Second Life

Edmonton experiments with Second Life

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Chris Moore, CIO of Edmonton, Canada. One of the new tools Chris is using is Second Life from Linden Labs. While Second Life has been around since 2003, the City of Edmonton is just beginning to roll the tool out, as you can read about in this recent article.

Second LifeAs you can see in the picture to the right, Chris and I met in Second Life, a virtual world, to discuss why Edmonton chose Second Life, the goals they have in mind, and the policies they will put in place.  Before I go into our conversation here are some statistics on the size of Second Life as it compares to other tools you may be familiar with:

  • Second Life has a little more than 800,000 unique users logging in monthly.
  • Twitter has more than 100 million registered users with more than 10 million being considered active users.
  • Facebook has more than 400 million registered users, 50% of which login each day.
  • YouTube generates more than 1 billion views each day.

Second Life requires a slightly higher level of technical ability, a challenge that remains a major obstacle for growth in my opinion.

Chris has been interested in this platform for a while, having become excited by its potential value after hearing Pam Broviak chatting with Adriel Hampton on Gov 2.0 Radio about the platform.

What are the goals?

While initial goals focus on urban planning, the reality is that Edmonton is also taking time to explore, to learn what other possibilities exist within Second Life. The following video shows a Second Life example of a construction project underway in Cairo, Egypt. In this case, the construction was first completed in Second Life, giving users a rich platform with which they could get a feel for the result before building.  Construction is currently underway in real life.

This example is particularly relevant in Edmonton where there is a controversial project proposed to build a new arena. It is possible that this will be modeled in Second Life, much like the Egyptian project, and, if it wins enough support, will be built in real life.

Second Life may also be an ideal location for scenario planning. For example, what would happen if an earthquake were to occur in downtown Edmonton? How would citizens be evacuated?

What else can be done?

Second Life Meetings and training sessions are a common use case for Second Life. I would generally argue that there are superior platforms for meetings, but as Chris states, “Choice is the new standard.” This platform provides you with additional options. A couple of reasons that Second Life could make sense for your next meeting:

  • It is free.
  • You can host 50 people in most locations while a few locations can scale to 200 people.
  • The feeling of being in person makes the discussion feel more personal.

This platform also provides benefits for training scenarios. Chris shared with me the story about a training session he attended for doctors.  Doctors, from various geographic locations, “met” in a simulated operating room to train and work through various scenarios.

E-commerce is another use case worth paying attention to, although not a scenario Chris is paying much attention to in the short-term. PlaySpan, a provider of payment and monetization solutions for online games and virtual worlds, estimates that virtual goods will generate $1.6 billion in the U.S. in 2010. A possibility could include retail outlets, such as an Apple Store, where users could view products and buy on-line, using virtual currency (which is easily exchanged for real currency).

Policies, guidelines?

While construction in Second Life will be locked down to fit the vision for this environment, usage guidelines will grow somewhat more organically. Expect employees to follow existing accepted use guidelines, behaviors that are specific to Second Life are still being observed, policies and guidelines will come as needed.

Are you using Second Life today? How is Second Life helping you reach your goals? Drop me a note, or stop by my virtual house to say hi in Second Life (my name is Johnf Meriborne).

Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds

In June 2009, President Obama delivered a speech in Egypt in which he made a call to “create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.” More recently, Anne-Marie Slaughter, head of policy planning at the State Department offered that, “our diplomats are going to need to have skills that are closer to community organizing than traditional reporting and analysis. New connecting technologies will be vital tools in this kind of diplomacy.”

In February 2008, Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts both senior fellows at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs set out on a yearlong quest funded by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation to explore the potential of virtual worlds for cultural dialogue — especially the potential of these spaces to enhance and augment the cultural outreach efforts done by the US State Department (also known as “public diplomacy”). The project, called “Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds” took them across four continents in the physical world and myriad communities and cultures in virtual worlds. The documentary above tells a portion of the story. Policy recommendations and a graphic book were also produced as a part of the study.

The idea for Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project was hatched with a very specific idea in mind: How could people learn about other cultures in an authentic, experiential space — specifically, how could we learn about cultures that self-identified as Muslim? We chose the virtual world of Second Life for many reasons, among them that it is the best international platform — more than 70% of its users are from outside the United States. Our goal was to to see what we could learn about Islam — not by inviting particular people with particular perspectives into Second Life, but rather to follow the trail of what was already happening culturally in the space that might yield new insight about Islam.

Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds” revealed a number of important paradigm shifts, one especially, that cultural and societal leaders are manifesting and creating powerful communities outside traditional physical venues — foreign service officers and others in the work of intercultural dialogue profession, need to be prepared to engage those communities where they live — whether their homes are digital or physical.

The Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project produced the following findings:

Fouts and King also reported their journey real time on their blog, DIP’s Dispatches from the Imagination Age, on which they continue to tell the story of the evolution of a new global culture and society.

On September 8 at the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Expo, Rita J. King will be discussing “Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds” as part of the Government as Peacekeeper section.