FEDERAL AGENCIES IN THE METAVERSE
JANUARY 21, 2008
ONDER: Hello everyone, and welcome to another session of Metanomics, produced by
Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Live events have always been and
continue to be a large part of what Clever Zebra does. Few things in Virtual Worlds really
count unless the community’s involved and, as part of this philosophy, we launched
Metanomics in September of 2007. It was produced by metaverse.com and Cornell
University’s Johnson School of Management and hosted by Professor Robert Bloomfield.
The topic was economics of Virtual Worlds.
As the series went on, Robert Bloomfield began to take on more of the production
responsibilities himself and, in fact, he’s been doing most of it for some time. At the same
time Metaversed was transforming into Clever Zebra and focusing more on working directly
with companies making their way in Virtual Worlds. It became clear that Metanomics had
gained enough momentum as a series to remain a success, and so it made sense for all
concerned to allow it to officially become an entity of its own.
We here at Clever Zebra wish Robert Bloomfield all the best with his continuing production
of Metanomics and look forward to several more terms of quality programming.
I’d like to take a brief moment to thank the sponsors of the Metanomics series. They are
SAP, Cisco Systems, Saxo Bank, Generali Group, Kelly Services and Sun Microsystems.
And of course none of this would be possible without Second LifeCN, who are the best ones
to talk to when it comes to working with video in Virtual Worlds. Avatars across the grid at all
event portal locations can join the conversation by joining the Metanomics Group. So now
I’d like to introduce the host of Metanomics, Robert Bloomfield.
BEYERS: Well, Onder, thank you so much for that introduction, and a very heartfelt thank
you to you and Nick Wilson and metaversed.com, which has recently been recreated as
cleverzebra.com. Thank you so much for the support that you’ve given to me, personally,
and to the Metanomics series of live events. We’ve had a bunch of great guests and shows
over the last three or four months, and we’re going to be continuing that.
Now you were altogether too nice to me when you said I was doing most of the production. I
actually have relied on a number of people, particularly I’ll say Second LifeCN, which has
been just wonderful to work with. But I would like to introduce now a couple people who are
going to be working with me in supporting Metanomics over the coming months. Sitting in
the front row we have, first, Curric Vita, who is Steve Atlas, a graduate student of economics
at Tufts University and preparing to enter doctoral study in economics. He will be doing quite
a bit of blogging and announcing and doing research and, in particular, helping Metanomics
expand to cover more of the research that is going on in Virtual Worlds, particularly with an
economics and behavioral economics focus.
Second, also in the front row, I would like to introduce Yxes Delacroix. Yxes has been the
producer of the very well-received and well-known Paisley Beebe’s Tonight Live show, also
broadcast on Second LifeCN, and she is now, I’m glad to announce, going to be my
producer for Metanomics.
And we have a number of changes that we have in the works we’ve been talking over the
recent days. A couple that many of our listeners know about are, first, that we have
transcripts. There will be transcripts coming out from past shows, and there will be
additional transcripts with roughly 24-hour turnaround on the new shows, which should
make it easier for bloggers and researchers and other people interested in Virtual Worlds to
follow what goes on here.
We are delighted to bring you Metanomics today from JenzZa Misfit, Muse Isle, which is an
art and live music island in Second Life established in April of 2006. It's the home of
RDV Animations, which is the creator of Rendezvous, an avatar animation and motion
vehicle that actually allows avatars to walk, fly and swim together. So you can swing by here
when you get a chance to try the demo here on Muse Isle.
Also we have a huge event coming up here on Muse Isle on Saturday, January 26th, 2 PM
Second Life time, for Alanagh Recreant and Virtual Africa. They're launching the newly
animated African bicycle. So be sure to check the event listings for details and special
thanks to JenzZa Misfit from Muse Isle for letting us have our Metanomics sessions here.
And now, with that out of the way, I would like to move on to our topic of the day: Federal
Agencies in Virtual Worlds.
We have on our panel with us today two people who are representing multiple federal
agencies. First I would like to introduce Paulette Robinson, who is the assistant dean for
teaching, learning and technology at the National Defense University which, as I understand
it, is the premier graduate level university for federal employees, particularly in Defense, so
the highest levels of officers and the highest levels of security clearance.
I would also like to introduce Erika Vick, who works at NASA headquarters in
Washington, D.C., and is a program specialist in communications planning. And then finally
we have with us, in the middle, unmistakable with her wings and patented outfit, we have
Aimee Weber, who is a professional Second Life content creator and the author of Creating
Your World, the Official Guide to Advanced Content Creation of Second Life. And she has
worked with federal agencies and particularly the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration on their island in Second Life and also has other work coming up that we will
hear about. So thank you to all of my panelists for joining us on this session of Metanomics.
BEYERS: I would like to start our discussion with Erika Vick. Erika, welcome to the show.
ERIKA: Thanks, Beyers.
