At a time when an increasing number of media stories seem to be denigrating Second Life (and a time when there’s precious little left of an external media presence to counter such stories), we should reflect that a lot of the work that is going on her is quiet and private – and with good reason.
Because when word gets out that some serious, sensible organisation – a government department, say – has a Second Life presence – then the media (and the Opposition) leaps in to sneer and denigrate.
Such was the case today when word leaked out that the Department for Work and Pensions had an “innovations centre” – we are guessing a sim or two – in Second Life.
The Department argued that having a virtual meeting place could save taxpayers money in the long run, and it seems that other departments are involved (and presumably sharing the costs). At the moment this is just a pilot but it has led to predictable sneers from the Conversatives that the Government is “living in a fantasy world”.
Actually, what the exchange shows is that Conservatives are either naive or opportunistic, and quite possibly both. If the future of the web is through avatar interaction, or a 3D web (and most commentators are arguing that this will become at the very least a significant part of the internet), then running a pilot project now is not just sensible, it is vital if errors made on the first wave of the web are not to be repeated.
And the DWP seem to have recognised this, in their defence of their project, with a spokesman quoted by the BBC as saying: “We are currently exploring the potential of using Second Life and have active interest from a number of government departments.
“Our new innovation centre in Second Life is a virtual area where both government and private companies can showcase technological innovations, such as low carbon footprint technology.
“We believe it could help make sharing technology more efficient and save taxpayers’ money as meetings, events and shows can be held online at a fraction of the cost and resources.”
The UK National Health Service has been involved in Second Life some time, without making a great deal of fuss. In a co-project with Imperial College (part of the University of London), the NHS hosts a complex covering a number of sims called (primarily) Second Health where you can tour hospitals and participate in a national health survey. The goal is to communicate complex health messages and to illustrate the future of health care.
And that’s not just for random avatars, either. The NHS hosted a conference aimed at senior managers – Embracing Healthcare Technology and Innovation – in real life and Second Life on February 11th 2009 – and they have described the use of new media as “reasonably successful”. They are delighted to have had attendees from 12 different countries including: Finland, Singapore, USA, Canada, Norway, Italy, UK, Sweden, New Zealand, Turkey, Serbia, and Australia, and they are looking to improve the sound quality for virtual delegates and interaction between the virtual community and delegates present at the conference venue, all of which suggests that they will repeat the experience.
However, once again, this is something that is proceeding quietly and without external fanfares. Is this because the external ‘sensible’ media is gone (if, arguably, it was ever truly here), or is it because Second Life is in a phase where private innovation and experimentation is needed before it can be shared? The Conservative response to the news about the DWP would suggest that.