Reuters in Second LifeIt's sacrilege really. This interview should have taken place in the bowels of Second Life rather than as it did - tamely office-to-office over VoIP. could have donned its best spiky tail and flown over to the Reuters building to breathe fire back and forth with avatar Adam Reuters.

It's doubtful if any onlooker would have batted an electronic eyelid, such things aren't uncommon in Second Life, the virtual world where traditional, stoic businesses rub shoulders with anarchic liberation armies and cyber millionaires.

"There is something kind of fun about writing about a world where all these crazy things are happening but doing it in a very straightforward and traditional way, I enjoy doing it that way," said Adam Reuters (aka Adam Pasick - veteran media and technology reporter with Reuters).

"I've stumbled into some places in Second Life that I wouldn't want to share with my mother, and for the record she is in Second Life."

Developed by San Francisco-based Linden Labs, Second Life came into existence in 2002 as LindenWorld.

It allows users to roam a virtual town and interact with others through the use of avatars - characters similar to those found in computer and consol games.

In October Mr Pasick was asked by his employer to start reporting on the internet-based world as it was rapidly gaining new members (in October Linden reported that one million users were registered), notoriety and an injection of real world cash.

"I must admit that, at first, it seemed like career suicide but that has not been the case," said Mr Pasick, who writes a mixture of virtual and real-life news at

Heavy press interest as more and more established 'real' world businesses moved in has created a surge in popularity. CNet, which also has a journalist in Second Life, reported that, just eight weeks after the millionth member had signed up, the number had doubled to two million.

Yet, despite being a cutting-edge social technology service, Mr Pasick found his new world strangely familiar.

"A typical day is not that different from my job before I was reporting on Second Life. I'm doing the things that reporters are doing in the real world.

"They read a lot of newspapers, they read a lot of stuff online, they constantly talk to a circle of contacts that tell them interesting things that are going on."

Mr Pasick usually spends two to three hours a day in Second Life walking around the town, visiting new places and talking to people.

Pounding the virtual patch, he said, is no different to old-fashioned beat reporting where an abundance of shoe leather was one of a reporter's most valued commodities.

He also keeps office hours three times a week in the virtual Reuters bureau where people can come and talk to him.

"People come up to me unbidden all the time and get me interested in things that I would never otherwise have come across. There is certainly some value in just getting out there.

"I didn't know very much at all about Second Life when I started, so I was on a steep learning curve figuring out how just to get around even - let alone get in touch with what was going on. There is no substitute for just immersing yourself in that and I would say that's probably true of any beat."

Though still a beat in the old sense - even if you do fly between appointments - virtual world reporting has brought a new set of challenges.

"We had to make a few changes to our editorial practices because we're talking to people who are in essence anonymous - at least in terms of their real-life identities. So we had to get together some practices which are constantly being tested to make sure they work.

"Our practice is to ask people for their real-life information, now there are some people in Second Life who don't want to share that, and that's fine, but it's one of those things that I have to take into account when deciding if a source is credible.

"It's just one of many factors. You also look at how long they have been in Second Life, if they take an active part in businesses or organisations there or have they just created their account yesterday to be a nuisance.

"There are a bunch of different factors that you have to weigh together. There is no one way to do it - I think it's a pretty good analogue for the real world."

The virtual world, Mr Pasick says, also offers an opportunity to try new forms of reporting away from the traditional interview, write up and publish formula.

"I was doing interviews in Davos at the World Economic Forum and they were being streamed into Second Life as my avatar and the avatar of my guests. We were in a big auditorium in front of a [virtual] audience that was able to sit in on the interview and ask questions as it was going on - even through they were scattered around the world.

"I think that's kind of an interesting model, especially as technology gets a little better and Second Life gets a little bit more portable - reporters will be able to go to interviews and in certain cases bring their audiences with them in real time to ask questions."

Those critical of the Second Life phenomenon have accused Reuters of riding the virtual world fad for the sake of good PR.

"I can't deny that Reuters has had a lot of good PR because of what we did," said Mr Pasick. "But I think that has been a by-product, some happy collateral, because it certainly wasn't the main goal going in and it certainly won't be the main goal going forward.

"We think there is something legitimately interesting going on there, it could possibly be a good business for us and it has certainly been a learning experience already... What we hope to do by coming in is not give it validity in any existential way but to help the economy along by giving it objective news and data."

Mr Pasick added that he felt closer and more engaged with the readers through Second Life and that it could act as a shorthand tool for putting the concerns of that readership directly to appropriate bodies or individuals.

"I think it's absolutely possible, it's another medium. It's not exactly TV, its certainly not print, it's a new way for the reporter to interact with their audience and interview subject.

"In essence Second Life is a pretty small town still. Anyone can come and talk to me during my office hours and anyone who knows my name can instant message me, I get a lot of instant messages. But mostly it still feels like a close-knit community despite how quickly it's growing.

"There are a million different things you could write about and a lot of people are writing about them already. I'm trying to write within certain constants, in terms of subject matter, and so far in my area I've not even come close to running dry. There are more stories than I could possibly write."

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