BEYERS: Okay. So Erika, you’ve been working with NASA for quite a while in Second Life
and what I’m going to do now is I’m going to ask Second LifeCN to start a video feed that
they have. I know they have some graphics, a movie that I believe was produced by NASA,
and this will be showing in the background while we talk so those of you who are in the
audience can get some cool visuals while we discuss what NASA is doing. So can you just
give me a general sense, Erika, of what NASA is looking for in Second Life and also why
you are involved with this effort?
ERIKA: Well, there are a number of different interests, actually, that NASA has, and let me
first say that our participation in Second Life is still pretty fledgling, if you ask me. Because,
as an agency, we’ve got ten centers across the country and, really, we’ve just got a handful
of people and not representing all of the centers in Second Life. But basically we are
definitely interested in it for educational purposes. Caledonia Heron has been getting into
Teen Second Life. We also have an educator resource center, which is a duplicate of
something that each of the NASA centers have on our Space CoLab sim. So education is
For my purposes, I’m looking at it for outreach and engagement. NASA, we did some
market research just recently, which is a pretty unique thing for a federal agency to do, but
what we realized was that while, in general, people support NASA, they don’t really know
what we do and what I find in Second Life is, it’s a way to explain what we do and have fun
at the same time.
So there is another purpose, particularly that the Space CoLab group has, and that is to
leverage resources out there, companies that are interested in doing real live NASA work.
And this is a way to open up the dialogue with them to talk about what we’re doing and see
how they might be able to fit in with that, and, in fact, with the CoLab group we have a
weekly meeting in Second Life.
BEYERS: So Erika, can you talk a little bit, just expand on that a bit so when you say “real
NASA work,” you’re actually talking about getting inside Second Life, talking about technical
issues on NASA activities?
ERIKA: That’s the idea. Space CoLab has been around--I guess that sim has been around
for about a year now. They’re using other platforms, also, to engage this community, for
example. And the CoLab group is actually initiated by the Ames Research Center, which is
in the heart of Silicon Valley and, in fact, there is a Virtual Worlds conference that Ames is
putting on towards the end of the month, so it’s not just Second Life that is being used to
engage. It is one of the ways--and in fact that’s what you are seeing on the screen just now
was one of our weekly meeting with those folks. Anyone is welcome to join. I mean we’re
not to the point yet where we’re having--it’s not to the technical level yet. Like I said I feel
like NASA’s presence in Second Life is pretty fledgling, but definitely growing by leaps and
BEYERS: So can I ask you a little bit about the budget that you have? Was this something
you had to get approved at higher levels, or is this a small enough effort that you have a
small petty cash or discretionary fund to make this happen?
ERIKA: Well, as I mentioned, there are different [AUDIO GLITCH] groups that are in
Second Life, and I personally don’t have a budget for this. I started hearing about what the
CoLab group was doing. I tend to like the computer thing and sort of got into this on my
own. There are two or three groups, actually. I would say that Ames Research Center, as I
mentioned, out in California, they did buy the CoLab sim. Also, the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory bought the Explorer Island sim. I really couldn’t speak too much about their
budgets. I would say that it’s happening, but it’s happening slowly. If NASA were in Second
Life to the extent that I would like for us to be, there would be budgets in many places but,
as a federal agency, we have a lot of priorities that, unfortunately, this hasn’t been viewed
as one of them yet.
BEYERS: Yeah. Well, I guess that’s a problem that I know we’ve talked about many times
on Metanomics shows with for-profit organizations, which is that they--once someone like
you gets an idea that it would be interesting to use a virtual world for some purpose, then
they have to walk up the ladder, go up to the higher-level executives who want to see the
return on investment and so on. Are there plans at this point to put forward proposals
through NASA to the higher levels for significant budgets, or is that more of a wait-and-see?
ERIKA: Not from my standpoint, not yet. NASA turns 50 next year, and so for my office the
big push is basically doing special things around the 50th anniversary. And so I did actually
propose using Second Life as a way to get that message out, but unfortunately it was such
a new thing at the time and the people that I work with just their eyes glazed over when they
looked at Second Life. But I do think that this is growing.
Paulette reminded me just a little bit ago we have a solicitation that just went out from our
Innovative Partnership Program in conjunction with the Office of Education for a request for
information, an RFI, to the industry to talk about developing a multi-million player game
around NASA missions. But, again, that’s just at the request for information stage. So it’s
coming. It’s not proven technology yet.
Something that my management asked me to start doing is showing them metrics.
Obviously it’s so easy to say this is such a great idea, but until you can say well, we’re
reaching our target audiences, here’s the response, that kind of thing, that’s going to take
BEYERS: And so I have to say that sounds very much like what we hear from the for-profit
sector, which is they want to see the metrics, they want to know how many people they can
reach. And that can be a very hard sell at this point in Virtual Worlds as soon as you get out
of the gaming Goliaths.
Let’s move on. You mentioned Paulette, and so let’s bring Paulette into the discussion. Hi,
BEYERS: Hi. So welcome to Metanomics, Paulette Robinson, and you are representing
two different organizations. The first one is the National Defense University. Can you just
first talk a little bit about who NDU is and then what your role is there and what brings you
into Second Life?
