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Congress Goes Virtual in Online World Hearing

Mike Musgrove

A Linden Lab worker put on her nicest black suit and her most formal pair of wings this morning, to help run a Congressional subcomittee hearing about online virtual worlds that was broadcast simultaneously in the company's own virtual world, Second Life.

Okay, this might be a little confusing, but here goes: A virtual depiction of the Rayburn House Office Building meeting room was projected on television screens on the wall, so that real-world attendees could take a look at the small virtual crowd that logged on for the event. Attendees logging in from Second Life, meanwhile, could watch the proceedings in a video screen projected on the wall of the virtual room. The real-world guests included executives from Linden Lab, IBM and a tech firm that helps nonprofit organizations take advantage of virtual worlds.

Sen. Ed Markey's avatar. (Courtsey of Rep. Ed Markey's staff)

A self-admitted group of virtual-world newbies, the politicians, led by Rep. Ed Markey (D - Mass.), asked a wide-ranging group of questions. In an era where technologies can catch on and become mainstream quickly, the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet wanted to know some basics. Could Second Life be used as a place to launder money? Are children safe in online worlds? Are there churches in there? Are you making any money?

"We have never seen any evidence of such activity going on in Second Life," said Linden CEO Philip Rosedale, on the matter of whether criminals could use his company's online world as a place to launder money. Rosedale argued that Second Life is a self-policing community, and that users would likely be quick to report any online behavior that seemed to indicate users posed any real-world threats.

Second Life audience. (Courtsey of Rep. Ed Markey's staff)

As the politicians and the witnesses discussed the potentials of the online virtual world, the online visitors logged on in Second Life chatted away on the screen in conversations that ranged from the topic at hand and beyond:

"I think senators are superdelegates but not all reps."
"I love flip4mac."
"They should really move the x and the c away from each other on the keyboard." (this following a warning that the video might freeze for "just a sex.")

On the real-world end, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) probably got the best quips out, joking that some people already think Congress is a virtual world, and that Markey was throwing the event merely to learn how to get to the next level in World of Warcraft.

The invite-only event was a bit less chaotic than the time, a couple of years ago, when Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, made a Second Life appearance and virtual participants floated across the room, apparently unable to control their avatars.

By Mike Musgrove  |  April 1, 2008; 2:09 PM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Is this for real, or is it April Fool's? Please tell me it's April Fool's.

If it isn't, it's just another thing the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet has done to show it knows nothing about the internet.

Posted by: TheRaven7 | April 1, 2008 10:17 PM

You still have the company listed as LINDEN LABS in the article. If you can change the Error in the first sentence, why can't you change it other places.

Posted by: Alexa | April 2, 2008 11:53 AM

"The real-world guests included executives from Linden Labs"

it's Lab.

Posted by: Don Q. | April 2, 2008 11:54 AM

I think only the media and those that are unfamiliar with video games are the only ones that play/use this "game". Seriously, please stop acting like "Second Life" is the second coming, it isn't and it never will be.

Posted by: Ricky Cokely | April 2, 2008 2:15 PM

"I think only the media and those that are unfamiliar with video games are the only ones that play/use this "game". Seriously, please stop acting like "Second Life" is the second coming, it isn't and it never will be."

-- Please....tell that to the people that spends hundreds of thousands of real life money in Second Life's virtual world.

Posted by: Joe Momz | April 2, 2008 2:34 PM

you folks do realize that phillip stepped down as CEO recently, right?

Posted by: reddot99 | April 2, 2008 3:52 PM

Typical Congressional foolery. All show, absolutely no substance.

Posted by: ThickFaceBlackHeart | April 2, 2008 4:59 PM

Yes, like most public hearings, a lot of froth mixed in, but a good introduction for the public, since all of it was archived and can be seen at any time in the future. I'll also add that the government servers made the video of the hearings a fast download.

Also, a history making precedent was set on Tues, with an actual Congressional simulcast into a virtual world. Rep Markey's office has commented favorably on Members' reactions to the idea of future use of VWs (yes, to me that acronym still conjures up a car brand, but times change) for Congressional hearings and other activities.

-Paradox Olbers, SciEye columnist for SPNN, Spindrift island, the SciLands, Second Life

Posted by: Paradox Olbers | April 3, 2008 5:14 PM

Image caption says the avatar is for Sen. Ed Markey. Markey is actually not a senator, but a representative from the great city of Medford, Massachusetts.

Posted by: Ed Holden | April 4, 2008 10:14 AM

Where was the flying penis raid?!

Posted by: poopy | April 4, 2008 10:41 AM

The people spending "hundreds of thousands of real life money" are slowly beginning to realize that they're not about to see a return on their investment that makes any sense.
The hype following news coverage of one single entreprenuer who valued herself at more than a million dollars drove crowds to Second Life in search of that same virtual gold.
It's not there.
Businesses have been pulling out of Second Life quietly, marketing firms are no longer trumpeting it as "the next big thing", and the people so desperate to strike it rich in the virtual world are slowly realizing that it's a losing proposition.
The platform is rife with content theft, IP violations, and technical problems. The company itself has been notoriously slow to respond to complaints, and has a track record of poor customer service.
There is every reason to be excited about virtual worlds - they offer incredible opportunities for learning, sharing and creation.
But they're still in the process of being developed, and none of them really holds the promise of being the "future of the web".

Posted by: Archer | April 4, 2008 10:47 AM

Hey there is an error in your article. Under the first image the text says "Sen. Ed Markey's avatar." Ed Markey is a Representative not a Senator. Just wanted to point that out.

Posted by: Alvaro | April 7, 2008 11:24 PM

no way get out of may world i go online to escape the bs of congress and the goverment but since you stupid lazy sob want to come i give you the world your running away from by bugging me in mine
1.upgrade the US ENGERY GRID if you can can spend billions of dollar to go on line try helping you country and spend that 120 billion and by the way upgrade are internet connections the us internet blows.
2.fix are schools the way we are at war

Posted by: ROG | April 8, 2008 2:39 AM

on second thought dont do your job we elected you to do and run the country just play WOW all day and night now i know why the congress has not did a dam thing they said they would do when they took office they was to busy playing WOW and this second life game on line now they want to make laws to oversee are game play expiernce talk about the ( the game play experience might change during play) we got congress crawing up are anis to tell we cant nija loot anymore am sure nija looting is is a issue of national intrest.

Posted by: rog | April 8, 2008 2:47 AM

"... 2. fix are schools ..."
" ... congress has not did a dam thing ..."

I can't tell if this is incredibly well thought-out satirical wit or just blathering incompetence. Well, maybe I can.

Posted by: disbelief | April 9, 2008 11:52 AM

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