Several of my colleagues and myself have been exploring the online worlds of Second Life (www.secondlife.com). A very comprehensive and complex "onlineverse", Second Life allows its residents to own land, build structures, and create and sell products through the creation, development, and running of enterprises. Communities have been developed with their own codes and laws, and several "real-world" companies and organizations have a Second Life presecence.
Our interest is in looking at Second Life as a learning tool. Our students do a lot of project and PBL (problem-based learning) work and Second Life shows great potential in giving learners an online space in which to develop their project solutions. A team can form in Second Life, develop their solution and then prsent iot. A great environment for creating, developing, running, and proving a business case.
Second Life is however not without its limitations. The interface is complex, with a significant learning curve. It also requires a fairly current PC for the environment to not appear "cludgy". Even with a 64-bit processor and more than 1 GB of RAM there can be lag. Residents of Second Life also have to upgrade to a paid monthly subscription account in order to take full advantage of the environment. This is not a show stopper for any academic institution wanting to use Second Life as a learning tool. Issues of network bandwidth and security might, however, be concerns for Technical Service departments.
In my opinion, Second Life is not quite ready for daily use as a learning tool, but is close and should be investigated by any educator looking for an alternate learning environment for their learners. I fully expect to continue to explore the Second Life realm and to explore its use as an altenative learning environment for my learners.