PAULETTE: Sure. I’m the assistant dean for teaching Learning and Technology. I work with
a college [within?] the National Defense University called the Information Resources
Management College. The National Defense University is the premier [joint professional
military?] education institution for high-ranking officers. So it’s for majors and above. It’s also
for federal government employees, GS13 and above, which is like senior level managers.
So they come to our college, in particular to learn about information management,
information technology management.
And in that role I am always looking for new and different ways to communicate, but also
what is happening in the public that managers need to know, not only for their employees,
but to better communicate with the public. So pretty much how we got involved.
BEYERS: And can you talk a little bit about your specific investments?
PAULETTE: We have purchased an island. [AUDIO GLITCH] and it got awarded so we’re
now in development of the island. It’s closed at the moment. We’re creating a welcome
center, a conference center that can be used by other members of the government.
And also a crisis center, like a command and control where lots of information can be
mimicked and where we hope to do some type of simulation in that environment. Really
simplistic at first. The Second Life environment limits what we can do in terms of multiple
video [feeds?] and that type of thing, so that’s sort of a disadvantage for us. But that island
will be done by the end of March. We’re looking at possibly creating a government center,
which would be, to begin with, four islands with an auditorium that could seat or a _____
that could seat up to 240. So one of the things we’re hoping to do. We’re writing a proposal
now for our director. So that’s kind of where we’ve been going.
BEYERS: Now that large amphitheater, are you saying that’s going to be in Second Life?
PAULETTE: Yes, what we’re hoping to do. We’re meeting with our director at the end of the
week so it would allow government a space where they can have larger meetings. We had a
November meeting of the federal consortium, and we mapped out two or three different
places where it would be broadcast in Second Life, so it became clear to us there wasn’t a
large meeting space large enough for us to be able to effectively permit people who wanted
to come up.
BEYERS: That’s a problem naturally that all the popular groups in Second Life have, and
we have attempted to solve it in Metanomics by having a number of islands or sims in
Second Life all receiving a video stream from, in this case, Muse Isle, where we are today.
And so that helps us a little bit. I don’t know, we probably have somewhere around 50
people in here right now and already pushing the limits.
So Paulette, you also are representing another group, which is the Federal Consortium for
Virtual Worlds. Can you tell us a little bit about that organization?
PAULETTE: Yes. When I first was getting interested in Virtual Worlds and the possibilities
for our college and for the federal government, I met Eric Hackathorn from NOAA. I asked
him, “Well, is there any federal organization that is working with us, because there’s several
issues we have to confront in the federal government to even use Second Life Virtual
Worlds?” And he said, “No.” I said, “Well, I think I’m going to start one.”
So with his help, and several other people, we called an ad hoc meeting together in July, to
see if people were interested in getting together [AUDIO GLITCH] a week, and we had ten
people in a meeting. I mean, no, 40 people in a meeting from about ten different agencies.
And so we decided to do a conference.
My director of our college supported the effort with people in personnel, because there’s
funding for this effort, and we had a conference in November. And we were shocked at the
number of people who were there. We had to close off the [in persona?] registration at
[135?]. Altogether, we [AUDIO GLITCH] almost 500, really, in the conference. We did a live
stream into several islands. NOAA was packed and so [NPL?], and so we discovered that
it’s really popular.
In April we’re having a [AUDIO GLITCH] virtual [vexo?], and we’re expecting close to 350 in
person, and we’re hoping to have as much or more in Second Life. So it’s [coming into
play?]. We’re really working on finding best practices, finding common ways to use
acquisitions within the federal government for Virtual Worlds. It’s not just exclusive to
Second Life. We’re looking at other Virtual Worlds. We’re looking at ways to work with
developers, what policies _____ in place, security issues, all those types of things that the
federal government--anyone working in these agencies if you’re trying to battle [AUDIO
GLITCH] find that it’s difficult.
So for example when Erika was saying how do you [get?] higher levels of government
involved in things like virtual _____ in Second Life? It comes from us banding together at
the levels of interest and finding ways to have more of a [AUDIO GLITCH] to get things
pushed through. So that's sort of what the federal consortium’s about.
BEYERS: Mm-hmm. Okay. So I have a couple questions regarding challenges that I would
think Virtual Worlds, and particularly Second Life, would present to federal agencies. The
first one deals with security and privacy. One of the things that most long-term residents of
Second Life know is that, in fact, nothing is really private. Data is stored on Second Life
servers, and even chats between residents can be captured either by parties to those chats
or by someone who has some technological method of getting in the way of that information
and capturing it. So wouldn’t that present a serious limit to what federal agencies could do in
Second Life if they knew they had basically no privacy and no security?
