As the Democrats were taking control of both houses of Congress, two firms were helping launch a concurrent event in Second Life, ushering politics into the virtual world. Marketing firm Clear Ink partnered with Sun Microsystems ( SUNW) to produce streaming video of the opening of the 110th Congress, where Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) became the first woman to hold the position of speaker of the House. Through a virtual simulation of Capitol Hill, PC users across the globe could watch as the Democrats assumed simultaneous responsibility of the House and Senate for the first time since 1994. "It really is a pro bono project that we've done to support the democratic process and Second Life," says David Burk, CEO of Clear Ink. "Doing a representation of the House of Representatives is a very big deal. It feels like a very historic day." While Second Life, the 3-D virtual world created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, has become home to both individual users and big businesses such as Dell ( DELL), IBM ( IBM) and Cisco ( CSCO), Thursday's event brought the first real-world political event to the burgeoning world. Rep. George Miller of California plans to take part in Second Life discussions and field questions about the Democrats' first 100 legislative hours. Democrats have said they plan to increase the minimum wage and roll back tax breaks for the oil industry, among many other tasks, during that time. Burk says that John Gage, chief researcher and director of the science office with Sun Microsystems, initially hatched the idea to create a virtual Capitol Hill in Second Life. "Sun Microsystems has been the catalyst in all of this," Burk says. "When
Congressman Miller said he'd like to do this event in Second Life, John Gage found us."
However, Burk was quick to point out that the Second Life forum won't be restricted to Democratic involvement. "We did this specifically at the request of Representatives Pelosi and Miller, but it was made very clear we would leave this simulation open for discussion," says Burk. "This is a good way to reach out to someone of any party. People can communicate and discuss issues." Burk says Clear Ink views Second Life as a social networking platform that was perfectly suited for the Congressional handover. "It really does feel different that you can collaborate online, as though you're participating in the meeting," he says. The Capitol Hill event is the company's first foray with politics in Second Life, but previously Clear Ink has helped companies such as Autodesk ( ADSK) establish an in-world homestead. "For us, it was the perfect confluence of all of our skills," Burk says. "We do a lot of online market work, but this leverages emerging technologies. "I'm fond of saying this is 1995 all over again," Burk continues. "I hear everything about Second Life that I heard about Web browsers. In fact, it has great potential. People find it a more immersive browsing experience." "I just hope that everyone sees that this is an interesting concept," Burk says. "I hope people have some patience with the emergence of technology."