(Photograph) - Active Worlds (www.activeworlds.com) is one of the internet's most remarkable businesses, based on the notion that people would like to meet, chat (through their keyboards) and build cities in virtual, three-dimensional worlds similar to those described in Neal Stephenson's 1994 novel Snow Crash. Of more than 500 worlds in the Active Worlds universe, the oldest, most complex and most popular is Alphaworld, a densely-developed virtual conurbation the size of southern California.
More than 17,000 subscribers are able to participate fully as "citizens" in Active Worlds. Inevitably there is now a 3D mall where customers can shop online.
The college of business at the University of Colorado (cob-distance02. colorado.edu/activehome.html ) was the first higher education institution to set up in Active Worlds. Most of its eight worlds are private but one called "ucbcob01" gives a glimpse of the mountainous Boulder landscape. University College London established a world (CVDS) where an experiment in unplanned urban development (www.casa.ucl. ac.uk/ 30days/) was briefly interrupted by vandalism (THES January 15).
Prospective students can take a virtual tour of the University of California, Santa Cruz (http://admissions.ucsc.edu) in a 3D world (V-UCSC) created by its students and professional designers in London and Norway. Objects around the campus are hotlinked to web pages that provide further information.