PAULETTE: Probably one of the biggest issues is security. Also identity and privacy for a
variety of reasons. How do we know who represents [the person that? [AUDIO GLITCH]
they represent? So that type of, not only privacy, but identity information is critical. At the
moment, the federal government’s using Second Life in a couple of ways. One is for [AUDIO
GLITCH] information for [AUDIO GLITCH] so that’s a common [AUDIO GLITCH] and isn’t
that threatening. It is on the end of national security in two ways. If we think about the first
one, it is protecting the citizens and their identity and privacy. But the second piece is the
security of bringing things into our network, and there is a problem in Second Life in that
case as well. Until we can bring Virtual Worlds behind a firewall, there are a couple of
[enterprise?] Virtual Worlds that are a little more secure than [AUDIO GLITCH] in all of
Then doing citizen services and meeting with individual citizens becomes problematic,
especially when it has to do with--I know the CDC has been looking at how they could use
Second Life and bringing patients in or talking to them becomes problematic because of
The other thing that the federal government’s looking on using these worlds for is meeting
places, and there is a certain amount of information that [when they’re there?] in terms of if
there’s something that is just internal in terms of the meeting and that isn’t public
information, then that would be problematic as well.
There’s several kind of layers to this. One of the solutions that I think is going to happen is
having some of these behind the firewalls and particular ways of inviting into space that are
safe. For example, IBM is using Active Worlds for some of their meeting space, so they’re
protecting it with authentication and some layers of security. I think the government’s going
to have to go in that direction as well.
BEYERS: Okay. Let’s see. I have some requests from the audience to see if we can
possibly clean up the sound a little bit from Paulette. So I don’t know if any producers are
out there and maybe can IM with Paulette back and forth a bit to see if that can be cleaned
up. And while you sort that out, actually, I’d like to turn to our third panelist, Aimee Weber.
Aimee, welcome to Metanomics.
AIMEE: Yeah. It’s a pleasure to be here.
BEYERS: Well, we’re delighted to have you on the show in your iconic avatar, and I guess I
have to ask you before we jump to the information actually relevant to this show, I
understand that you have secured some legal rights for your avatar. Can you just tell us a
little about that?
AIMEE: Sure, I’ve actually gone ahead and trademarked my avatar. I mean I suppose it’s a
girl. It does have its downsides in that you can’t change your clothes as often, or your looks.
BEYERS: So you have to have an alt if you decide you want to wear that black pantsuit or
AIMEE: Yes, I suppose so. I do have Aimee Wheeler(?) out there, special occasion.
BEYERS: Okay. And so basically this is part of your business model in that this avatar of
yours is certainly very well known. It’s on your book. It’s on your Web site, and you’re using
your actual avatar as a branding tool.
AIMEE: Absolutely. I think Aimee, at this point, has become recognizable, and that’s really
my goal, in terms of having her out there and letting her promote our business. Although it’s
a very fine line between her and I. I supposed you really are one.
BEYERS: Yeah, we don’t have enough philosophers and sociologists on the panel today
really to talk about that. We’ll have to put that one off.
Now, you have done already a fair bit of government work, and I see, actually, the video
stream is already up. I believe we have a camera crew right now live on the island that you
created for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the island is,
what, Meteora? And so I guess while you’re talking we’ll be able to see a bit of what is going
on in that island. Can you just tell us--I mean you’ve done a lot of work for for-profits. You’ve
done a lot of work for not-for-profits.
AIMEE: Oh, you dropped out after “just tell us.”
BEYERS: Oh, okay. You have done a lot of work for for-profits and for not-for-profits as
well. Can you talk a little bit about what the difference is in working for the federal
government on a sim like Meteora?
AIMEE: I think some of the bigger differences between working for for-profits and
not-for-profits--in this case the government--is in some ways a level of bureaucracy that you
don’t find in a lot of even larger corporations. One way to look at it is there’s actually
definitely a procedure and a process that you have to go through to really be in government
work. And the thing with government is it’s not always a clear process. I’m not arguing that
for-profit businesses have the clear processes in all cases. But particularly with the
government there’s not a little “how to” handout saying, “Go here, and enter into the
contractor database and follow steps one through nine, and you’re all set.” I mean it’s really
something that, if you’ve not done it before, you have to go through and figure it out. I think
there’s actually a lot of workshops out there that really address this in a larger business
sense, not necessarily specific to Second Life, but almost all the same procedures really
And I think the difference in working in a for-profit world is just once you’re set up as a legal
entity or as a sole proprietor, there are less procedural steps that you have to engage in to,
say, get to some point where you sign a contract. Which, in a business sense, is really
where you want to be.
BEYERS: Now, you had to get certified to work for NOAA?
AIMEE: Well, I didn’t have to get certified. One thing we are working on right now is getting
our 8(a) certification. But beyond that, you have to be entered in certain databases to work
with federal agencies. You have to go through certain processes. For example, you have to
get something called a DUNS number.
Again, none of these are really hard things to do; it’s just there’s not a clear list of these are
the things you have to do. And it ends up just taking time.
BEYERS: Now how big is your operation? It’s called Aimee Weber Studios?
AIMEE: Yes, Aimee Weber Studios. And it’s actually including contractors, about 30 or so
people. I mean we have three salaried employees, right, and a very steady roster of
contractors. So that’s about the size of it. We also have, of course, the accounting side, the
legal side, and those are sort of necessary things, also, when you’re dealing with the
government. And especially if you’re dealing with a federal agency, there’s certain hourly
reporting requirements on a weekly basis.
