Get a (Second) Life!
Working to change the real world by hanging out in a virtual one.
That’s pretty much how Susan Tenby sums up nonprofits’ use of the 3-D, online, virtual world known as Second Life. Tenby is senior manager of online community development for San Francisco-based nonprofit technology information provider TechSoup.org
Tenby, also known as her Second Life avatar Glitteractica Cookie, says SL can be an extremely valuable tool for nonprofits in terms of collaboration and learning.
Launched by the San Francisco-based software company Linden Lab, SL is a place where nonprofits can raise awareness and dollars and reach new audiences while having a good time. There are more than 10 million members and 55,000 concurrent users online in SL at any given time, Tenby says, adding that about 400 nonprofit organizations are registered there.
“It allows for teaching in a new way and makes new technologies seem less daunting,” she explains.
SL is a world run and inhabited by avatars (characters with funny, futuristic-sounding names created by users) that can buy property, interact with each other, buy and sell products, and even have some extra-special superpowers. They can fly and change forms, and the world can be customized to support an avatar’s needs.
It also is a place where the impossible can occur. For example, Tenby refers to a group using SL to raise awareness about schizophrenia.
“There is a simulation where a person can put on a virtual backpack and can experience what it’s like to have schizophrenia,” Tenby says. “This allows you to walk in their shoes. It’s a new way of teaching.”
There’s also a virtual Guantanamo Bay project — the result of a partnership among Seton Hall University’s School of Law, the MacArthur Foundation and the Bay Area Video Coalition — where an avatar can put on an orange suit and feel “what it’s like inside prison.”
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