Glitter's abridged Testimony from Congress 4/1:
Good morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. My name is Susan Tenby, and I am here, as Snr. Manager of Online Community Development at TechSoup, to talk to you about the potential of nonprofits in Second Life. I am pleased to be here, before the committee today and I have submitted my full statement to the committee to be made part of the permanent record. And my avatar name is Glitteractica Cookie.
Background on TechSoup: TechSoup helps nonprofits get and use technology to further their missions. We have distributed over $1 billion USD to the sector in technology product donations. We also have a community and articles about technology for nonprofits.
Social Networks: Social Networks, such as Facebook and MySpace are becoming the dominant force, shaping how society uses communication technology. Second Life, an example of a social network, combines the engagement of interactive tools with the richness of broadcasting. There is 2-way interaction, user-created content, an International reach, and it is free to participate. Social Networks, such as Second Life have become an effective tool to help nonprofits engage their communities, enlist new volunteers and donors and broaden their reach.
Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, have forever revolutionized the way people and organizations connect, learn and create, all with an element of fun. Identity exploration in the medium, through the experience of character avatars, allows people to empathize with communities that are different from their own.
Foundations: A number of Philanthropic foundations are actively investigating the potential of Second Life, to help them and their grantees better fulfill their missions. Through their foundations-only island, the John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation is leading the exploration of virtual philanthropy and soon will be sharing opportunities to help the social benefit sector, both online and in the virtual space. The Ford Foundation has also expressed interest in this work, as have smaller foundations such as the Boomer Esiason Foundation and a number of individual contributors and donors.
Meetings: Second Life makes it easy to bring people together, across the globe, for no cost to the user, to discuss issues such as climate change, human rights abuse, disability issues and other targeted communities. There are also effects that can be achieved by Second Life meeting participation that you would not be able to reproduce in real life. I am sure you all remember Congressman Markey’s virtual participation in the One Climate Bali Conference on Climate Change. Our community of nonprofits often has what we refer to as mixed-reality events, feeding live video and audio through a two-way stream between the real world and the virtual world.
Examples of Nonprofits: Nonprofits are already active and exploring in virtual worlds, and Second Life has emerged as the leading virtual world in the nonprofit sector. The tool allows you to capture audio, video and text chat communications. This allows users to upload the media to the web and share activities after they have occurred, offering a free and easy publishing system, an easy way to bridge communications and to archive all that happens in the virtual world and on the traditional web.
A few examples of Nonprofit Activities in Second Life are:
  • The is an example of a virtual Vietnam veterans memorial, which allows people who do not have access to the real-life memorial to visit it, and to click-in to read more about the people listed
  • The disability community is well-represented, as is the Autistic and Aspergers’s community. SL gives them a venue to discuss and with others where they wouldn’t previously have had access. In some instances, people who are wheelchair-bound in real-life are given the opportunity to walk, run, or even fly, if they choose to do so.
  • It provides a safe environment for support and recovery services like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
  • American Cancer Society’s virtual Relay for Life was a Second Life version of their real-life Relay for Life event. People made donations and they raised $118k USD in the race. The American Cancer Society has ongoing support groups in Second Life as well.
  • Second Life provides a rich experiential education that would not be in real life (for example, there is a walk-through tour of a human heart and a NASA exploration through space.)
  • Organizations like Global Kids are providing youth with a participatory and creative way to learn about significant historical and current events. Recently, they launched a virtual International Justice Center, to provide resources for people to learn about the International Criminal Court system, in support of human rights and international justice.
TechSoup’s Goal: Our goal, with the Nonprofit Commons project, is to play the role of the convener, to create a collaborative learning community of practice, to help nonprofits meet with each other and network. We provide a solid structure and have built a community and offices for nonprofits in the virtual world. We have created a seedbed for experimentation in a comfort zone and with a structure that we provide. With over 400 group members and over 6000 hours of volunteer time donated, we are trying to create a program with other innovators in the space, so nonprofits can take part in the participatory learning and connect the virtual donations, connections and volunteers to benefit their real-life work. Through this goal, we hope to achieve a vastly networked community of practice who will benefit from the fact that social interactions are more effective in 3-D. Through the medium, we can overcome real-life barriers as we explore the myriad benefits that this platform can provide to nonprofit organizations

Questions that arose from those in the hearing:
  • Mr. Doyle from Pennsylvania mentioned Autism and He wondered how we could obtain an abundance of bandwidth.
  • Ms. Jane Harmon, California says that virtual offices are not new and they play a valuable role in areas such as language training and the transfer of money. She suggested that we should not censor but instead, clearly understand virtual worlds. She was also concerned about Islamic terrorists activities in SL, but reiterated that she was not advocating censorship. (Philip Rosedale responded, “We have never seen any terrorist activity, and it is actual likely that virtual world activities are more traceable than others”)
  • Ms. Eschoo, California, says that Second Life is a social network and will soon become mainstream (in the way Facebook is). She cited it as exemplary of the transformative nature of technology.
  • Mr. Engel, New York, was concerned with online child safety. He wondered what steps Second life was taking to protect kids.
  • Mr. Strearns, Florida said that identity needed to be better screened for predators. He thinks virtual worlds need to be regulated. He asked, “How can you effectively screen, because of internet privacy rights?” (Rosedale responded that the community is self-policed).
  • Mr Shimkus, Illinois, addressed OECD rankings, submitted by Dr. Larry Johnson’s report (Johnson is CEO of New Media Consortium and co-speaker on panel.) He said he was angered to see us compared against Europe and he thought we needed to encourage capital flow. He wondered why the live hearing in Second Life was closed. (Rosedale closed it due to griefer concerns and avatar capacity). Shimkus asked about church communities. He self-identified as a Christian Fundamentalist and a democracy and freedom advocate. He said he wants fellow democracy advocates to enter SL (of course, they already are in SL).