Startup Offers Ratings System for 'Second Life' Avatars

A startup billing itself as the Better Business Bureau for virtual worlds wants to provide a rating system for avatars — players' online representations — in "Second Life."

RatePoint Inc. plans to release a beta version of the free downloadable program Monday.

The launch comes after numerous disruptions in "Second Life," which has struggled to get its 4.3 million users to embrace its own rating system.

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In December, some "Second Life" users sabotaged a successful virtual-world land owner, sending lewd cartoons into a digital pavilion where a journalist was interviewing her.

"Second Life" malcontents have bombed e-commerce stores, frozen other people's avatars and crashed other users' computers.

"Unfortunately there are people who do bad things on 'Second Life,'" said Chris Bailey, CEO and co-founder of RatePoint.

RatePoint users will fill out a short online form to identify their avatars and begin rating others'. The software prevents one avatar from ranking another over and over to game the system. Rankings will appear prominently above avatars' heads.

Linden Lab, the San Francisco-based company that owns "Second Life," has not tested the program from RatePoint — part of a growing "Second Life" cottage industry.

It's unclear whether RatePoint's system will succeed. Hundreds of thousands of "Second Life" avatars may display the company's stars — or the software could flop or get eclipsed by a better Linden Lab rating system.

"Reputation systems are all or nothing," said Ruben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us, a consulting firm that helps companies and politicians develop a presence in virtual worlds: