What is an avatar?

I have explained Second Life to a number of people who have heard of the site, but don’t know exactly what it is all about. Without exception, they have two reactions. First, they are shocked to find out that people are spending real world currency to buy things in a virtual world, and second, they want to know what an avatar is.

AvatarAn avatar is a character that is used online to represent a person. In Second Life, computer games and other virtual worlds, the avatar is usually a 3D representation – but an avatar could be a 2D image, an icon or any symbol that is representative of a person.

It’s just a matter of time before the term “avatar” becomes mainstream. Second Life and other virtual worlds are continuing to gain audiences (a quick check of the SL site shows that it has 11,377,825 uniquely named avatars or “residents”). This week, a Massachusetts congressman‘s avatar addressed a conference on global warming in Bali via Second Life. In October, the popular TV show The Office had an episode that featured Second Life and showed some of the characters’ avatars.

I don’t frequent any of the virtual worlds, so I just checked to see if I could find a site where I could create an avatar of myself for this post, and I came across Meez – I used the site to create the avatar that you see pictured here. Not an exact representation, but it was fun to put together anyway.

If you want to find out more about 3D avatars, this page on the Second Life site will be helpful.

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