Category Archives: Luguna Beach

Virtual CDC spreads like FLU in SecondLife & Whyville – itSreal

Agency enters Web’s cyberspace universes to attract Internet users, market health messages to new audience.

Source : By Alison Young
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

There’s a virtual world where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently helped give flu shots to more than 10,000 virtual children before a virtual flu virus was unleashed, sending the virtually sneezing to virtual clinics for treatment.

In another Internet world for adults, the CDC has a virtual headquarters and a virtual CDC employee holding health fairs.

What is one of the most respected agencies of the federal government doing dabbling in Web-based virtual worlds that are more like video games than a science symposium?

Officials at the Atlanta-based agency say they’re exploring innovative ways to educate Net-savvy people about important health issues.

The CDC has joined corporate powerhouses Toyota, IBM and American Apparel in setting up shop in these virtual worlds. The federal space agency NASA is there. So are a few members of Congress. And most importantly, millions of people are there, part of a growing audience for a new breed of marketing messages.

“We can’t always expect people to come to our Web site or use our tools directly,” Janice Nall, director of the CDC’s Division of e-Health Marketing, said this week. The CDC is one of a handful of government agencies staking a place in Web-based virtual worlds such as Second Life ( and Whyville (

“People are congregating on different spots on the Internet,” Nall said. “And we need to take our messages out there to see how they’re received.”

Virtual worlds, sometimes called “metaverses,” are sites on the Internet where a growing community of people gather, socialize, play and even participate in a virtual economy of virtual malls, real estate sales and casino gaming. Unlike the Web that you surf in a detached fashion, participants in virtual worlds create a virtual self, a computer-generated 3-D character called an avatar to interact with the world and its residents.

Such Internet worlds and interactive online games have been around for years. But as the number of people participating in some worlds has grown into the millions, businesses and others have started exploring them as a new forum for mass advertising and communication.

“Wells Fargo Bank was one of the first corporations to have its own bank in Second Life,” said Celia Pearce, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Communication and Culture who studies virtual worlds. “MTV has its own island there now where it stages concerts with streaming video or interviews with music stars. IBM has started to develop a Second Life world headquarters, as has Reuters.”

Beyond the static banner ads Web users are accustomed to seeing —- or ignoring —- virtual worlds allow for a form of interactive marketing and advertising, she said. Instead of seeing an ad about a car, in a virtual world car companies allow your avatar to build or use a brand-name car, she said.

The communication potential has also prompted a handful of federal agencies to establish pilot projects in virtual worlds such as Second Life and Whyville.

Second Life, launched in 2003, has more than 3.9 million avatar residents from around the world —- and more than 400,000 logged in within the past week, according to Linden Lab, the San Francisco-based creator of Second Life.

The average age of participants is 33, and they must have a high-speed Internet connection and a powerful computer capable of handling intensive graphics.

Corporations are being joined in the virtual world by nonprofit, government and activist groups. Sweden is building a virtual embassy. A Spanish charity has created a virtual homeless boy in Second Life. The Genocide Intervention Network has created a virtual Camp Darfur.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a whole island where visitors can ride through a hurricane on an airplane, stand on a beach and experience a tsunami.

“Think of it as Disney World meets science education,” said Eric Hackathorn, the lead architect for the Second Life project at NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab. “It provides so much more immersion than traditional Web sites do.”

NOAA spent $1,000 to purchase its island in Second Life, about $15,000 for a computer graphics contractor to develop the experience and about $150 a month in maintenance fees, Hackathorn said. “We’re not spending a lot considering the potential return,” he said. About 1,000 people visited during two weeks in January.

A year ago John Anderton, one of CDC’s associate directors of communication science, saw a video about Second Life and got hooked.

“I thought what a great opportunity for CDC to put some of its health information into a different tool to get it out to people who are participating there,” he said Wednesday.

Last year Anderton created a virtual CDC employee, naming her Hygeia Philo. Hygeia is the Greek goddess of health, whose statue is on the CDC campus. Second Life requires participants to pick from a list of last names, and Anderton chose Philo because it gave the agency’s avatar a name that means “lover of health.”

A striking cyberwoman with long, auburn hair, the CDC’s virtual employee needed more professional attire than the clothing that came with the free, standard-issue avatar.

So Anderton had Hygeia go to a virtual mall in this virtual world and purchase a tailored pinstriped business suit. The cost: about 33 cents of real money, he said. He later spent $72 to buy some virtual land in Second Life.

Anderton said he has spent less than 5 percent of his time on the Second Life project and about $75 of CDC’s money.

The virtual CDC, in place since last fall, is a modest outpost in Second Life. It’s mostly a series of wall displays that links visitors to the CDC’s real-life Web site (

A visit to the virtual CDC on Wednesday by a virtual reporter found the site empty of other visitors.

The virtual CDC averages only about 100 visitors a month, Anderton said. In contrast, the CDC’s real-world Web site receives 8 million visits a month.

In November, Hygeia staffed a virtual CDC booth at a health expo within Second Life that drew more than 250 virtual people.

CDC’s flu-shot campaign in the virtual world of Whyville, however, caught the attention of thousands.

Whyville, launched in 1999, is a popular virtual world targeting 8- to 15-year-olds. It has 1.7 million registered “citizens” who log in to play games, learn about science and other topics, and socialize.

Last fall, CDC worked with Whyville creator Numedeon Inc. to conduct a campaign for kids’ avatars to be vaccinated against the “Why-Flu.” The effort cost CDC $2,000, said Nall, the agency’s e-Health Marketing director.

“It was an opportunity to talk with kids about science and get across the concept of vaccination as a good thing,” she said.

