I've explored bits of Second Life before, and did more again in preparation for this post, and the experience has been relatively the same both times. I am not a fan of online social constructs. I would personally only use them for interacting with present friends of mine or people I was doing business with. It all comes from the commitment one must put into the experience, and I avoid these for my lack of enthusiasm in learning their rules and my potential for getting hooked into them, possibly neglecting other parts of my life already too thinly spread.
Second Life was very interesting at first, learning how to interact with the world I ran into other newbies trying stuff out and wound up on the first area. It wasn't so much the metropolis of the Metaverse, though it did have all the nudity described. Without a knowledge of anyone I was uninterested in breaking the ice with conversations about avatars and quickly became bored. I was also generally unfriendly, especially with my dinsaur-like avatar specifically designed to be a reptar-human hybrid.
My opinions on online cultures come mostly from past experiences. As an active member of a gaming forum, I remember the digital friendships and excessive drama, as well as the anonymity and occasional comical perversion. Bullying was rampant and often encouraged, with very rational "if you can't take the heat" type of arguments. I participated almost religiously in these groups during a time where I felt generally insecure towards my place in my RL social circles. The differences in etiquette, behavior, and social values between these worlds always fascinated and frustrated me. The groups organized to take advantage of the "social capital" mentioned by Taylor. Though here, there's no organizing principal other than "play nice." One symptom plaguing the community was the impermanence of user identity. Users would disapear when issues arose in their RL, and online friends would have no way of knowing their status if anything serious had happened to them. Also, alts remove accountability from actions. IP checking and general social value through post count and recognition scale these issues, but bring up new ones by preventing the cream to rise to the top when all new users are relatively ignored. Then, when Bartle's killer personality type appears, they exist only to frustrate other users, often creating totally false identities, the funniest of which lure users into simulated sexual experiences to just act strangely. "I put on my wizard's robe and hat" is perhaps my favorite quote of any cyber-sex encounter. In addition, sexual predators and identity thieves put real danger in these fantasy realms which may not be worth the risk.
These issues create a wall blocking potentially great users from interaction. This problem also exists in RL, though the scrutiny provided and actual consequences make for a more meaningful experience where more can be learned from. One can royally upset his group online as well as off, and though it feels just as bad when it happens, there is no absolute consequence on the user, he can just move on and continue the tantrum or start anew. It makes for less genuine personal ties in my opinion. Online cultures have connected people living thousands of miles apart, but has also distanced next-door neighbors, constraining them to the same systems. I hold a Ludist view that online relationships are inherently less valuable than face-to-face relationships, and they can only reach similar realms when we we no longer cross these lines of differing identity. I'm not saying to do away with them, I just don't believe they are of the same worth.
Strangely, comments left on a website actually bear me more psychological impact than those said to my face. With a person I can listen, respond, and create an understanding. With comments, however, the dissenting opinion stands like engraved stone. And although many users are skilled at communicating clearly through text, quite often a messages intentions are never appreciated unless profoundly negative or positive. Perhaps my view is scaled by wanting to remain in a realm where i am successful rather than starting over anew. Regardless, there are definite benefits towards gaming and interaction in meatspace that virtual worlds can not provide (today). Solutions, in my opinion, all come from further established credibility and consistency in identity. Moderators do a decent job at upholding the community values. Yet, I don't believe the benefit is worth the cost in working one's way up in an online community.