One of the world’s first 3D online embassies – the Second House of Sweden – opened today in the virtual world of Second Life. Guests from around the world are invited to create an avatar and pay a visit.
The two houses of Sweden. Photo: Åke E:son Lindman
Foreign Ministers and other dignitaries are in the habit of inaugurating embassies and other official buildings, but the opening of the Second House of Sweden provided a unique experience for Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
From the Swedish Institute headquarters in Stockholm, the Foreign Minister steered his alter ego avatar to cut the ceremonial ribbon in the 3D virtual world of Second Life.
Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, has his own avatar, who cut the ribbon at the inauguration in Second Life.
Bildt said, "Sweden is a country of innovation and curiosity about the future. Our presence in Second Life is just a faint beginning. We didn't know ten years ago that any of this was possible. Where it takes us five to ten years from now, nobody knows."
After his avatar cut the blue and yellow ribbon, Carl Bildt declared the House of Sweden in Second Life open. Asked if he could elaborate on his experience in Second Life, Bildt said: "This is only my second visit to Second Life, but it is not going to be my last."
Carl Bildt and Olle Wästberg, in real life and Second Life during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Katarina Nimmervoll
Olle Wästberg, general director of the Swedish Institute, sees enormous potential within the virtual world. “Social media, such as Second Life, offer new opportunities for dialogue, spreading information and creating the conditions for us to reach the important early-adopters group in different parts of the world,” Wästberg says.
The Swedish Institute, a public agency under the Swedish Foreign Ministry, is responsible for the project and has been working on it together with partners such as Söderhavet, a digital design agency, and a 3D solutions firm called Electric Sheep Company.
At the Raoul Wallenberg exhibit, avatars can follow a re-enactment of his last day of freedom on January 16, 1945.
The virtual Second House of Sweden, which was announced in January and has been under construction since March, is an almost exact replica of the embassy building, House of Sweden, located in Washington, D.C.
No visas, as of yet
Inside, however, there are some notable differences, namely the ability to fly between floors with your avatar. Virtual world visitors can sweep around the premises, which currently include a photography exhibit with images from Sweden; an exhibit about the life of Raoul Wallenberg, arranged in cooperation with OSA Archivum, the Open Society’s archives in Budapest; and an art exhibit curated by the National Museum.
The National Museum curates an exhibition of Swedish art.
So even though the new embassy won’t be issuing real visas or passports, at least not yet, it does provide an informative and cultural experience with additional events planned for the future. In the coming weeks, an exhibit about Swedish myths and realities will open to avatar visitors.
Karl Peterson, a member of the project team at the Swedish Institute says: “This is a good arena for companies, artists, performers and others who perhaps don’t have the time or money to create their own sim (virtual land).”
Amateur photographers have captured their own images of Sweden, now on display at the Second House of Sweden. To see more images from the project, visit www.flickr.com.
Avatar staff members
From the embassy’s rooftop café, visitors can sample Swedish food while they chat with their fellow avatars, or simply enjoy the view over the Swedish archipelago.
Visitors can also participate in seminars, lectures and distance learning; or rent a conference room for meetings. Or why not go up to an avatar staff member for assistance. The service counter is staffed 20 hours per week by avatars who can answer questions and give directions.
The setting for the virtual embassy is the picturesque Stockholm Archipelago.
The inauguration also included music by avatar band Second Life Art Ensemble and Swedish singer/songwriter Therese Åhs, aka Natalie Moody, who left her usual performing venue – her living room in Gothenburg – to perform at the embassy opening. Her alter ego Natalie Moody performs live an average of two times per week in Second Life, so you still have the chance to see her live through the eyes of your avatar.
Directions to the Second House of Sweden:
1) Create your avatar on www.secondlife.com
2) Download the Second Life application
3) Log in with your avatar
4) Go to the Second House of Sweden (it may be a good idea to start on the introduction island)
You won’t need to brush up on your Swedish skills before visiting the Second House of Sweden, but familiarity with a few virtual world terms is helpful:
An avatar is your graphical alter ego, representing your presence or interactions in the virtual environment.
Second Life is a 3D virtual world, started by California-based Linden Lab and opened to the public in 2003. According to the Second Life website, over 6.5 million avatar accounts have so far been registered from around the world.
A sim is a plot of land or an island in the 3D virtual world of Second Life that must be purchased or rented – with real dollars. Otherwise, most things in Second Life can be purchased with the virtual world's own currency, Linden dollars.
www.secondlife.com – Second Life
wikipedia.org – Wikipedia entry on Second Life
secondhouseofsweden.com – Blog
lindenlab.com – Linden Lab
www.flickr.com – Flickr
Fact sheet – Second Life fact sheet
House of Sweden – a new meeting place in Washington, DC – Article
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While preparing this article, freelance writer Cari Simmons enjoyed a sneak preview of the Second House of Sweden. A novice at Second Life, she may have accidentally left her tall, blond avatar at one of the exhibits…
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photo 1: Åke E:son Lindman
© Photo 2: Katarina Nimmervoll
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