A Real Government Goes Virtual

Washington Post

Source: Washington Post

O Brave New World That Has Such Avatars in It! That’s the title of a Sunday article in The Washington Post by Michael Laris, in which he describes the efforts of the Arlington County (Virginia) government to create a presence in Second Life.  Here’s the basic idea:

Curious executives can swing by to gather market research aimed at luring grocery chains to Arlington. County officials can conduct presentations on an interactive white board as they promote the region to corporate prospects. And later this month, anyone interested will be able to join a confab on how to launch a business in Arlington.

Apparently, the Washington area has become a hotbed activity for virtual worlds:

The Bethesda-based National Library of Medicine, for instance, has created in Second Life a potentially noxious world of everyday health hazards called Tox Town, where clicking on a tower in a dusty construction site produces a list of the chemical properties of neighborhood runoff.

At the University of the District of Columbia, criminal justice students practice investigations and patrols and deal with such imaginary perp behavior as the attempted theft of Professor Angelyn Flowers’s pink convertible.

Other designers have created in Second Life a virtual Capitol Hill, where plans are afoot for a white-tie inaugural ball Jan. 20. Instructions are forthcoming on how to find a good tux.

I admire this initiative by Arlington County and encourage other governments (local, county, State and Federal) to follow suit.  I see the following benefits:

  1. The world becomes flatter and smaller, as governments get closer to their constituents (and vice versa)
  2. Governments may be able to save costs (imagine that) by utilizing the online/virtual world to connect with residents, rather than connecting in person at physical locations
  3. Assuming a critical mass of audience within the virtual world (I know, we’re not yet there), governments can efficiently distribute information, in the form of updated rules/regulations/bylaws, government news.  Also, how about regular visits by the County Executive within the virtual world
  4. Residents/constituents will feel more connected to their government, which will spur increased involvement in the community

The man behind Arlington’s virtual presence if John Feather, who is volunteering his time to make it happen.  For me, the following quote from Feather hits home:

For Feather, helping nudge the county into Second Life has opened a creative spigot.

In November, he started working on a 3D map of Arlington’s major buildings. Touching images on the map calls up Web pages about them, and he and his colleagues want to add real-time rent data and detailed visuals from architects and developers so that “when you click on that building, you go in the door.”

Such technology will eclipse standard Web sites, including the county’s, Feather said. “You’ll start to walk around places instead of going to flat pages.”

I agree – web pages will increasingly have the same 3D and interactive elements found in virtual worlds.  Web 2.0 has been fun, but the next phase of the Internet is going to be Web 3D-dot-oh.

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