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Virtually here

Chris Horkan describes how Manchester has gained a second life

Published on July 18th 2007.

Virtually here

Imagine a Manchester where crime doesn’t exist, where it never rains and the streets are always clean, and where everyone has Hollywood good looks. This is about as likely as a Second Coming of course – but, virtually, it’s already happened.

“Our objective is to run activities that link Second Life and real life rather than creating a fantasy city. We also want to build a community around the city to convey a sense of what Manchester is about.”

Welcome to Second Life, the latest online phenomenon – half virtual community and half multiplayer game. Almost 2m people have logged on in the last two months, with 500,000 ‘residents’ visiting in the last week. New members choose a name and can then set about altering their 3D appearance or ‘avatar’. This is a world where beach bums rub shoulders with lizard-headed ladies – and no one bats a virtual eyelid.

And Manchester, where the computer itself was conceived, is already making itself at home. Second Lifers from around the globe can pay a flying visit to Urbis, the Printworks and, bizarrely, the Co-op headquarters – each of which has been reproduced digitally with painstaking accuracy. Apartment blocks and office space are also available and, adding to the realism, Second Life’s Manchester even has a virtual bar.

The Manchester ‘island’ is an ongoing collaboration between Urbis, Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA) and Ardwick-based online developer Clicks and Links. The project came about earlier this year when two ideas were merged: Vaughan Allen from Urbis wanted a Second Life presence to present real-life events differently, while MDDA included the concept in Manchester’s Digital Challenge bid. Entitled ONE-Manchester, the entry came runner-up in the competition to develop the UK’s leading digital hotspots.

“Urbis brings an iconic building and events that we hope will attract visitors,” explains Vin Sumner, managing director of Clicks and Links. “MDDA has a responsibility to help Manchester develop as a digital city and can help bring other partners,” he continues, adding that his own company brings Second Life expertise to the project.

Work commenced on a second Manchester in March, with Urbis taking around two weeks to build. Funding, for those concerned, comes from Urbis and the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA).

“The project has generated a lot of good PR so it has been worthwhile,” Sumner believes. “Our objective is to run activities that link Second Life and real life rather than creating a fantasy city. We also want to build a community around the city to convey a sense of what Manchester is about.”

Second Life first hit the headlines last year when a Chinese entrepreneur claimed to have built a property portfolio worth £500,000 in real money. The world’s virtual currency, Linden dollars, can be transferred to and from bank accounts, with over £1m spent during a typical day. Some people trade vehicles, clothes and art, while concerts and adult entertainment are also in demand. But worry not: a Teen Second Life is open for under-18s.

In response to the phenomenon, the Reuters news agency has assigned a virtual reporter to follow developments in-world and large brands such as Nike and Sony are investing heavily. Sumner says that the virtual Manchester provides the city’s organisations with their own ready-made home should they wish to enter Second Life. “Manchester Central will be next to join and we have interest from other organisations including the universities and property firms, as well as clubs.”

Second Life also has a thriving music scene: Duran Duran, Suzanne Vega and Regina Spektor are among the high-profile names to have given virtual concerts, while other musicians have abandoned their real-life gigging jobs altogether to perform for tips in Second Life. One pianist, who plays five times a week, claims he can bring in the equivalent of £100 per concert. Manchester is fully equipped for concerts too, boasting its own Castlefield-style music arena.

The city isn’t the only place to be represented in Second Life – Sweden and Norway have their own islands, as does our North West neighbour Liverpool. But Manchester, just a couple of months old, is already proving to be a Second Life hit: “We’ve had positive feedback from around the world and we’ve already streamed two major events from real life,” Sumner says. In May Anthony Wilson presented the Big Chip technology awards from the virtual Urbis, while Neil Kinnock recently participated in a debate on Europe.

Looking to the future, Sumner wants to host more events – including concerts and video showcases – and even meetings. “We predict a mixture of events based on what’s going on in the city,” he says. “By running events and attracting visitors we will also attract businesses to set up with Second Life.”

What do you think? Is the Second Life phenomenon good fun, a serious alternative world or creepy?

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Rusty BJuly 18th 2007.

Second life is the natural progression of the internet, what we do most on the web, shop, chat, research, listen etc, imagine being able to shop in a virtual store that has assistants on hand to help with your queries!!not a bland list of products and no help. Manchester Second life is a fantastic acceptance that the virtual world is very real and here to stay (add an audio stream from century radio, and complete the atmosphere)

DaveJuly 18th 2007.

Why don't you publish the web address?

Avatar XJuly 18th 2007.

I went to this a few weeks back but it seemed deserted. The Printworks building appeared to have nothing in it whatsoever, not even any decoration. Urbis was a slight improvement but only the lower two floors had anything on. Have they put anything in Printworks etc yet?

Jonathan Schofield - EditorJuly 18th 2007.

Dave, Chris the writer of the article tells me it's slurl.com/secondlife/OneāšˆManchester/0/248/24/…

downsizerJuly 18th 2007.

"I went to this a few weeks back..." No you didn't, you sat in your bedroom and gazed at a computer screen. It exists in real life! Get on the bus and go there. Then ignore it and go to the cathedral instead. As for the printworks, does Second Life allow you to demolish buildings? That goes for the Arndale too (except for the fish counter, of course). OK, so now you're probably going to tell me you live in Tierra del Fuego.

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