Reaching the Nassau Hall bell tower has never been so easy. At Princeton’s campus in Second Life, a Web-based virtual world, users navigate with avatars, or digital versions of themselves, that fly with a click of the mouse. Digital visitors can launch from the sidewalk and reach into the recesses of the tower in a matter of seconds. But would-be pranksters likely will be disappointed: In Second Life, as in real life, there is no clapper to steal.
In September, the University launched its Second Life campus, a set of eight contiguous “islands” featuring remarkably accurate re-creations of Nassau Hall, Chancellor Green, and Alexander Hall, as well as a virtual art museum and a “sand- box” space — aptly named Alexander Beach — where users can experiment with Second Life’s construction tools. (For more information, visit etc.princeton.edu/sl.)
Janet Temos ’82 *01 (avatar name: Persis Trilling), director of the Educational Technologies Center (ETC), said the University aims to draw faculty, students, and alumni to the space, but how they will use it remains unclear. The voice-enabled platform could become a virtual classroom or lab, an art exhibition space, or a meeting place. The University also hopes to broadcast real-world events like lectures on video screens in the virtual campus’s amphitheater. One thing virtual Princeton will not be: a red-light district. The islands have a PG rating, Temos said.
Princeton, one of a handful of colleges that have campuses on Second Life, does not plan to use the virtual world for recruiting undergraduates, at least in the near term. Users who are under 18 use a separate teen grid, where traffic is relatively light compared with the regular grid, which is home to about 9 million avatars.
To own real estate in the virtual world, users must buy server space from Second Life’s creator, Linden Research. Educational institutions receive a discounted rate, Temos said, so Princeton paid a total of $6,700 for its eight islands, plus about $1,200 per month for maintenance. ETC employees developed parts of the campus, but the University hired a Second Life freelance architect (avatar name: Scope Cleaver) to complete the most detailed buildings.
Giff Constable ’94 (avatar name: Forseti Svarog), general manager of software for the Electric Sheep Company, said he was excited to see Princeton building a presence in the rapidly growing but “not quite mainstream” world of Second Life.
Virtual worlds, Constable said, offer a real-time, face-to-face connection that does not necessarily exist on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. “It has the potential to make the world a smaller place,” he said.