U.S. House member gets Second Life

Representative delivers briefing in online world's new 'virtual House'

Congress entered another plane of existence Thursday as Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) logged into the virtual world of Second Life to brief a group of invitees on the top priorities of the new majority party in Congress.

Second Life is a virtual world, privately developed and hosted by Linden Lab Inc. It's estimated to have a population of over 2 million. "Residents" converse and interact with others in the space and are able to own, develop, buy and sell real estate and "material" goods, some extraordinarily elaborate, in the world's free-market economy.

Recently, a number of non-virtual companies ranging from Dell Computers to Toyota have begun doing business in Second Life. The world's economy operates on Linden Dollars, but curency exchanges allow users to purchase Linden Dollars with real-world currencies.

The new House of Representatives location on Second Life, including the virtual House chamber, launched with Miller's question-and-answer session Thursday. It will open Friday to the public. The location will include streaming video from the "first life" House, and congressional Democrats plan to host more events there. The virtual House chamber stands next to a virtual version of the Washington Monument.

Miller, whose avatar wore a gray suit and had white hair just like its real-life counterpart, talked about the House Democrats' goals during the first 100 hours of the new congressional session, including raising the minimum wage, passing new ethics rules for members of Congress and inspecting more cargo as it comes into the United States.

Miller's short question-and-answer session in Second Life didn't address many technology issues, but moderator Joanne Colan, host of the video blog Rocketboom, did ask whether the new Congress would pass Net neutrality rules, prohibiting broadband providers from slowing or blocking content from competitors.

Miller said he expected fellow Democrats to push for Net neutrality, but he called Net neutrality concessions offered last week by AT&T Inc. a "major victory." AT&T offered to give competitors' content equal priority over its network for two years in exchange for Federal Communications Commission approval of its acquisition of smaller telecom carrier BellSouth Corp.

Miller, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, enjoyed the Second Life appearance, and he'll recommend that other members of Congress take advantage of the virtual House to interact with the one million Second Life subscribers. "It's a very different forum for a member of Congress," he said. "It's also very exciting, because it gives us an opportunity to interact with people ... that are interested in what's taking place in the United States and the Congress."

Second Life could develop into an "important forum" for members of Congress, Miller said.

The virtual House site was created by Internet marketing firm Clear Ink, with help from Sun Microsystems Inc.

Miller is not the first politician to appear in Second Life. In August, Mark Warner, former Democratic governor of Virginia, answered questions from Second Life subscribers.

Of course, virtual life still tends to take a back seat to real life. Miller's briefing was delayed as Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the first woman speaker of the House in real life. Live video of Pelosi's first speech played on large screens inside the Second Life House chamber, just before Miller's avatar showed up.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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