Category Archives: Q&A

FAQ: How real can a virtual embassy be?

Several people have asked how “official” the embassy will be in Second Life. Here are some typical questions: “Could we consider the Swedish Embassy in SL as an official representation of the Swedish government? Is the embassy going to charge a fee for its services? Who will work at the embassy? Will Swedes abroad be able to use it to do consular business?”

The short answer is that the virtual embassy in Second Life is not an official embassy, and you can’t do any consular business there, though it is a government project: The Swedish Institute, which is behind the project, is a government agency. One of SI’s mandates is to promote Sweden via public diplomacy using a wide variety of media, and the institute collaborates closely with Swedish embassies and consulates around the world to get its message across.

The virtual embassy, then, is SI’s public diplomacy transposed into a brand new media — an immersive 3D virtual world.

We actually did think about whether it might be possible to have some functions performed in-world, but the main impediment right now is that there is no way to guarantee identities and engage in secure transactions in Second Life. I’m sure that will change — in any case, avatars don’t need visas to visit Sweden:-)

Instead, the Second House of Sweden will fulfill the role of “embassy” in the more secular sense of the word: as an emissary of goodwill to a place. We will have people at the embassy during set hours of the day to answer questions about Sweden, and we will also have information about where to find the embassies nearest you in real life, as well as information about how to get a visa (if you need one). But the majority of the embassy will be dedicated to revolving exhibits about Sweden, and to providing a platform for events — film showings, seminars, concerts, all with a Swedish theme. Finally, there will also be some typically Swedish things for visitors to do… more about that later:-)

More FAQs: We’re in it for the long haul

Susanna sent me some more questions the media have been asking, so I thought I’d answer them here first before adding them to the FAQ page:

Is this a temporary project, or will you maintain the site indefinitely?

This is not a one-off project, like a website you just produce and then host passively. All indications are that much of the value of having a presence in Second Life comes from having a platform where you can host events — meetings, concerts, films, ceremonies, group tutorials and collaborations… And that the objects you build on your sim (“island”) should facilitate such interactivity, because that’s what draws visitors. If you build those, they will come, to paraphrase a bad movie.

What’s been the reaction to this project from the Swedish/International media and the public?

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Swedish media & marketing watchblog compiled a little list of English-language articles written in the aftermath of the original announcement. Back home in Sweden, the subsequent month has seen an upsurge in curiosity about Second Life, and many more Swedish organizations — for profit, semi-public and educational — are mulling establishing a presence in Second Life.

Critical commentary has revolved around the suspicion that the Swedish Institute doesn’t quite know what it is getting itself into:

  1. That there are far fewer actual users of Second Life than what the headline number suggests, or
  2. that Second Life is hype — and certainly not a sufficiently serious or mature medium to be entering, or
  3. that the Second House of Sweden will most likely be just another sterile corporate-looking edifice commissioned by marketing people who don’t actually “get” Second Life, and that as a result the sim won’t see much organic use by actual residents.

For points 1 and 2, the answer goes something like this: Yes, we were well aware of the debate about active users while we were deciding whether to go ahead with the project (I do read blogs:-). Ironically, once concern we had was that the decision to go ahead with the project amid the hype might make it look like we were taken in by the hype, when in fact we were going in despite the hype, because we felt we really wanted to figure out now how to use virtual worlds as a place to tell people about Sweden. Second Life is the world that right now gives us the biggest bang for our kronor. (More about this in a post from January.)

For point 3, the answer is: Not if we can help it:-)

(There are a couple more questions to answer, in an upcoming post.)