Online Virtual World Is Part Fantasy, Part Civics Experiment - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

07:01 PM

Online Virtual World Is Part Fantasy, Part Civics Experiment

'Second Life' lets researchers, local governments, and regular people introduce new projects, trade ideas, and even conduct a bit of virtual commerce in a three-dimensional world.

Democracy Island may sound like a remote location for the next episode of a reality TV series, but it's actually a three-dimensional testing ground inside an online virtual world called Second Life.

The layout of local parks in some Queens neighborhoods of New York City is the first project up for debate on the island, a 16 square acre piece of land that only exists inside a domain that combines a chat room vibe with video game fantasy.

Beginning this week, a member of the Queens Community Board, Thomas Lowenhaupt, will take prototypes of parks and post 3-D models of them on the island for his neighbors to check out and give their comments.

Jerry Paffendorf, the project manager for Democracy Island, calls the work a "3-D wiki," alluding to Wikipedia, the Web-based encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers, who may edit articles once they are published.

Democracy Island is funded by a $50,000 grant from the International Center for Automated Information Research to the New York Law School's Institute for Information Law and Policy, which purchased the island from Linden Lab, a private company that created Second Life two years ago.

Paffendorf says all kinds of groups have expressed an interest in Democracy Island and Second Life, including the World Bank, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, some nonprofits and at least one tech startup. The Department of Transportation is looking for new ways of hearing feedback on its projects and rule changes - like whether cell phones should be allowed on airplanes, a probable future project on the island, Paffendorf says - and 3-D experiments like this could be the next version of the town hall meeting.

"The word is out, there's a 3-D tool, so you don't have to go out there and create your own 3-D engine," Paffendorf says. "Everybody who has an inkling they might be able to do something in that space is getting money together and buying an island."

That's not an overstatement. University researchers use Second Life to study urban planning and create a meeting place for people with Aspergers syndrome, a neurobiological disorder, among other projects. The Department of Homeland Security has used the online world to develop emergency response training.

"Seven years ago, people would ask, 'Where's your Web site?'" Paffendorf says. "Now it's, 'Where's your island, where's your virtual world?' It wasn't like that a year ago."

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
1 of 3
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
Download this report from InformationWeek, in partnership with Dark Reading, to learn more about how today's IT operations teams work with cybersecurity operations, what technologies they are using, and how they communicate and share responsibility--or create risk by failing to do so. Get it now!
10 Cyberattacks on the Rise During the Pandemic
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  6/24/2020
IT Trade Shows Go Virtual: Your 2020 List of Events
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/29/2020
Study: Cloud Migration Gaining Momentum
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author,  6/22/2020
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
White Papers
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Sponsored Video
Flash Poll