BEYERS: And this is just a silly little detail, but I have to ask. So you take on a government
contract, you hire people within the world to build and develop and so on. Are you allowed to
pay people in Lindens?
AIMEE: I suppose I could pay people really however I wanted. Everyone so far has wanted
to be paid in U.S. dollars so I haven’t actually run into that. But, as an entity, the government
pays Aimee Weber Studio and then the contractors can bill us and say, “This is the kind of
payment I want.” And I think as long as we’re reporting it all to the IRS that government
probably won’t mind.
BEYERS: I know different agencies work in different ways, but cost-plus used to be
certainly very common. You know, cost-plus with a cap also is not uncommon. Is that the
type of--did you have one of those types of contracts?
AIMEE: Well, no, I didn’t have that exactly. We certainly were giving them a discount from
our commercial rate, but it wasn’t necessarily a cost-plus contract. We do have another one
in the works where that is the case, though.
BEYERS: The other side of this--we talked a bit with Paulette and Erika about their side of
trying to find funding and in making the pitch. And then there’s also your side of going to a
federal agency and making a pitch that this is something that’s worth doing. Do you have
any advice for people trying to persuade federal agencies that this is a reasonable way to
AIMEE: Sure. I guess a couple pieces of advice. One, you want to look for interested
people within those agencies. That again is a little bit like other businesses. If you don’t
have an internal champion, then your project’s really not going to go anywhere. And of
course, ideally, the higher up that person is the more power they have. But even if you can
get someone in there to just talk about your project and be completely onboard and be
cheerleading for you the whole way that really helps.
And in another sense you can go at this from a different angle. You can go look at
technically for-profit corporations that do a large chunk of government work, and you can go
through the same process there, getting someone in that organization onboard with the
idea. In many places there’s different areas. Sometimes the technical department is open to
it, sometimes the media public relations department is open to it. I mean there’s different
angles and different ways you can approach it.
BEYERS: Actually there are a number of questions now that are coming in from the
backchat of Metanomics’ chat channel. And those you, by the way, listening, if you haven’t
already, please do join the Metanomics group so you can pay attention to the chat that goes
on across the sims as the event is continuing. The first question comes from Fleep Tuque,
and this is for Paulette, and the question is, “You mentioned the variety of government
agencies who were involved with the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds. Is the
Department of Education involved in this?”
PAULETTE: So far we do not have anybody from the Department of Education that I know
of involved in this. We have people from over 100 hundred organizations, but I don’t
remember seeing anyone from the Department of Education involved.
BEYERS: Paulette, is there anything that you can see that sort of connects the groups that
are involved? So far, when I think of it, it seems like a lot of defense and technology, you
know, between NASA, CDC, NOAA and NDU. It seems like I see a common thread there. Is
that just coincidence? Is it a lot more broad than that?
PAULETTE: It’s much broader than that. The State Department was working with
negotiations and has been doing some things with USC in their Graduate School of Public
Administration. The Department of Homeland Security is interested in doing--there’s quite a
bit of EMS training and simulations that’s taking place in Second Life and more broadly in
Virtual Worlds, so I would say there’s a training element that you probably wouldn’t see as
common, but I think that’s growing.
I think what’s going to happen is there’s quite a few librarians that are interested in Second
Life. NIH has a group of librarians that are interested there. The Library of Congress is also
really interested. So there’s a whole group of a variety of agencies that are looking into this
so I would not say it’s just the technology ones.
BEYERS: And you mentioned that you were looking at worlds other than just Second Life.
Would you say that Second Life still is sort of the number one direction to go? Or do you see
other worlds? Particularly, I know Active Worlds has a much thinner client, and Forterra
allows secure servers that you control, and those would seem to be two natural directions
for federal agencies to go.
PAULETTE: At the moment we are investigating, in addition to Second Life, Active Worlds
Forterra. And then the National Guard has paraded its own virtual world that government
can use for free, and it’s going across the nation to local and state governments to use for
We’re interested in Active Worlds because it’s _____ client as you mentioned. You can get it
behind the firewall, and so we can work on security. It can be transmitted to telephones and
mobile devices. IBM’s working on transmitting it to telephones. We’re interested in putting
these in mobile devices. So that one is particularly of interest. We had one of our professors
who did their dissertation modeling in Active World, so there’s a natural champion.
We have a partnership with Forterra. We’re more particularly interested in Forterra because
they’re going through the new standards of accreditation and certification so we’re more
interested in them in terms of using them for security. We’ll probably specialize our focus on
doing simulations in that environment.
