Visit 50 social worlds in one video
...demonstrates how ubiquitous, popular and streamlined many of these spaces are becoming across the intraweb / ‘cloud’. With over 300 million frequenting or registering for the non-game based worlds and millions of new investment in 2nd and 3rd generation services..
There's quite a bit of disagreement about how widely (or deeply) some of these spaces are used; that is, how accurate are the gate counts for the services. But even allowing for some reasonable level of churn... 300 million is an enormous number. Habbo Hotel, which is aimed more at kids and tweens, references having had more than 7 million visits in the last 30 days. Second Life, one of the earliest and most technically advanced worlds, notes that more than 850,000 users have logged in during the last month, and that more than 400,000 of those users spent a total of (approximately) $159,000 in that virtual world (I converted from Linden Dollars to $USD at 125-to-1, which is pretty close to the usual exchange rate).
My purpose in posting all this info is to point out that social virtual worlds are still growing, both in numbers of services and users. For those who haven't ever tried even one of these spaces, it may seem like a fringe activity or "out there" thing to do. Increasingly, it's not. People are meeting, playing, chatting, studying, learning, creating and making money in these spaces. Unlike online games -- which are almost entirely entertainment related -- these services are usually built around communicative and creative activites. They are a new media.
I've started a working bibliography of works related to virtual worlds. Let me know if you have suggestions for things to add. Thanks.
Related note: I'd like to point out that Julian Dibbell's excellent "My Tiny Life," which has been hard to find for many years, is now available for purchase or free download from Lulu.