to add Mac support and Facebook plug-in

One of the original digital social 3D virtual worlds, it has had little publicity over the years, but maintains a loyal audience

The virtual world,, appears ready to reach for some new and broad audiences, announcing Tuesday night that it would finally be offering support for Mac OS X, as well as a new Facebook plug-in and an instant message application that can communicate directly with anyone on the Internet.

In October 2003, There, as it's known, launched to big headlines and heavy expectations. announced support for Mac OS X, as well as a new Facebook plug-in and the first IM application capable of communicating with those inside the virtual world. Makena Technologies

One of the first 3D social digital virtual worlds, it presented users with a rich and complex environment complete with a functional economy, the ability to create content and even flying hoverboats for five.

But There costs tens of millions to produce and within months of its launch--after many months in beta--the company behind it nearly folded.

What happened next is rather complicated, but essentially, the There virtual world technology ended up in the hands of early eBay employee Michael Wilson, who kept the service alive and set about to rebuild a user base.

Over the years, it has slowly done that, and now it has a steady user base well into six figures.

There draws many comparisons to Second Life, and indeed it may be closer to that popular virtual world than anything else. But it is aimed at teenagers and has strict limits on what users can create. Anything they create must be vetted by Makena, while Second Life users have almost entirely free reign.

(Disclosure: My wife works for Second Life publisher Linden Lab.)

Now, after nearly five years, Mac users will finally be able to check There out. For me, that's a big thing, as I've been separated from my beloved hoverboat for many years since the PC I was playing the virtual world on became too decrepit to be functional and I became a hard-core Mac user.

And many other Mac users, especially students looking for a fun, social, easy-going environment, will also likely be ready to try it out.

Another big part of the Tuesday announcement is ThereIM, an instant message application that allows users to communicate with others on the Internet, even if they're not playing There.

ThereIM is an instant messaging application that will allow users of the virtual world to communicate with others on the Internet who aren't in-world. Makena Technologies

And perhaps the biggest most far-reaching piece of news here could be the Facebook plug-in, known as Facing There, which allows There members to present their profiles, on the vastly popular social networking service. This may not have the richness of other Facebook applications, but it could bring some attention to There in a very large community.

Whether these three developments are enough to get There back on the map is hard to say. In some ways, it has suffered because it hasn't put much energy into publicity the last few years, choosing instead to build a strong, loyal user base through word of mouth.

Here's hoping these moves help it get the notice it deserves.

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