'Second Life' Thriving Due to Credit Crunch

Mark Kingdon is no ordinary boss. The new chief executive of Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world "Second Life," introduces himself by handing over a business card with the usual details on one side — a phone number, an e-mail address, it's all pretty standard.

On the other side is a picture of his "Second Life" avatar, called M Linden. The man in the picture is smartly dressed in a tailcoat and is flying through the air. Senior managers at the company have more outlandish avatars, including a jellyfish and a beagle.

Kingdon readily admits that being heading up "Second Life" is unlike other office jobs. He says he feels more like Governor Linden, the leader of a town "the size of Mexico City."

But Kingdon's arrival at the company shows that the online world created by Linden Lab is growing up and getting real. A veteran of internet marketing, he took over as chief executive in May this year, replacing founder Philip Rosedale, who has taken up the role of chairman.

But has he taken up the job of ruling "Second Life" just when its bubble has started to burst?

At the peak of the hype, "Second Life" was seen as the next great technological advance. It seemed that soon all of us would just have to get used to having a virtual existence to supplement our real lives.

In its five-year history, 15 million people logged on to the service. But only half a million are active users. This means that the vast majority of users try it for a while and then give up.

It's been just as hard for the big boys to gather a virtual following. Google tried to get in on the act recently, launching its online world "Lively" in July. Critics and users were unimpressed, giving "Lively" a string of bad reviews, and the project is considered a flop.

So are virtual worlds dying?

"It's funny," he says. "Our demise has been predicted many, many times and we keep growing."

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