The Cutter IT Journal is offering their latest issue โ€” on the subject of the challenges of virtual worlds โ€” for free (registration required); the issue includes articles on 'real world' applications of virtual worlds and the pitfalls and promises of such a presence. I've only had time to read the introduction and breeze quickly through the rest of the issue, but if you're interested in the rise (?) of virtual worlds, it looks to have some interesting fodder:

... Organizations and investors are asking, "Do virtual worlds represent a new Internet revolution, or are they simply the next bubble to burst?" Some argue that virtual worlds are here to stay. Indeed more people โ€” from kids to teens to adults to even "mature" users โ€” are spending an increasing amount of time in virtual worlds, playing games, communicating with friends, creating virtual artifacts, studying, undergoing training, conducting real estate transactions, buying virtual artifacts, and/or establishing businesses. According to some estimates, multibillion-dollar opportunities might be there for the taking in the virtual-world arena. As a result, major IT companies, startups, public relation companies, marketers, consultancies, educational institutions, and individuals are all trying to get a slice of the seemingly vast business potential that virtual worlds offer. Several IT companies have begun developing virtual-world applications, tools, and platforms. As of now, however, virtual worlds are at a nascent stage. Some virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life) are plagued by poor reliability and performance, and consequently will not provide an adequate platform for organizations that require a production-level environment. Key issues involving security, identity management, taxation, and regulation of financial transactions have yet to be resolved. These challenges will have to be addressed before we can fully harness the power of virtual worlds.

The forced registration is a bit tacky, but you can opt out of future mailings so your inbox will be safe. Worth taking a look if you're into these kind of issues โ€” regardless of whether it's a 'big thing' or a 'bust', virtual worlds are certainly a pressing issue now. Finding the Real-World Value in Virtual Worlds: Issues and Challenges (Introduction); Finding the Real-World Value in Virtual Worlds: Issues and Challenges [Cutter IT Journal via Terra Nova]