Lunar and Planetary Institute

Reaching Audiences Through New Media: Lessons
We Are Learning From the International Year of Astronomy

Second Life

What It Is  
A 3-dimensional virtual world in which users are represented by avatars that interact with each other, and in different social, institutional, and educational activities and venues. 

Who’s On It
According to WebProNews, there are over 15 million registered users on the SL, with, the number of “residents” logged in during May 2009, topping 1 million (Wiki).The site is intended for users 18 and older; Teen Second Life is for younger audience members. According to Virtual World Business.Com; based primarily on November 2008 numbers), the dominant age group is 25 to 34 (35%), with 35 to 44 year olds making up 26% of the visitors, and >45 year olds being 21% of the audience. The SL audience is less gender-balanced than other social media audience, with males being 59% of the population. US citizens top the list of users, at 39%; Germany, the UK, Japan, and France all fall between 5 and 10% of the SL population., and the Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Spain, and Australia come in between 1 and 5%.  English is the dominant language setting (54%).

How It Might Be Used
Second Life is ideal for hosting interactive exhibits about a mission or project and advertising events (e.g., webcasts, TV shows, wide-spread night-sky viewing activities). It is also is a venue for live appearances, and has been used for music, book readings, and political speeches. Check out the “ShowCase” on the SL homepage to get a feel for what is possible.

Getting Around
Go to Second Life to set up an account. An online tutorial will walk you through setting up your avatar (way too many choices) and moving around the grid. Pour the beverage of your choice and take some time to play with the menu options. For example, SL is set on a 4 hour day/night cycle; you can divinely intervene and reset daylight … or live in perpetual sunset (if you are not a morning person).

A few things that might help:

  • The search button in the center of the lower menu is useful for finding sites of interest (select “places”). It will open a window of all matches and you can select where you want to go (e.g., NASA CoLab). Teleport there. It’s far less exhausting than walking.
  • Set your home. You can always go back home (when things get scary or seem messed up). 
  • Be polite. If you see other avatars, wave (gestures) and communicate (far left button on the lower menu) via the local chat.

Basic membership is free, and gets you an avatar and allows you to wander across the virtual world. Higher level memberships are available, with additional access to SL attributes and support.  “Land” on the SL grid can be purchased for building interactive venues (there is an educational rate), such as museums, libraries, educational centers, auditoriums, kiosks, gardens, etc.  Numerous NASA and Earth and space-related organizations already populate SL (e.g., NASA’s CoLab), existing on SciLands, a virtual continent for science and technology.  Consider connecting with a group that already is on SL to “test drive” it for awhile.

The numbers are still not in on SL; individuals have to find your location. While NASA might receive lots of hits, the number of visiting avatars is not overwhelming at any one time. Like other forms of social media, time and experimentation will help our community determine how to achieve the greatest impact.

Make sure that whatever you create in SL, is multi-purpose. For example video clips, rotatable spacecraft, and imagery can be placed in SL but also shared across other web sites such as the project webpage, in YouTube, or in Flickr.   SL offers the option to always be “under construction.” Release new resources and host new events so that you generate repeat traffic.

You can host events for up to 50 people in SL if you own an island (a piece of the grid); if you are located near a corner, you can maximize that number to 400.

Consider having a “greeter” avatar at your location. This team member would welcome visitors and offer to tour them through your site and answer questions.  While this requires monitoring of your site for an extended part of the day, it will only take a large amount of time if you are successful in getting visitors.

Use your other Web 2.0 tools to advertise your SL activities and events.

Check Out (Search for)
Lunar Exploration Island
International Spaceflight Museum
International Year of Astronomy
NASA CoLab Headquarters


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Last updated
June 22, 2009