When I got an e-mail forward from editor Barry Ginter the other day with the subject line "Carson City Sold," I thought it had to be a joke of some kind.
It's not. It was an e-mail about Weblo.com, a virtual site that sells virtual "plots" of land. The idea seemed kind of stupid, but I registered and took a look around. I got $5 in Weblo dollars for signing up.
The e-mail said that "Weblo is a giant online game that has been referred to as 'Monopoly on Steroids.' A virtual copy of every real city, state and property is up for sale."
According to what I've read, these kinds of sites are becoming more and more popular on the Internet. It's like a grown-up version of MySpace, where you can earn money and make friends.
Apparently, Weblo is not the first of these virtual-world games; you've got Second Life, Active Worlds, There and Entropia Universe, as well as several others. Second Life actually exists as a real virtual world, with "residents" using their Linden Dollars to buy things. Linden Dollars are apparently a real currency and have an exchange rate. What it is, I can't seem to discern.
To me, it sounded absurd, considering you were paying real money for something you can't even build a house on. I like real life just fine, personally.
Registration is free for Weblo.com; however, you can "upgrade" to better levels. "Jeez, why would anyone do this?" I asked myself.
Well, it turns out that you can purchase plots of land or even landmarks and entire cities, states and countries for "the price of a cup of coffee." What kind of coffee are we talking about here? Army coffee? McDonald's coffee? Starbucks?
So I went to the "Own a Home" link and clicked on it. Interested, I plugged in my parents' townhouse location (I could just imagine that conversation with my dad). This took a while because instead of just typing in the address, Weblo makes you wait while it loads a preset list of states within a country, and then cities within that state. I got to a page saying that my account balance was $5, and that my parents' townhouse was $2 plus 50 cents for a deed.
Well, heck, why don't I just buy the Appeal building instead? I went through the whole bother of plugging everything into the tedious Weblo "Register a property now" form.
Ah hah! No one's registered the Appeal building yet. Would I like to register it? Heck yes!
Oh. It wants something called a "transaction password." What's that? I plug in my user password to see if that works. It does. I now own the Nevada Appeal building, and am filled with a strange sense of power. And it only cost $2.62 in Weblo dollars (real dollars, mind you - I got $5 for signing up, but to add more I have to put some real money in from a PayPal account, a check or a credit card).
It takes me to a page congratulating me on my wise investment, and a few links. I click on "Edit Your Property Profile" to see what I can do. Once there, I click on "Edit site."
I'm not sure if the Appeal's network was being weird or if it really takes that long to load. I cry for those who want to play in Weblo's virtual world and have dial-up Internet service.
I fuss around for a while and save the profile. Now, how is it that I make "real-world money" off of this venture? Should I have bought something worth more than the Nevada Appeal's building?
No clue. Maybe I'll go to the Frequently Asked Questions page. It turns out that every time someone clicks on an advertisement in my page, I get money. That seems unlikely to me - I never click on ads in pages. But hey, they say there's a sucker born every minute.
Also, that means I'd need to advertise my property or sell it to someone who wants to advertise it. Honestly, I'm not interested in advertising a virtual property.
You can also set up a free celebrity fan gossip site, and every time someone clicks on an ad there you get money too. Well, celebrity gossip isn't my thing, so I'll stay away from that, too.
So I guess for someone like me, Weblo isn't a very good option. But hey, if you're into it, I've got a very nice piece of digital property I'd like to sell you.
• Tasha Costa is a Nevada Appeal employee. E-mail her at email@example.com or visit her blog at http://techtasha.wordpress.com.