But we’re always looking at different worlds. We find [Quack?] pretty interesting because of
its ability to be able to edit and work with all the Word documents while you’re in a virtual
world. That’s pretty nice. So that has a Croquet platform. And we’re always investigating
different ones. I just saw a Beta version come out on Small Worlds, which might be of
interest as well. So we’re trying to find and balance ways that make sense for the federal
Our concern was with Second Life--I mean the advantage is there’s a lot of people in it and,
if we want to give resources to the public and want to broadly connect, Second Life at the
moment, is the best one. There is also a possibility--
BEYERS: Yeah. There is a followup question from Rik Riel. “Is there any interest among
these agencies in using Teen Second Life or other youth-oriented Virtual Worlds, like, I
PAULETTE: My guess that there will be in terms of education. For example, if you go into
the NOAA site, it’s predominantly an educational site and could be very easily modeled
somewhere else for education. And [NASA?] had some great stuff that’s in many ways
based as an educational site, so it makes sense. I know that the NASA--RFI that Erika was
talking about earlier is really thinking about multi-player games for younger people to get
interested in doing some engineering and that type of thing and being interested in working
at NASA and other federal agencies. So I think that it’s very possible.
The federal government--at the moment there’s only a handful that are involved in Virtual
Worlds or Second Life in terms of educating the public. So this is just sort of a beginning
movement. The Federal Consortium has really been set up to try to bridge the development
of that, and I think that’s sort of--we’re all in our infancy in terms of this. We see a value in it,
but how that’s going to play out is waiting for the technology to pretty much shake out, in
terms of standards and inter-operability, that type of thing.
BEYERS: Let me, if I may, ask a couple more international questions. We have
Sequoia Hax, who is asking, “Do you foresee federal agencies using Second Life or Virtual
Worlds, not only for offering services to your own U.S. constituents, but for communicating
with agencies from other countries, basically, diplomatic purposes?”
And then there’s followup questions from Malburns Writer, which are, “Are the federal
agencies working on the assumption that Second Life is U.S. territory? Or is that relevant to
the way you’re viewing this, or do you view it as sort of a foreign land?”
PAULETTE: Well, I think if you talk to high-level administrators, I think you would think
Virtual Worlds in Second Life is a foreign land. I think they’re stunned. I think Erika kind of
captured that in her comments. I don’t think any of the foreign [agencies?] that we’ve been
talking to even consider it U.S. soil or U.S. ownership in that sense.
We have on our working committee and planning committee a Canadian from the Canadian
Defense Academy that’s been doing a lot of work with us. He hosted the online version of
the conference when we were doing the streaming. He was posing questions and doing a
variety of things in Second Life. He’s in charge of international panels, so in April we will
have [AUDIO GLITCH]. The Swedish Embassy’s going to be there, the Canadians are going
to be there, Estonia, who’s just put up an embassy, is going to be there, and the UK. So
we’re going to have a panel that’s going to be actually hosted inside a Second Life and
broadcasted out to the conference, which is real exciting.
So we welcome having international participation in the Consortium. I think it’s a logical
thing. I think we all have, as governments, run into some of the similar problems so I think it
would be great.
BEYERS: Oh, that’s very interesting and exciting stuff that you have going on. I have
another question from Fleep Tuque, which I guess is maybe for all of the panelists, which is,
“What are the best arguments--and this echoes a question I asked before. What are the
challenges, I guess, in trying to get people in the federal agencies to actually be willing to
put money into these projects and get involved? And what are the best arguments to try to
win them over?”
Anyone want to--Erika, you have been pretty closely involved in NASA’s efforts. Do you
want to talk about that a little bit, again, how you sort of make this sell?
ERIKA: I guess what I would say I mentioned that I initially proposed conducting part of the
NASA 50th celebration doing things in Second Life, and at that time--let’s see, this would
have been--let’s say it was in the spring of last year. And at that time, my boss basically left
the presentation and nothing more was heard. But those of us that are getting involved in
the virtual world environment, you know, we have a passion for it. [INTERRUPTION] Sorry.
BEYERS: Oh, that’s okay.
ERIKA: And, because of that, I think even if we have not gotten official approval
necessarily, we’ve continued to pursue the environment and as I mentioned, now we’ve got
this RFI out there to solicit information from industry about creating a virtual world game
around NASA missions.
So I guess what I’m saying is it’s gaining momentum, and you just kind of have to be
patient. I think one of the best arguments that I can think of for it is NASA will go to a
number of conferences. One thing that we have been criticized for is just talking to
ourselves. So you spend all this money, you go to this one location; it depends on who can
actually travel there or who’s there at the time.
Well, with Second Life, I mean, as Paulette mentioned, you’ve got, I think, on average
somewhere around 40,000 avatars on at any one time, and the exhibit is there 24/7. You’re
not taking it on the road, packing it up. So that, to me, is very important. I think that there’s a
tremendous cost savings. I think that if we can get our arms around the metrics again and
build up our presence in Second Life, that we’ll be able to tell that story.
PAULETTE: I second what she has to say. I also think that, as Second Life and Virtual
Worlds become more ubiquitous or the common space, I think 3D and Virtual Worlds are
going to be the next version of the big change in versions of the Internet, where they
become a portal.
