Bumping into the DOT

As a civil engineer, the federal agencies I visit online are usually the DOT, EPA, and FHWA with an occasional click over to the USGS. Upon my entry into Second Life, I searched for these agencies within that virtual world and found nothing.

The only federal agencies that had made it into the virtual realm and set up islands were NASA, NOAA, and the CDC. And although from a personal level, I enjoyed visiting the islands and learning about agencies I really had known little about, I still held hope that one day, I would be able to visit the DOT, EPA, or FHWA in virtual form.

Well that day might be finally getting nearer. Last week, while I was traveling through Second Life researching colleges and universities for an article I am working on, I noticed an island called DOT World. I clicked it hoping it was open to the public, and sure enough I was teleported to the ground. There was only one building so I worried that maybe I had assumed wrong about the name of the island. Maybe someone had just happened to choose the common abbreviation for the Department of Transportation. But once I entered the small structure sitting in the corner of the sim, I knew it was the DOT for which I had searched. There on the conference table was the DOT logo.

DOT building in Second Life
DOT building in Second Life

As excited as I was to find the DOT in Second Life and as much as I wanted to tell everyone, I felt I should check to make sure they wouldn’t mind having their presence known – some agencies want to enter the virtual realm as quietly as possible while they figure out their approach to this new technology. So I IMed the island’s owner and received confirmation that I could publicly let folks know they were there. Unfortunately since then, they have closed off the island to public access so although they might not mind having folks know they are there, they seem to have decided they don’t want them poking around.

Anyway it appears official, the DOT has entered the virtual realm and set up shop in Second Life. And even though right now they only have one building for meetings and have decided not to let anyone visit, at least it is a start; perhaps they will even encourage the FHWA to follow them in. So with all the speculation about how progressive the Obama administration will be and how they will embrace new technologies, I have to think that it might not be long before I can attend classes and collect resources virtually. You don’t get much closer to putting a face to government than establishing an digital representations of your staff in avatar form.