MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Since its inception as a privately held company on September 7 1998, Google has always been attracted to the Big Idea - not least when the concept belongs to someone else.

In such cases, the search titan tends either to buy the company or - if the concept is not sufficiently trussed by lawyers - to set up in direct competition.

In the case of the Second Life 'virtual world' phenomenon, Google seemingly prefers the second option and is said to have briefed concept developers in China, India and stateside to create content for the venture.

In the early days when still idealistic tyros in the cutthroat world of big business, the Google dudes were refreshingly eager to talk about their ambitions and development plans. Nine years on, the firm is now the corporate clam epitomized.

Asked about the new venture, a Google spokesperson took refuge in obfuscationist waffle:

"We're always looking for new ways to help our users connect with each other, share information, and express themselves, but we don't have any new details to share at this time," said the avatar.

Or, in plain English: 'No comment'

Meantime, Second Life, launched four years ago, claims nearly 10 million registered users. It has won major multinational clients such as Adidas, MTV, Reuters and Toyota, each of whom maintains a branded area within the site.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff