Virtual worlds mean more than Second Life

It was not so long ago that virtual worlds began and ended with Second Life, a consumer-oriented platform that offers people an open-ended experience full of user-made items for their fully customizable avatars to experience.

And experience they did. Second Life's residents can do pretty much anything in the animated universe displayed on their computer screen that they could in real life — and quite a lot that they couldn't. Depending on one's interest, a Second Life log-in is a ticket to dancing and night life, role-playing in a simulated ancient Rome or an imaginary future world, playing sports (there are organized Second Life hockey and football leagues), and a thousand other things. And, yes, the government has been using the platform to introduce people to agency missions and show them simulated displays of real-world cool stuff.

But as Alice Lipowicz reports, some of the luster is wearing off Second Life and agencies are beginning to look to rival platforms or even developing their own. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, still has a presence in Second Life but has also started working on its own in-house project, called Fragile Earth Studios. NOAA has developed simulations of Hawaii, Alaska and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.

“Virtual worlds are in need of some rebranding,” said Eric Hackathorn, a 3-D Web designer at NOAA. Given the differing needs of government organizations, it’s not surprising that they are branching out, he added.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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