We are hiring in the federal government workers that are expecting to be connected in
various ways to collaborate. As a global our government is becoming across the United
States and global--I’m in the Department of Defense--and so being able to communicate
across boundaries in ways that there’s a sense of presence besides just typing, which is
another real important aspect of team-building and getting to know things besides the power
of the modeling. So I think all of those are really good selling points for it.
I know that as the Federal Consortium has gotten more of that exposure, more people from
agencies at a higher level are either coming themselves, or sending people to explore. So I
think it’s exposure. I think the government, at the higher levels or the strategic levels, once
they're exposed and see that it has some viability.
I agree about the metrics, but I also think it’s really popular perceptions. And so I think that
argument can be made by the Consortium and also by just exposure in the press in different
ways. They can say, “Oh, well, I don’t want to be left behind. Now I can see the value of
I do think security’s going to continue to be a problem. Most networks within the federal
government do not open their ports to Second Life. We happen to have a laboratory where
we can go to that’s outside of our network that I can go to Second Life, so we have to find a
more secure solution before there’s very large buy-ins so federal workers can actually go
into Second Life from their desks. I mean that’s sort of a basic issue that’s a problem at the
BEYERS: Well, that may go part way toward answering a question that I just saw in the
backchat from Hooligan Dollinger, which says, “Beyers, they’ve talked about a lot of
initiatives, but what are their top three objectives for the next six to 12 months?”
So just to follow up on that, would you say that one of your top objectives in the next six to
12 months is to deal with the sort of firewall access issues in federal agencies?
PAULETTE: Absolutely. I mean that’s one of the main reasons I got the Consortium
together was to create policies and not have to reinvent the wheel. If you find a solution in
one place then you can use that solution across the federal government if you have the right
kind of network of people. So security is still a problem.
I know we have an information assurance department in our college, and they put an avatar
out in a space in Second Life and got hacked. So there’s some real concerns in terms of
finding things behind the firewall and still be able to be connected. I think what’ll go a long
ways is having standards across Virtual Worlds and inter-operability. For us, then, for the
next use of six to 12 months--it’s really we’re still in a very strategic organizational phase.
Putting the [AUDIO GLITCH] together with the right organizations and across networking.
I think procedures for acquisition is a real issue for all of us. Rather than reinventing the
wheel and [AUDIO GLITCH] agencies where our contracting officers have no idea what a
virtual world is. I remember our business officer saying, “What do you mean you want to buy
an island?” So I think that’s an educational process.
BEYERS: This sounds like you’re ready to retire.
PAULETTE: It’s just getting things through in the federal government; it moves at a slow
pace. I mean it’s for the protection of the citizens at one level, but for doing innovation and
creativity can be a challenge, let’s just say. I’m sure Erika can comment on that one.
ERIKA: Oh, yes.
BEYERS: So Erika, would you like to add to sort of your top priorities for the next six to 12
ERIKA: Well, like I said with the whole 50th anniversary campaign right now, I can only
watch and admire the folks who have managed to take Second Life as far as they have, like
I said, with Explorer Island and with Space CoLab and the Cylans(?) Group. So I’m learning
what I can, but I can’t totally direct it.
I guess I’m hoping that we will have an opportunity to actually do two weeks’ worth of
showcasing NASA in the Second Life this summer, and I can’t really talk about that. But the
video that you showed earlier--I want to recognize Earth Primbee who’s here because he’s
the videographer. When you talk about getting volunteer work he exemplifies that because
he is not a NASA employee or a NASA contractor, but he’s working with me to find a way to
tell the NASA stories, and I think what we might do to show how we’ve got things that
simulate that in Second Life, that you can have that experience. What I’m hoping we’ll do
with that will be maybe to create a hub kind of thing. For each one of these videos we talk
about lunar exploration or going to Mars, space science, earth science. Obviously, Aimee
has worked with Erika on the Meteora and NOAA, and earth science is one of the key
missions that we’ve got. So right now what I’m doing is pretty much trying to get my arms
around what’s already out there and putting it together in a cohesive story that’s logical to
follow, etcetera. Sorry. I can go on and on about this, but that’s my personal goal.
BEYERS: Yeah. Well, thank you. And you’re right, we are nearing the end of our time. I
have one question, and then I’d just love to hear each of you give sort of your closing
comments on where you expect to be in a year. But my question is this, and this is
something that, as an academic who wants to use Second Life for both instruction and
research, and also I’m dealing a lot with the business community.
One of the things that has come up quite a bit is what I’m starting to think of as the game
taint that Virtual Worlds have, that basically they sprung from a history of Dungeons and
Dragons in college dorm rooms. And most Virtual Worlds that people know about are
games, and so it can be very difficult to sell the serious aspect of instruction, of research, or
of business use with this thought in everyone’s mind that it’s really just a place for games.
And then in particular I’d like to point out that not all of the publicity that Second Life has
gotten has been favorable over the last couple years. There are stories in the Wall Street
Journal that it’s a place for people to have affairs with--and married people--other than their
wife; there are banking scandals and so on. So I’m wondering to what extent that poses a
challenge to federal agencies that you have to overcome that hurdle.
