Since James asked, my personal and professional connections to the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California go back to May of 2005. Randy Farmer, of Lucasfilm's Habitat fame, posted to his blog that the USC Center for Public Diplomacy was creating a new project: Public Diplomacy and Virtual Worlds. This project arose out of research Doug Thomas and Josh Fouts conducted in Star Wars: Galaxies indicating that virtual interactions could generate opinion changes similar to exchange programs. Randy noted that Second Life would be a good platform for this and I agreed, so I emailed Doug and Josh, who were nice enough to respond. We met at the Hotel Fig during E3 '05, and after hours of discussion about Second Life, public diplomacy, working for the US government, hacking, and virtual worlds in general, I had two new friends and they agreed to go take a look at Second Life. In the years since, CPD has been central to some amazing projects in SL.
- Second Life projects were 3 out of the 4 finalists in the "Using Video Games to Reinvent Public Diplomacy."
- CPD has brought several conferences into SL, including the 2007 iSummit in Dubrovnik and Interdependence Day in Mexico City.
- CPD received a MacArthur Foundation grant to explore philanthropy in virtual worlds.
The class I am teaching is part of the Charles Annenberg Weingarten Program on Online Communities, an intensive 1 year Master's Program that pulls together a gifted cohort of students and a great mix of professors. As the class progresses, I will definitely be writing more about it.