Illustration of me

Lacking a second life

Sep 13 2021

My cousin, John Norris, who is both an excellent ceramics sculptor and student of biomedical informatics, sent me an email asking if I knew anything about Second Life and the new Healthinfo Island Consumer Health Information Library. I didn’t so I checked it out.

The Alliance Library System received a $40,000 grant last Nov to “provide consumer health information services in the virtual world of Second Life.” To quote from their announcement:

“This will allow us to provide important information in a virtual world whose citizens may not come or may not be able to reach a traditional library. For instance there is a group for stroke victims. In real life they may be physically limited. In Second Life, they can fly and be whomever or whatever they choose to be. There are no limits.”

Since I’m interested in online medical treatment and services, I thought I should check it out. So I made a Second Life account and signed on.

First off let me say that from a graphics point of view Second Life is just painfully ugly and slow to render—World of Warcraft it is not. I tried to ignore this and keep an open mind. After a bit I finally figured out how to teleport to the Healthinfo Island.

As I slowly stumbled around the virtual buildings, the experience became more and more painful. The library consisted of a building with random assortment of objects that were links you could click on. The links themselves just opened in your normal web browser and there was no rhyme or reason to grouping of objects/links. It was worse than useless. My user interface designer soul was banging it’s head against these virtual walls screaming “No! Why?”

So basically we go from Google-based instant access to information to stumbling up polygon stairs, running into (and sometimes glitchingly through) walls, and randomly clicking objects in hopes one will send me to a real website with real information. And this is supposed to be “the future of the web”!?!

I couldn’t take it anymore, so I just logged out and searched for people talking about it. Maybe I was missing something and just didn’t get it. I found this slideshow promoting libraries in Second Life and this podcast about the Healthinfo Island. Supposedly the CDC is doing stuff in Second Life as are other health institutions, but mostly this again just equates to having a building full of random objects that link to websites and podcasts.

In the podcast I linked to above the interviewer asked the burning question, “Since people can find tons of health information easily online what value doe Second Life offer?” Her answer was a rambling statement about how hard it is to know what info is accurate and how much value there was in having an actual real person there to help guide you to what you needed. These are both valid points, but it doesn’t answer the question. These two points can be solved just as easily and better using normal web technology. There are several health info portals out there and plenty of them include an “Ask an Expert” or related functionality.

So what advantage does Second Life have? As far as I can see, the only advantage is the fact that you can check out some health info about your dad’s stroke then quickly teleport to the goth furry fetish dungeon stripjoint nightclub to virtual dance your little virtual tail off.

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