The high-tech rumour mill has thrown up an astonishing new rumour: Google is preparing a rival to Second Life.The story began with a post on the Mac Rumors web forum. A student from Arizona State University posted screenshots from an invitation sent to students at the college.
Headed "Redefine your world", it says: "ASU has been uniquely chosen by a major internet company to be a beta-tester school for a new product that will be publicly launched later this year."
A 3d character on the site asks in a speech bubble: "Are you into 3d modelling, videogaming, etc? Do you have a virtual avatar?"
The invitation includes a questionnaire which asks whether they use social networking sites such as Friendster, Facebook and MySpace, or have been "living in a cave".
The combination of 3d video and a social networking suggests that the service being tested could resemble Second Life in some way.
And two pieces of evidence suggest that the "major internet company" may be Google - the questionnaire goes on to ask if potential testers have an account with Google's Gmail service.
ASU also has a close relationship with Google: the search engine giant has an office the University's Tempe campus.
However, there have many completely false rumours of new services coming from Google - only Apple beats Google for vigour of the rumour mill that obsesses over every hint of a possible new release.
Among the most persistent rumours is talk of the "Google OS" - a full computer operating system which would rival Microsoft Windows. But despite the appearance of many fake pictures of the OS, nothing real has ever emerged.
Google representatives in London did not return calls for comment on this story.