Second Life Gets More Social with Acquisition

Could there be a second act for Second Life? Linden Labs, the company behind the virtual world, has acquired Enemy Unknown AB, a Swedish company that runs Avatars United, an online community where virtual gamers can register and expand upon their avatars from multiple virtual environments.

The acquisition will bring more contemporary social-networking functions to Second Life, such as a Facebook-style news feed with information about friends’ activities. The hope is to restore some competitive edge to a site that was once considered revolutionary, and hyped as the next big platform for marketers.

“[O]ne of the most exciting things about the acquisition [is] this ability to reach my friends more easily, with more interesting information (and photos!), and in a more meaningful way,” Linden Labs CEO Mark Kingdon wrote in a blog post. “The AU team is focused on how to extend their platform out to other social networks, sites, and blogs. That will also be key to how we want to connect the expanse of Second Life-related sites, and give them a higher profile on the Web,” he continued.

Second Life “residents” will now be able to interact with avatars from World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Age of Conan and other games and virtual worlds. Avatars United also allows players to add friends from any of those sites, which builds an activity feed that keeps them up to date on friends’ movements and profiles.

Second Life launched in 2003 and quickly grabbed the attention of technologists and marketers as a potential game-changer for interacting with friends and consumers online. Despite outsize media attention, Second Life fell out of the limelight as social platforms like Facebook and Twitter took center stage.

One area in which Second Life is still considered a leader is virtual currency. Linden Labs said in January that the Second Life economy had grown 65 percent in 2009, to $567 million. Most estimates for the entire U.S. virtual economy for last year was just $1 billion, meaning Second Life may have accounted for half of that.

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