the heavy lifting on its sim. That, said Johnson, meant that Electric Sheep "terraformed" the sim, and is constructing buildings and objects on the island and designing the overall interactive experience that visitors will get there.

See more CNET content tagged:
Second Life, virtual worlds, consortium, CEO, Washington D.C.

9 comments

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Second Lifes' got a chance but...
If you're on a dialup connection, (yes some of us are still trying to get off the Information Dirt Road), it's nothing more than a headache.

The premise of an online world is a good one but they (2nd Life operators), should state on either their registration page, or somewhere on the homepage, that a broadband connection SHOULD be required.

If you're on anything other than dialup, I'm sure it's a great place to visit, otherwise pass on it, or stock up on some pain medicine.
Posted by AMPerez (33 comments )
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Pretty Obvious....
That you need a broadband connection. But lemme tell ya, even
with a broadband connection SL tends to bog down to a crawl. It
amazes me that people are willing to put so much into something
that can disappear at the flick of a switch though.
Posted by The_Chef (1 comment )
Link Flag
This is old news ......
***

Actually, this type of program has been around since 1995 and I had heard of SL 2 years ago when it was a late comer even then. So, what prompted this "new" story now?$?


***
Posted by CharleyO (1 comment )
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Good Articles Cost Money
First of all, second life is older than 2 years old. I was a member there a few years back and found it slow and difficult to make friends. I read on CNet about a site called Jewel of Indra, in the comments of another story. I went there and fell in love. It was easier to use, the people were friendly, and they delivered on their promises. I asked one of the owners why I never saw any articles about Jewel of Indra and was told that Jewel of Indra or JOI as they call it could not get the big-wig journalist to do a story on them because they didn't have big bucks behind them. I think that is a shame. I used to think that journalists were all about getting the story. I even sent the link to a few journalists myself and learned they had no interest in the site that started all this 3D adult community chat interactive stuff in the first place. It's a shame because there is a very good story there that seems will never be told unless they can get the money to attract the Cnets of the world. Nice job on the SL story Cnet. But, I can't help wondering how much a story like this one costs.
Posted by Lillian Veranda (3 comments )
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Jewel of Indra - Thanks, Karen!
The key to community chat is to build a community. JOI is a beautiful place to hang out with good people, and the people are what make it worth the time and effort.

I'm happy to hear of any 3D community's success, because we all benefit on the electronic frontier, but rather than skip to a second life I'll stick with my first love. ;-)

-Epistomolus
Posted by Epistomolus (1 comment )
Link Flag
JOI Started it All?
Try again..

Give credit where it's due. Worlds Inc technology later to evolve into AlphaWorld (Active Worlds).

That is the original model these people are now copying like it's something new. Active Worlds has been doing this since 1995. LucasFilm's Habitat if you want to go all the way back to Commodore 64 days.

Lots of money, thats what journalism is about. I agree there. C|Net and others now have a Second Life presence, so it's in their best interest to talk about Second Life every chance they get.

It's gonna suck when Second Life collapses.
Posted by DarianKnight (5 comments )
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Second Life + C|Net
= advertising machine in the guise of tech news! Second Life sucks *expletive*.
Posted by Bob_Barker (167 comments )
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Jewel of Indra: Truly Adults Only
While I am impressed with all the services the Linden Labs folks are offering for children; I am concerned about the apparent lack of safety measures taken to protect children from the adult content and sexual adult activities that seems to take place there. I believe it is mandatory that any chat community make a firm decision between offering itself as an adult oriented community or a family one.

Apparently in the Second Life community there is very strong adult related interaction, although it may be somewhat hidden from the mainstream. But, subjects such as Bondage Discipline and Sado Masochism, Polysex, and such should be left to Jewel of Indra (who specializes in such content) and not provided in a community where children are encouraged to participate.

Jewel of Indra has taken great pains to limit the risk of exposing such content to kids... even going as far as calling members on the phone... long distance and to other countries to verify age when necessary. And even though the parent company of JOI owns other communities that are family oriented (with well trained security staff to protect kids), such care has been taken to avoid contamination to children that the adult community, Jewel of Indra, has been placed on an entirely different server.

By nature, children are inquisitive. And if you offer a space where adult related content and activities are present, either the children themselves will seek out this content, or heaven forbid, some unscrupulous adult will seek out the children. In my humble opinion this is a very dangerous mixture and I am both surprised and appalled that reputable companies such as Wells Fargo and others are willing to ignore this fact in an effort to make more money. I will be closing my Wells Fargo account forthwith. However, as a sort of an underground sex community, Jewel of Indra has received critical acclaim without exposing children to this type of danger.

I sincerely wish the Linden Labs people continued success. But, I implore them to seek out and remove ALL the adult content and any risk to the many children to whom they offer service. Keep up the good work but, leave the sex content to Jewel of Indra where it belongs.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.jewelofindra.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.jewelofindra.com</a>
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