I hope you can put up with my post on this topic. I feel fairly passionate about it as you will see and want to make sure I do an adequate job conveying the information:
About 2 years ago, I was introduced to Second Life in a serious manner at a work-related conference. I never knew about all those negative stories until later, and I think this helped me accept it as a viable tool. And after all that time, I can say that spending time in Second Life increased my knowledge of people and topics significantly. How did this happen?
I met people - smart, thoughtful, intelligent, and friendly - from all over the world. This exposed me to cultures and viewpoints that I otherwise would never have discovered. Today I can tell you the largest manufacturer of cement plants, names of colleges from all over the globe, the largest electric supplier in Italy and the methods by which they generate electricity, and I can discuss the background and work of certain artists all because of what I have experienced in Second Life. If I had more time, I could learn a foreign language. I have met others in government - at local, state, and federal levels.
On another level, interacting with the software and wanting to accomplish what I saw others in Second Life achieve, drove me to learn a multitude of new software applications - all of which I can use and incorporate into my work at the city. I now know fairly well about 4 texture/image programs. I have learned how to manipulate different types of files and incorporate them into other applications. My experience in Second Life encouraged me to use apps like Skype and Twitter, drove me to set up websites and start blogging, and introduced me to networks using the ning platform.
As for my job in particular - engineering - I see great promise and potential for my field as do many others in this industry. I have used Second Life to build projects or small portions of projects to get a better idea of the design. I am currently working to develop a virtual scada type system in there - a virtual 3D creation of our water or wastewater plant that will operate as an emulation in real time of the actual plant. I don't know if you do any building or woodworking, but the other day I needed to build a cabinet-like structure for which I had no plans so I built it virtually. I was immediately able to see where I would have messed up fitting pieces together and was able to revise it without wasting actual wood.
When I was building inspector, I always had trouble explaining the code requirements to builders - most I worked with were very visual and hated to read the code. Because of this, I have been using Second Life to put together a virtual 3D representation of the building code to see if that could help increase understanding. Through this project, I met a few people from England and Australia - we worked together over several months in Second Life and through Skype to set up a Web 2.0 conference for those working in the Building Industry. Be2Camp was successfully held in London this October.
Saying Second Life is negative or about sex is the same as generalizing about any city in our nation. Anywhere you have a community of humans you are going to have negative or sexual situations. Second Life is a global community so its inhabitants (humans) bring to it all the same baggage that we bring everywhere we go.
Even so, as humans, we are capable of great and good things too. Fortunately in Second Life, as in any community, there is much more "good" than "bad." Many of us just never go to the "bad" places - i forget they even exist.
All that being said, I cannot say it will be Second Life that we are using in a few years - unfortunately, their business leadership seems to have taken a nosedive. Many of those very smart people who were spending time in Second Life are now setting up virtual communities on different software platforms to carry on the positive aspects and hopefully diminish or keep out the negative. So will virtual spaces be with us in 5 years - I think they will be available in ways that we can't even imagine today. Will it be Second Life? not if they keep treating their users as they recently have.
If you haven't fallen asleep from my post 🙂 I have tried to report on the more beneficial sides of Second Life through my blog and my online magazine - http://www.publicworksgroup.com/blog and http://www.gridworks.sl And if you ever have any questions or want to "test drive" the software, the MuniGov group is always around!