Second Life gets the lion's share of the virtual-world press, and it's well earned, but it's not the only game on the social web. Most of the popular virtual worlds utilize three-dimensional technologies, but some popular worlds are only two dimensional. Here's an overview of just a few of the many virtual worlds that you might like to visit as you explore this region of the social media landscape.
Active Worlds (www.activeworlds.com) provides free software for constructing your own three-dimensional virtual world on the Internet. It provides the tools you need to build a world and create your own content, including avatars. Active Worlds hosts the virtual world you create, and provides access to about a thousand worlds created by its customers.
Kaneva (www.kaneva.com) is a free, three-dimensional virtual world that emphasizes social networking. Users create avatars, and all members get their own virtual loft. The world itself mirrors the real world, and serves primarily as a place to meet people, share photos, videos, and music, play games, and even watch TV, all in real time.
IMVU (www.imvu.com) is another free, three-dimensional virtual world that emphasizes social networking. It provides the usual virtual-world amenities with a distinctly “singles” vibe. Most of its members are young adults between eighteen and twenty-four, the website claims. Users create avatars, shop for clothes and accessories, and furnish in-world personal spaces. It also boasts a virtual goods catalog with more than 3 million products.
Habbo Hotel (www.habbo.com) is a virtual world aimed at teens. The company that created it, Finland-based Sulake Corporation, uses a hotel as a metaphor for the spaces in this world. There's a Lobby, which serves as the gateway. There are private and guest rooms. There are currently more than thirty hotels in the space. Membership is free, but there's a virtual economy based on Habbo Coins, which users purchase to buy clothing for their avatars and furnishings for their rooms.
Whyville (www.whyville.net) is another virtual world aimed at teens. This is a two-dimensional world with a strong educational component. The world has millions of registered users, called “citizens,” who come to “learn, create, and have fun together.” Whyville has its own newspaper, its own Senators, its own beach, museum, City Hall, and town square. There's also an in-world economy based on “clams” that citizens earn by playing educational games.
Moove (www.moove.com) is a three-dimensional virtual world with a definite romantic slant. Basic membership is free; a full subscription provides access to additional features. It's based on a system called Roomancer. The website features busty and beefy avatars, and focuses on room building for online romantic encounters. Users develop their own avatars, which can be used for, according to the website, chatting, laughing, kissing, hugging, and “lifelike movements.” But the site isn't aiming for a younger crowd. It boasts that the average age of Moove visitors is higher than most virtual worlds.