CDC officials said their recent exploration of health education in these virtual worlds is just part of an overall strategy to get information to the public.

While most health information is still communicated through more traditional means —- from brochures to the Web site —- the agency is seeking to use emerging technologies to reach new audiences, Nall said.

The agency is discussing its experiences with these initial projects and how its presence in virtual worlds can be expanded to have a greater impact.

“We have to be mindful of what’s happening in the marketplace so we can be there,” said Nall. “We’re supposed to be leading in public health. Not following.”


What do you need?

> To participate in Second Life, you need a high-speed Internet connection and a computer that’s able to handle the world’s rich graphics. The better and faster the computer, the smoother your experience. Go to for specific system requirements and to download a free program that lets you create a basic avatar and access the virtual world.

> Whyville, which is targeted toward teens and preteens, is more accommodating of lesser computers. Just go to and fill out a registration form. Parental permission is required.

What does it cost?

It’s free for basic access in both sites. But if you want to buy things —- like clothing or a new hairstyle for your avatar or a plot of land in Second Life, you need to deposit real-life cash with a credit card into a virtual world account.

Where can I learn more about federal agencies’ virtual activities?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a real-world Web site devoted to its island in Second Life. Go to to read more and take a video tour.


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Who is behind THERE.COM & MTV’s Virtual LUGUNA Beach – itSreal

Source: OCRegister
Michael K. Wilson Video

Michael K Wilson

He left retirement and created a virtual Laguna Beach

When MTV and its popular reality show came calling, Michael Wilson’s Makena Technologies had the answer.

The Orange County Register

The first time Michael K. Wilson came out of retirement, it was to help his old friend Pierre Omidyar on a little startup called eBay. Wilson was its fourth employee. He retired again in 2001.

The second time Wilson left retirement, he bought the rights to, a virtual world where people become cartoon avatars and socialize online. As a founding investor, he believed in the social-networking aspect and took over as the company changed focus to government applications.

The Laguna Beach resident, who turns 50 this year, has no plans to retire again soon. His company, Makena Technologies, operates and produced a virtual Laguna Beach for the MTV Networks series “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” where the typical resident is young and female. The job keeps him young and he spends hours a day inside the worlds.

“Everybody in there looks better than they do in real life,” Wilson said.

Virtual worlds have existed for decades in science-fiction novels, such as 1982’s “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, a book that inspired Wilson. These online communities were relegated to sci-fi lovers but paved the way for the popular online game World of Warcraft, population 8 million, and social networking sites like Second Life, which has 3.7 million residents. now has about 750,000 members. Virtual Laguna Beach has around 360,000 registered users.

But it has only been the past year that virtual worlds have attracted a wider audience. New York Law School holds classes inside The Sundance Film Festival held its first virtual screening inside Second Life in January. Episodes of MTV’s “The Hills” and “The Real Orange County” are screened inside the virtual Laguna Beach a day before airing on TV.

“I credit the guys at MTV for this. Before we did Laguna Beach, if I went to any member in There and asked what kind of computer they had, they’d tell me about the BIOS. But in Laguna Beach, we’ve turned this from a techie site to something all people use,” Wilson said.

How the dream began

The Norfolk, Va., native was a smart kid. He took college classes in high school, got good grades. But maybe he was too smart for school. He got a job in Macy’s technical department instead of going to college. And because he knew more about technology than others, he moved far and fast through the tech world, working at Chevron, Oracle and The Well. In the mid-1990s, he was hired as an engineer at eShop, a software company.

That’s where Wilson met Omidyar, who would later ask twice to join him at eBay. Wilson relented in January 1997 and helped build the company’s technology. He retired four years later as eBay’s senior vice president of product development and site operations and moved to Laguna Beach.

In 2005,’s board began talking about shutting down the unprofitable consumer portion to focus on military use. Wilson, an investor since the beginning, wanted to make sure the consumer world lived on. He started Makena, named after a beach in Hawaii, and bought the exclusive license to

Then, last February, MTV Networks came knocking. They were interested in creating a virtual world of their own. In April, MTV placed its order.

“MTV said we want to build an entire world, and we want to build it by August,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s team of developers, artists and designers worked overtime to get the world running by opening week. They designed clothing and characters to look more “California” than’s world. They added details, like the movie theater on the main drag and the lighthouse on the beach. They added video inside the virtual world to screen episodes a day before the TV broadcast. It was a lot of work, but employees didn’t mind too much, said Stefan Dorsett, a software engineer.

Wilson handed out weekly bonuses and hired a masseuse to help the staff relax. But, mostly, Wilson made it exciting to work there.

“He’s like a mentor. We learn so much through him,” said Dorsett, 25. “He’s interested in the same stuff we are.”

Makena delivered the Virtual Laguna Beach in four months, just in time for the new season.

“We think Mike is a visionary, no question about it.” said Jeff Yapp, executive vice president of program development for MTV Networks.

Yapp said MTV Networks is pleased with the results and hopes to continue adding more virtual neighborhoods. Makena supplies the technical and social support by hiring people to organize events in the virtual worlds.

“The target audience we’re going after are viewers of the show. They don’t spend a lot of time in virtual games or Second Life. Now the goal is to get them to want to stay. That’s where Mike’s team does such a great job,” Yapp said. “Once it becomes a community, it begins to develop on its own. There are 1,200 social clubs in Laguna Beach.”

Wilson spends hours each day in the virtual worlds, and if you want an update, he’s easy to reach. Just ask his avatar, listed as “Michael” or “Michael Wilson.”

“Yes, sure, if they run into me in the world, I am happy to talk to them,” he said.

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