From the git-go, “There” (www.There.com) is clearly not Second LIfe. For the most part, the graphics are not quite as good (but check our the insides of Egypt’s pyramids), the civilized areas are not as highly-detailed.

Nor does it offer the lush environments of World of Warcraft. Fortunately, there are no dark minions waiting to pound you into oblivion. But there are the occasional griefers

And there are some quirks. Friends got dropped and were somehow locked out (unintentionally) for up to 30 minutes. And there is the maintenance at 5:30PM (CDT) that seems oddly scheduled. Your comments appear in a text cloud above your head; chatty people have several clouds; and groups of chatty people will find it difficult to see all that is being said.

The free membership can be upgraded for $9.95; then you can use voice-chat, start your own groups, and a whole lot more. This solves your text-cloud clutter; but you still have to keyboard to chat with buddies who haven’t upgraded.

There’s a lot to like about There. It’s got a homemade feel that other virtual worlds lack; indeed, they spend big $$$ trying to avoid. Maybe that’s what I like most. I also like the fact that it is easily accessible. Simple guides give you the basics & you’re ready to go. No major studying to enter, as with Second Life. No tons of commands and levels, like World of Warcraft.

Just drop in, borrow a hovercraft or use your board, and away you go. Unlike Second Life and World of Warcraft, There is well-populated. And there are helpful people who offer to show you around. Not employees, just good neighbors welcoming the Noobs.

That’s another thing I like. The inherent sense of community that comes from not trying to keep up with the Joneses of the Worldwide Web. For those seeking an online site for educational purposes, the homey feel can make for easier community-building. The University of There offers an educational platform for those who want to teach or learn. Some instructional design, a little pedagogy, a little content and you’re teaching.

If you want to take your instructional efforts to the next level, become a designer. While the graphics for the main areas of There are not top-shelf, what I saw in the pyramid was pretty impressive. Someone with imagination and talent could create a great historical site, scientific simulation, or … whatever.

So, if I were going to build my online educational presence, I’d take There over Second Life any day. As any gamer (or researcher) can tell you, it’s not the graphics but the engagement that’s important. Sure, you’ll have to create something that students will want to stick with. But There is an easily-accessible environment with enough locations and built-in features to give most educators, and tourists like me, a worthwhile experience.