It’s a BERR’s life: Second Life in the public sector

You know when an innovation is really taking off when parts of the public sector start to make use of it. This now seems to be happening with the virtual world Second Life.

At the European Union’s Privacy Conference (which I mentioned last week) I was involved – for the first time – in a roundtable discussion which was also featured ‘live’ within Second Life. The physical discussion took place in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s (BERR) new Futurefocus centre, deep in the bowels of the department’s Victoria Street offices. At the same time, a group of 20 or so avatars gathered in a virtual version of Futurefocus. Indeed, one of the presenters (Paul Ledack of IBM) was not physically present, but was, in fact, one of the avatars. Everything we said within the physical room was also being streamed out to the gathered avatars who could post questions by in-world text. We could see the avatars via several large screens within the room and a moderator handled the interface between the real and virtual discussions.

This kind of mixed reality meeting seems to slowly becoming more commonplace. On the same day a NHS event was taking place elsewhere in London with several hundred clinicians and this was also online in SL (through the weblink secondhealth.org.uk). And I gather that the Climate Change gathering in Bali will also have a parallel, Second Life, event hosted at Nature magazine’s SecondNature virtual island.

All this public, indeed governmental, use of SL raises questions. Second Life is a private space owned by Linden Labs and the privacy experts in London had a number of concerns over the clarity of exactly who owns what and how data privacy was being handled within the various islands within Second Life.

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