Booming virtual world Second Life opened a virtual Israeli community for its "Residents" on Sunday, allowing over 11 million users worldwide to teleport into a vibrant 3-dimensional internet version of the country with the click of a button.
"The purpose of Second Life Israel is to present Israel to a global audience beyond traditional media," said SL Israel founder Chaim Landau. "This is a concept of Israel as a fun, entertaining, thriving and diverse community for Jews and non-Jews, and a home for Israelis on Second Life."
Born in June 2003, the Second Life virtual world (www.secondlife.com) was developed by Linden Labs in San Francisco, with an innovative online community complete with its own economy and user-generated content such as buildings, automobiles and marketplaces.
It provides a platform for social networking, entrepreneurship and creative design, allowing individuals, corporations, government agencies, non-profit organizations and universities to communicate and socialize.
Users design characters and buy and sell property. Additionally, the digital community allows "Residents" to travel the world, experiencing everything from museums to nightclubs.
Second Life has grown steadily since it opened to the public. Its current "landmass" is over four times the size of New York City and growing, as millions of users join every year.
As a Legacy Heritage Fellow at the European Union of Jewish Students in 2007, Landau initiated the Second Life Israel island with Beth Brown, a building and design manager who built the first synagogue on Second Life in 2006. Brown's synagogue grew into a full Jewish neighborhood in Second Life, comprising over 600 members.
"Second Life is a combination of the real and the imaginary," said Landau, and the Israel this pair has created strives to mirror that duality, as well as the innate dualism of Israel as a modern nation still rooted in history.
Users can walk through the Old City in Jerusalem, visiting the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock as easily as they can venture down the promenade in Tel Aviv and stop by the Opera House, or weave through the marketplace on Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem.
Heading south, visitors can "float" in the Dead Sea or head to the Eilat underwater observatory to walk among the fish and coral reefs. Plans to upload the Bahai Gardens in Haifa are in the works.
Landau and Brown have only just launched this parallel Israeli world, hoping to expand its social atmosphere by including arts and culture events every two to four weeks. They also plan to add a high-tech industrial pavilion, hoping to attract Second Life's prime technology-driven audience.