A Virtual Life for the Rest of Us
Start-up Kaneva wants nothing less than to become the MySpace to Second Life's Friendster - a virtual world for the masses. That means letting users create avatars and set up their apartments with pre-fab furnishings in less than a half-hour before hitting the virtual mall.
Besides doing away with Second Life's steep learning curve, Kaneva also incorporates social-networking features allowing members to connect with friends outside its virtual world. More than 125,000 people have made the trip to Kaneva world during beta testing.
"We want to be the mainstream virtual world out there," says Rob Frasca, chief operating officer for Kaneva. "We're all about making the experience analogous to what you're real life is about," he adds, as opposed to the intricate fantasy world of Second Life.
Kaneva promises marketers a more controlled environment, where they can ban unruly patrons from virtual stores and never risk vandalism. And while Second Life has a thriving sex trade, don't expect to find porn shops on Kaneva's streets.
The company says it's close to deals with several major consumer brands to populate its simulated world. Frasca adds Kaneva is talking with marketers and media companies about highly integrated placements - from clothing worn by avatars to network or cable TV shows playing on members' virtual TVs.
Creating a safer, more user-friendly alternative to Second Life, however, carries its own risks. Web trends that get commoditized tend to lose their cachet. A more predictable virtual experience may dilute the very quality that's fueled Second Life's growth - allowing participants to play fantasy roles separate from their actual lives. This doesn't trouble Frasca, though. "We're a much more casual thing."