Weblo, sell high

Parliament Hill can be yours for just pennies a day.

The seat of Canada’s federal government sold for US$21 at auction on Sunday on a Web site that is gradually selling off the world. Other global landmarks, plus cities and even your own house, can be purchased at Weblo.com, an Ottawa-based site that is offering real estate in a virtual copy of the planet.

“”We wanted to make a carbon copy of the world,”” says Rafaqat Mirza, the CEO of Allainet, the Ottawa-based e-commerce company that owns and runs Weblo. Registered users can purchase cities for US$100 and buildings for a dollar a piece. “”It’s a business game, it’s a political game, it’s almost a real-time monopoly game, but there are no dice and we’re using real money,”” says Mirza.

Weblo has had about 300 registered users since its launch late last month. They spend an average of US$150 each, says Mirza — far beyond his original expectations of US$10.

Allainet has developed its own real estate, e-mail and bank account system to manage the site. Users set up accounts to buy property and may later see dividends by putting it up for auction or collecting taxes if they’re city owners. If a property doesn’t exist in Weblo’s database, users can add one, provided it exists in the real world.

“”You’re buying into Earth. The properties that you’re buying have a physical representation in your mind. You can see these properties and touch these properties,”” he says. “”All we did was open a channel in their mind in terms of letting them think that the world is for sale. The suggestion is unbelievable.””

So far, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, New York, Paris, London and Bahrain have been sold off. As virtual city owner, you are automatically its virtual mayor and can then charge your citizens taxes and institute by-laws. There’s even a plan to get real mayors and virtual mayors together. Mirza is planning a press conference for one Canadian city, but isn’t saying which one yet.

Jason Tabbara, co-founder of the Learnet College in the real Ottawa, got online early to buy the virtual Ottawa when Weblo first launched. “”I could see this going a long way,”” says Tabbara. “”This is a minimal investment to get into a startup. It’s like playing monopoly with real money. I see the potential for the future.”” He’s spent about US$250 on property so far, including the headquarters of Yahoo! and AOL- Time Warner.

Tabbara got into the virtual real estate market for fun, but says he could actually start to see a return on his investment eventually, as Weblo attracts more virtual citizens and property owners. He “”bought”” his own Learnet College at Weblo recently and added a Web link the real Learnet. “”It’s sort of like advertising for your company at a minimal charge,”” he says.

Buying the virtual deeds to friends’ houses, then lording it over them is a popular pastime, says Mirza.

Gord Garriock bought the virtual deed to the car dealership he works at in Ottawa — then sold it back to its owner, his boss, for a $9 profit. Garriock has virtually cornered the market on Ottawa car dealerships, buying up five of them, as well as Toyota’s Canadian and American headquarters.

He’s also the mayor of Machu Picchu, Peru’s fortress city of the ancient Incas. “”I like the idea of Machu Picchu,”” he says. “”I applied for that and I saw on the computer the other day that a banner ran across that I owned the city of Machu Picchu in Peru.””

Mirza sees political-science students as another potential audience for his site, since they can get a feel for municipal, federal and international politics by participating. He’s even planning a university campus tour across Canada and the U.S. to help promote the site.

New features will be added to Weblo every four to six weeks, he adds. Soon users will be able to buy airports and charge air fare. (According to Weblo rules, you can buy a property anywhere in the world, but in order to sell it you have to buy a citizenship in that country and fly there.)

Before long, mayors may become presidents. Mirza plans on running Weblo elections to expand the powers of his players. Ottawa resident and virtual mayor Tabbara already has his Canadian “”presidential”” campaign all worked out. “” Any piece of property sold here in Canada, I’ll get full commissions. I stand to make approximately US$300 to US$400 a month,”” he says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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