There are plenty of reasons not to get involved in EVEOnline. The ludicrous length of time required to make the most of the game, combined with the general trickiness and hostility of the universe don't really help out. Of all the games likely to trip you over and then steal your shopping, it's EVE Online. And yet there's something in this game that can be found nowhere else. It is, as a number of people have claimed, essentially incomparable with other MMOs. It might seem incredibly daunting as you start out, but I want you to keep your eye on the big picture, and to tell you what it's possible to achieve in the EVE universe.
Firstly, remember that EVE Online is a single galaxy. While other MMOs ask you to pick a "shard", or server, or realm, which is an instance of the game world that you might share with a few thousand other people, everyone who plays EVE is in the same galaxy. Your friends need not worry about having to get onto the same server as you: everyone is in this together. This has some immense ramifications: EVE Online is as close to a single, functioning virtual world as we can imagine.
EVE Online reveals messy experiments like Second Life for what they are - only in EVE is there a genuine reason behind the economic transactions, and that reason is war. Only in EVE are there huge political scandals, genuine betrayals and year-long conflicts. Only in EVE does your reputation and political connection really count for something. This is the first of the true persistent game worlds, and it's a place which you can change permanently, forever.
While there are wide open possibilities within EVE for becoming a miner, or a trader, or a manufacturer, the truth is that this is a galaxy powered by conflict. It's self-perpetuating cycle: war requires resources, and resources are limited. The resources become the reason behind the conflict. The big picture of EVE Online is alliance warfare - vast battles, involving thousands of players, which decide the ownership of vast tracts of space.
And EVE has no level-based constraints. You don't have to be "level 70" to get involved in this stuff, because EVE's skills are time-based, and specialised. Follow a particular skill tree and you can be of use to the alliance fleets within just a few weeks. If nothing else, you can get in a disposable ship and act as a scout: in EVE, it's the players who see their enemy coming who tend to survive.
Initially of course there's a whole gamut of learning to get through. Being quite unlike other MMOs means that there isn't much in the way of skills you can transfer from other games. You'll be learning most of this stuff from scratch. You have pay attention to the tutorials and read the "welcome" screens that developers CCP have recently introduced to explain every aspect of the astonishingly complex interface. As you play through the opening missions, usually on your own, you'll be drawn into EVE Online's core content: missions and agents. These allow you to master your ship skills, to get used to the tricky control method (third person 3D, where your ship is your avatar) and to start to feel comfortable with dying.
Yes, dying is inevitable, and hardcore. When you die you really lose something. But don't worry: a bit of work and you can always get it back. The crucial thing is that you learn from your mistakes. Working out how your ship can take on the tasks that have been set for you by agents teaches you a great deal about the game systems. For tips, solutions, and information on how to make the most of all these missions, from combat to industry, it's worth taking a look at the player-run website, eveinfo.com, which catalogues enormous amounts of game information.
Missions will take you through what is called "Empire" space. This is the central tract of the galaxy in which players are relatively safe. Each system has a security rating, and while you can attack someone anywhere in EVE, an attack in a system with 0.5 - 1.0 security rating will end up with the attacker dying horribly at the hands of NPC police. Nowhere is safe, however, and pirates have been known to suicide their ships to loot cargo ships carrying incredibly expensive loot.
Below 0.4 things are even more terrifying, and some pirates actually choke off areas of space by blockading them with a hoard of ships. Learning to avoid these deathtraps is one of the crucial skills that Empire-dwelling life will teach you in EVE.