As Joshua Fouts over at Dispatches from the Imagination Age reports, NATO is stepping up plans for a commanding presence in Second Life. This comes on the heels of our report on the Department of Energy's supercollider-iffic island development, and while the Department of Energy will play a large role in U.S. politics over the next few years, NATO is, well, NATO.
Thank the pork-filled budget for this beauty of bureaucracy. NATO, in partnership with the U.S. government, released a thick project funding announcement titled "Development of Virtual Worlds" which promises to award a "large, fixed-value contract" to any company capable of filling out all of the attached paperwork without falling asleep. Best thing about it? Like all government funding opportunities, the project is entirely tax-free.
In case you were planning on submitting, this ain't your grandmother's virtual world. From the announcement:
must run fully behind or through firewalls using a single open port of choice
should be able to run SSL encryption if desired for increased security
That rules out Second Life, as Massively reported, which leads one to ask – who, exactly, is qualified to take on this project? Looking at the promising work done in Second Life by the brilliant minds who designed the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, it's hard to believe Second Life couldn't support possible sensitive operations.
Which brings up another question – why doesn't NATO merely produce its own virtual world, to its own specifications, where it can control access? This is going to be the big problem over the coming years. When Sweden opened a virtual embassy in Second Life, the Swedish government had no expectation of conducting sensitive business in-world. Apparently NATO desires this.
Sweden may have an elegant answer. By building a virtual embassy in Second Life (pictured, right), the Swedes improved their public relations and public awareness campaigns on the internet. The story made big news. But it was little more than a place for cultural exhibits and links to Swedish tourism websites. Unsurprisingly, the Swedes use a private government intranet for actual embassy communications.
Until technology increases and allows a currently unavailable (on a massive scale) level of selectivity and background screening, NATO will have a good deal of trouble finding someone to meet its standards.