So you've decided to take a trip to Second Life. Good choice! Whether you're coming for the uninhibited nightlife or the affordable jetpacks and rocket ships, you're sure to have a memorable stay. Don't bother with a suitcase - everything you could possibly want is obtainable here. But be sure to bring your imagination: Second Life is a world of endless reinvention where you can change your shape, your sex, even your species as easily as you might slip into a pair of shoes back home.

The vision of former RealNetworks CTO Philip Rosedale, Second Life emerged from beta just three years ago. Rosedale was convinced that the increasing adoption of broadband and powerful processors made it possible to create a 3‑D virtual world similar to the metaverse Neal Stephenson described in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash. Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab govern Second Life and rent property to the steady stream of fresh immigrants, but beyond establishing a few basic protocols, they pretty much stay out of the way. Almost everything you'll see has been built by the locals, from the swaying palm trees at the Welcome Area to the pole-dancer's dress at the XXX Playground.

Today, Second Life is second home to half a million people, and everyone from Duran Duran and Wells Fargo Bank to the Department of Homeland Security has funded real estate here. The national currency of Linden dollars is freely convertible to US dollars (and the exchange rate is quite favorable at the moment!), and an increasing number of residents are ditching their jobs back on Earth to make their living entirely within Second Life's economy. But this exotic realm can seem bewildering and strange to first-time visitors (affectionately known as "noobs" in the native parlance). Let Wired be your guide.

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