Sony has announced a new online community service for the PlayStation 3 (PS3).

The service, called ‘Home’, will work in a similar way to online social-networking environments such as Second Life by enabling users to create their own avatars, or online characters. Gamers can then interact with others within the real-time, 3D virtual community.

Users of the Home service will be able customise their own 3D avatars, buy items and even take part in an online version of Sony’s karaoke title SingStar. Home will feature common areas such as shops and game lobbies, while each user will be assigned a personal apartment where they can invite and communicate with other characters. These personal spaces can be decorated and customised to suit users’ tastes and used as an area to share digital content, such as video and images, that’s located on their PS3s.

Communicating with others in Home is carried out through text, audio and video chat and there will also be emotional animations when characters speak. Characters can also unlock 3D trophies as they explorer Sony’s online world, and then display then in the “Hall of Fame” for other gamers to marvel at.

Another networked title LittleBigPlanet, which is a community-based game enabling users to create and share what they build with other avatars, was also revealed. Within LittleBigPlanet players learn about the powers of their chosen characters and their ability to interact with the environment, which features puzzles for users to solve. Through playing the game, characters’ skills develop and they can modify their surroundings. Users can then invite others to explore the patch they’ve created.

After a closed beta test this spring, Home will be available as a free download from the PlayStation Store. The service will launch directly from the XrossMediaBar on the PS3. The final launch of Home is planned for the autumn. A fully featured sample version of LittleBigPlanet is expected on the PlayStation Network in the autumn, with a full version planned for early 2008.