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Web 2.0: CDC invests in Second Life real estate

Reprinted from “Government Health IT”
BY Ben Bain
Published on Aug. 10, 2007

A virtual world where millions of beautiful, eternally young people with designer bodies fly from island to island seems more like a setting for a beer commercial than a place where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would put its money.

But CDC’s decision to purchase its own island in the virtual world of Second Life makes real-world sense, said John Anderton, an associate director of communications science at CDC. His Second Life avatar, Hygeia Philo, is an attractive woman inspired by Hygeia, the ancient Greek goddess of health.

“Avatars have the good fortune of being sort of eternally youthful and healthy, but each of those avatars is connected to a person and those people do have real health needs,” he said. “It’s people’s health CDC is interested in, and people are using different tools to access [health] information.”

The agency has already spent about $2,000 to buy and maintain the place — a significant increase from the $72 it spent on its former experimental space in Second Life. The island is located in an archipelago with another popular health destination, HealthInfo Island, where users can get information on a wide range of health issues. CDC officials hope to open the new island to the public this fall.

Some Second Life aficionados say the virtual-world format represents the future of how people will navigate the Internet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA already run popular islands in the virtual online world.

And although only time will tell whether Second Life becomes the preferred way to navigate the Web 2.0 world, researchers already know a lot about Second Life’s users. They tend to be about 30 years old, 57 percent are men, and many might be logging on from outside the United States. Therefore, CDC can reach a very broad audience through its new island, Anderton said.

“It’s delightfully broad in the types of targeting that you can use, but within that you can, of course, cater to certain niches,” he said. “I think most of the people participating in Second Life are still trying to figure out how to use it most successfully.”

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