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Second Life Land-Grab Snag

Soaring population growth could threaten Linden Lab's ability to create virtual homes.

As Second Life's user count continues to blossom, Linden Lab is running into problems with the creation of virtual homes.

Second Life, the massive multiplayer online world, allows users to log on through the Internet and create 3-D computer-generated identities. These avatars are then free to explore the world that San Francisco-based Linden Lab has synthetically created.

Since the start of November, Second Life's population has jumped by nearly 30% to 1.54 million, and it appears these residents want their own little slice of the virtual world to call their own. Linden Lab has added 283 private islands thus far in November, an increase of 14% from the end of October. As more and more island requests are processed and brought into the Second Life grid, that figure is sure to rise, as well as problems.

The Second Life grid is overheating as these islands are introduced and users begin to populate them. Over the past 20 days, Linden's official blog for Second Life has more than 10 posts apologizing for gridwide problems, ranging from simulator crashes to Linden asset inventory problems to teleporting issues.

The addition of virtual property is controlled solely by Linden Lab. While businesses, such as





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, are earning revenue by selling fabricated goods or advertising in the virtual world, Linden's main source of income comes from the sale of land.

"The orders are in, and Second Life is about to see a big spurt of growth -- in land this time," said Robin Harper, vice president of community development and support at Linden Lab, in a blog post. "Over the next six weeks, the land mass in Second Life is set to expand by 30% as new islands come online."

The barrage of land requests comes after the company said it would

raise the annual cost of owning a private island by some 45% for those residents making new land purchases. The one-time purchase cost rose to $1,675 from $1,250, and the monthly maintenance fee soared to $295 from $195.

Additionally, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale indicated earlier this month that the company

plans to grandfather current landowners, saying they won't pay the new rates until 2008. Residents rushed to place their orders to make sure they were grandfathered at the lower cost before the price hikes became effective on Nov. 15.

Linden Lab said that it still has a long list of pending orders for islands that will go "live" sometime before the end of the year. However, the company warns that islands will come online in the order they were received, and that the amount of time will be dependent on processing time to bring the islands up on the grid, and the sheer number of orders involved.

Meanwhile, statistics from Linden Lab show that both land sales by residents, who act as landlords, have declined by 33% from October's levels. Resident land auctions also are down from October, falling 32%. Additionally, the average price paid per virtual square meter in November has risen by nearly 1 Linden from last month.

Real world money can be exchanged for Linden, the accepted currency in the Second Life world. Linden can be used to purchase virtual land space to build on, different clothing for their avatar, or even adult-related content. As of 10 a.m. EST, more than $650,000 had changed hands over the previous 24 hours.

Linden also can be exchanged for U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies through SL's own LindeX currency exchange. Linden Lab offers economic data and market history on the Second Life Web site, enabling users to monitor changes in the exchange. Currently, $1 will get residents roughly 271 Linden.

More than $90,000 has been exchanged for the Linden currency over the last day, which shows that the Second Life economy is still strong. Quite often, currency is changed and converted into Linden in order for residents to purchase land.

For now, residents are keeping their fingers crossed that when their islands are brought onto the grid, they'll be able to get on the system without any technical problems or glitches.

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.