Second life was launced in 2003 by Linden Research Inc. of San Francisco. Apparently the idea for the site was influenced by the novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, and has been described as a Metaverse, a concept explored in the novel. As of March 2008, 13 million accounts, working or otherwise, had been created, and the popularity of the site has continued to grow, sparking parodies and rivals (such as the adult-themed Red Light Center).
Within the Second Life (SL) world, users create avatars of themselves (realistic to their actual person or not, usually not), and the avatars, or "residents" interact, create social networks, and even make business and sexual transactions with each other. Yes, SL has its own economy and currency, the Linden Dollar, which may be traded for real world currency. Goods and services are commonly exchanged between residents, and some people have earned considerable amounts from the site. Currently there is a debate on whether the Linden Dollar will be subject to taxation in response to the large sums being made by users. Only real world banks are allowed to operate in SL, to prevent fraud. In addition to real world banks, actual universities have set up "islands" in SL, and are experimenting in creating useful learning communities. Individuals have set up artistic and music communities within the site as well, and goods and services may be offered for fees.
Aside from "residents" garnering filthy lucre from the site, the creators have also profited from their operation. The basic SL account is free, but anything beyond that may cost up to $295 USD a month. Land and property may be bought for actual money as well, up to the thousands of dollars. Indeed there is money to be made in the SL world.
SL may seem like a virtual utopia where one may enact their dreams and live a life completely different than the one they actually have, others maintain vices in their second life carried over from their first. SL has instated an gambling ban, for example. Reports of child molestation and the like have also occurred, and thus SL has come under scrutiny and opposition from individuals. Just like chatrooms, even virtual environments are far from perfect.