PAULETTE: Well, I think the people that are working Federal Consortium, which are all
levels of agencies, are real interested in seeing what these Virtual Worlds can be used the
best for in terms of the citizens who the federal government serves. I haven’t done a lot of
the gaming [AUDIO GLITCH], but then I pretty much leave the discussion so I think that has
something to do with it.
I do think there’s been enough about from IBM about meeting spaces, that type of thing, so
there’s some positive views of the virtual spaces. I know in education we actually want to
put role playing and gaming and simulations into the space. I personally see it as one of the
ways to enrich distributed learning. So that’s one of my biggest interests, since I’m
interested in teaching and learning, is to take these environments and making them
wonderful teaching environments. That has to be with not only simulating the environment at
a basic level but actually role playing and catching metrics from the back end in terms of
how people interact, filming them so they can look back on it. I mean [AUDIO GLITCH]
things I think this can do, and so I wouldn’t rule out gaming, but thinking of gaming in a
positive way in these environments with a very collaborative and interactive component. But
I haven’t really heard a lot about, “Oh, these are games so we can’t [invest?] in them.” I
think they see the world as collaborative spaces; at least that’s been my take. I don’t know if
Erika has a different experience, but mine’s been pretty positive, in terms of seeing this as a
really interesting, collaborative space.
BEYERS: Universa, would you like to weigh in on that?
UNIVERSA: Well, my own experience, like I said, is just that it seems to me that, for the
most part, the people that I work with are not really that familiar with Virtual Worlds yet to
even pick up on the negative publicity. So far it seems to be--I mean just their raised
awareness has been positive. And we get positive feedback from others that are affirming
this basically, reinforcing this so, so far, so good. I don’t think that’s our hurdle really. I think
that’s just really time, awareness and resources.
PAULETTE: I agree.
BEYERS: Okay. Great. So we’re basically at the end of our time here, and I’m wondering if
there are any closing comments that any of the panelists would like to make.
PAULETTE: I would like to encourage people to go to the Federal Consortium Web site and
look at what we’re doing. We’re looking at this as a partnership between government and
outside vendors and the public. And so we find it interesting to have a variety of
participation. I think the federal government will move toward Virtual Worlds, but slowly and
cautiously. I think when the security issues and inter-operability issues are more stabilized, I
think you’ll see more agencies really jumping onboard, because I think it’s an incredibly
I’ve been meeting with all sorts of agencies since July and have been amazed at the
excitement there is across all these agencies on what the possibilities are, so it will only
grow. But there’s certain problems that have to be addressed, to secure the public and
database information and just the mission of the government. I think it’s all going to all work
together. And so we’re just taking baby steps [AUDIO GLITCH], “What can we use this for in
the government to serve our citizens?” I think that would be--at the end, that’s the big
question, and that’s what we’re trying to address.
BEYERS: Thank you, Paulette. Aimee, any closing comments?
AIMEE: Love to regale you with some closing comments, but I’ve got to run out as I have a
3:00 meeting that I’ve been putting off. So I think I’d also like to say one of the biggest
things, really, is communication between the different organizations. And we have run into a
bit of a game taint, but I think what you really need to do is then just show them some of the
successful projects you’ve done and how there is an element of gaming, but that’s
oftentimes what draws the user in, if your goal is public outreach. So I guess that’s my
closing comment here.
BEYERS: Okay. Well, thank you, Aimee, for sticking around as long as you did. We really
appreciate your being here.
AIMEE: Thank all of you for your time.
BEYERS: Okay. And, let’s see. Erika, do you have any other closing comments you’d like
ERIKA: I’d like to thank you very much for this opportunity, first of all. And let’s see, what
kind of plugs can I put? We’ve got two groups: Welcome to NASA. If you’re interested in
following what we’re doing, that’s a great group to join. Also, the Space CoLab.
And I guess the other thing that I’d like to say is to really thank Paulette so much again. I
attended the Virtual Worlds Consortium meeting in November, and what she is doing by
forming that Consortium is really lending credibility to this effort. And so we’re looking
forward to the one coming up in April. I don’t know that she mentioned that they’re forming a
number of working groups to address things like security and all of these issues that federal
agencies have to worry about, but just really appreciate the work that her organization is
doing and think that that’s going to take us a long way.
BEYERS: Okay. Well, thank you, Erika Vick from NASA for coming on to our show. Thank
you, Paulette Robinson from National Defense University and the creator of the Federal
Consortium for Virtual Worlds. Thank you, Aimee Weber from Aimee Weber Studios, for
joining us on Metanomics.
We had a great session today. Good discussions and questions, and also a great backchat,
which I will make sure to copy and paste and get up online or have one of the new people
associated with Metanomics work with me on that. So thanks, everyone.
Next week we are going to have a new session of Metanomics, and I will be passing along
details on that and our remaining schedule for February and March as well. Thank you very
much. Bye Bye.
ERIKA: Thank you. Bye.
[END OF AUDIO]
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life avatar: Transcription Writer