Virtual Times Square

The Ad Option plans to build a Second Life version of New York's crossroads in time for New Year's.
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As the ball drops and noisemakers rattle on New Year's Eve in Times Square, Second Life avatars will have an environment to celebrate in their own digital way.

Kentucky-based The Ad Option has plans to bring a digital incarnation of New York's famous hub to the virtual world, set to open Second Life in time for a re-creation of the ball dropping at One Times Square. Along with the prerequisite confetti, cheers and singing of

Auld Lang Syne

, Second Life residents will be surrounded by a massive amount of advertising -- much like in the real world.

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.

Residents can buy land, spend in-world currency on goods or services from real-world firms such as

Reebok

(RBK)

,

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

, or even open their own businesses.

Wes Keltner, president and CEO of The Ad Option, will have his company construct Second Life's own Times Square for those businesses that wish to advertise in the virtual realm but won't develop their own homestead.

Previously, The Ad Option helped broker a deal that saw Aimee Weber bring American Apparel into Second Life, proving Keltner has the means to introduce real-world businesses into the so-called metaverse. While Weber got

the fame of designing the store, Keltner's company was a major key to American Apparel's virtual-world success.

"We weren't in it to get our name out or get notoriety," says Keltner. "Our number one goal is that, whatever client signs on with us, their name becomes synonymous with what they're doing. We do what we're hired to do and we do it the best way we know how."

After American Apparel's debut, many real world companies sought out Keltner for help in transitioning into Second Life. Many corporations wanted The Ad Option, an interactive broker and early adopter, to help do something cool and do it before anyone else does it.

"We were trying to find a cool way we could still take advantage of advertising space while giving something to the community as far as a gathering place," explains Keltner, who is keeping his client roster a secret for now. "We saw this as a way to answer that call. Let's have a cool venue where we can do whatever we want to do."

Longtime residents, though, are fearful that this move will blur the line between real life and Second Life. Already, users have picketed in front of real world businesses that aren't contributing responsibly to the growth and culture of the virtual community. Many users are grumbling about companies that want to advertise in Second Life but can't be bothered to offer anything else.

In his preparation for building the virtual Times Square, Keltner understood the responsibility his company would need to take on when ushering companies into Second Life. Keltner created his own avatar and spent more than two months walking around the virtual world connecting with other residents.

"I signed on all the time to do stuff," Keltner admits. "It was a better way to find out about the world. I forged a bunch of friendships with people. I have a lot of respect for the people in that world."

While he has a responsibility to his clients, Keltner also recognizes the need to provide the Second Life community with something more than a street exploding with advertisements.

"It'll be more than only billboards," Keltner argues. "We're going to divvy up property into parcels so the ads can be individual and dynamic. You'll be able to click and see video or listen to audio. The fact that you can build 3-D advertisements is amazing."

With its introduction loosely scheduled for Dec. 30, Keltner is working fast to fill the entire area with both advertisers and others that will offer interactive entertainment. The Ad Option is even speaking with a handful of independent record labels, such as Sub Pop Records (www.subpop.com) and Ace Fu Records (www.acefu.com), about booking a band to play at the ball dropping.

Keltner is confident that The Ad Option's contribution to the Second Life community is something that will be cherished by both real world businesses and in-world residents alike. In fact, Keltner has ambitious plans to develop an entire replica of New York City for Second Life. Times Square, he says, is just the initial component.

"The next step is to bring the virtual city to life via night events," says Keltner. "We could have live bands performing in nightclubs. We want to replicate cafes. We want to have virtual book signings and guest speakers. We could have a Broadway league where Second Life residents could come and hold plays."

If Keltner and The Ad Option have their way, the new New York City will ultimately offer as many opportunities as the real thing.

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