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Dell Inhabits Second Life

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NEW YORK Dell has joined the rush of advertisers to set up outposts in Second Life, the increasingly popular 3-D virtual world.

The computer maker took the wraps off Dell Island, a Second Life expanse that features a "factory" where visitors can customize computers that will be delivered to their real-life doorsteps. The island also has a computer museum, a conference room setup Dell plans to use for focus groups and executive meetings, and a virtual replica of the dorm room where Michael Dell began piecing together computers.

Dell joins brands like American Apparel, Toyota and Starwood Hotels to set up shop in Second Life. The lure, said Ro Parra, senior vice president and general manager of the home and business group at Dell, is to connect consumers' virtual lives with their real-world needs.

"It connects virtual reality with real-world commerce," he said.

Second Life allows users to create online personas, or avatars, and build structures in a fantasy environment. The so-called metaverse has grown sharply in the past year, now boasting more than 1.3 million "residents," although only a small fraction are logged in simultaneously.

Last month Pontiac unveiled plans for an ambitious Motorati Island in Second Life. Unlike Dell, Pontiac is not seeking to sell real-world merchandise, but instead hopes to inculcate an automotive culture in Second Life by offering free land on the island for car-related building projects. (Using Second Life is free, but Second Life creator Linden Lab sells land.)

Pontiac and Dell are both selling virtual products in Second Life, although Parra said most computers in Second Life were "decorative."

In a press conference held by phone and on Dell Island, Philip Rosedale, Second Life's founder and CEO, said fears that corporations like Dell and other advertisers would elicit a backlash from users are overblown.

"You realize quite quickly you're involved in creation of a new world," he said. "The companies that have been coming into Second Life ... particularly the smart early companies, are quite smart about that and contributing to the community."

Second Life design shop Infinite Vision Media and Lichtenstein Creative Media helped Dell create its island.