The Score with the CDC — Lose One, Win One

Working in healthcare, the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is always pretty high up in our environmental awareness. People pay attention to them, to what they do, to what they don’t do. This morning the buzz around my community is that the CDC closed their Second Life island. Sunday night the buzz was about the Trust or Trash site they supported. I am lucky, because I didn’t want to talk about how badly the CDC screwed up with their Second Life space without having something good to say at the same time, and the Trust or Trash site gives me that something good for balance.

LOSE ONE (Second Life)

Folks in the diverse Second Life healthcare community were pretty universally excited when the CDC started building an island there. First the empty island appeared. Then gradually, very slowly, buildings appeared. But the whole island was locked down, so no one could see what was going on, or who to contact. There was chatter going on among CDC folk that politics were getting in the road of the project. I kept wandering by, trying to find someone to ask about it, but never did succeed in that. Since it was locked, we couldn’t get in, but I did manage to get a picture by using the zoom on my virtual camera. Here is what it looked like in December 2007.

Second Life: Healthinfo Island:  View of the CDC Sim, over the river

While I never saw an announcement of anything happening there, and never saw any people there, there did come a day when I tried to wander over and, actually GOT IN! Wow, what a surprise! I found a bunch of buildings, a few posters and handouts. Mostly it seemed to point people to their website, and frankly, that is a poor use of Second Life if ever I saw one. If there was anything particularly interesting, like a simulation or meetings, I didn’t notice it. I belong to several of the healthcare groups that send out information. I kept watching for announcements of anything happening at the CDC space. Evidently they did use it at least once, although I didn’t hear about it until afterwards.

I’m not sure how they publicized it, but word didn’t make it to my SL communities or groups. According to the CDC site, they were getting some traffic.

“The space features streaming video, historical public health posters and numerous links to information on CDC’s current space on Second Life averages about 200 visitors a month. ”
CDC: Virtual Worlds – eHealth Marketing:

After a while, I forgot about the CDC in Second Life except when I would mention government engagement with virtual worlds. After all, NOAA has glorious interactive 3d data mashups and simulations. NLM has a replica of ToxTown as a real town you can walk through to discover common dangers. There are many more wonderful examples of our government making creative and effective use of Second Life and virtual worlds. Just, the CDC wasn’t one of those spaces. From what I’ve been able to see as an outsider, I’d guess that the CDC management over-controlled the project from the beginning, did not give their creative people space to work with, and then compounded those errors by not engaging with the community in that space, not building their own community, not reaching out to communities, not keeping content active and lively, etcetera. They actually make a great case study of how to fail in virtual worlds.

The CDC space in Second Life had shifted from almost there to sort of there, and then lingered slowly, fading. So today, people noticed that the space had actually disappeared both from Second Life and from the CDC’s Social Media page, where it used to be listed.

Second Life: CDC Island Disappears

People were alarmed. “Oh my goodness!” “What’s happening?” “Is Second Life failing?” No, and no, folks. If Second Life is failing or not can’t be judged by one government organization doing a bad job and bailing out.

WIN ONE (Trust or Trash)

Don’t judge the CDC too harshly for badly managing one venture. They do a lot of really great work, and the reason people were so upset was because we are so accustomed to them doing an exemplary job. In most matters, they set a high standard and show others how to do it right. A “Fail” seems much bigger in the context of an organization that is unaccustomed to failure. One of the things the CDC has done well is to identify and support creative organizations that are creating work compatible with their mission.

The Trust or Trash site is one of the projects the CDC has supported, and is a great example of vision, insight, intelligence, creativity, and the right message at the right time.

Trust or Trash:
Trust or Trash

The groups behind the site include Access To Credible Genetics (ATCG) Resource Network, a cooperative agreement with the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the project oversight coming from the Genetic Alliance.

The Trust or Trash site is a tool to help folks build a comfort level saying whether or not information on the web is good or not. This is an area I’ve been working in a very long time. What I learned was that any tips or guidelines had to start simple and get simpler. I built tool after tool to help with this, and was never able to come up with something that was both simple and replicable. I use “replicable” in the sense that most people would tend to look at a website and agree about whether it was good or not. That is a lot harder than it sounds.

The concept of the site is solid and simple. The ideas work. It reminds me of how Temple Grandin took the animal care evaluation sheets and simplified them from 100 to 5, with the five being ones you absolutely could not fail. This is that kind of process. If the basic tips at the top level of the Trust or Trash model work, well, you can look deeper to make things better. If they don’t work or fail, just forget about that site. These are the low-hanging fruit of assessing web authority and credibility. Yes, there is a lot more to it, but if a site fails at these, you don’t need to dig a lot deeper to know there is something wrong.

Trust or Trash

The Trust or Trash site does give more of those details for those who want to know more. It also provides the basics as a PDF to download. There are some real web accessibility issues with the site, which I hope they will correct in a future implementation, however, this is a clear case of “done good.” Bravo to the folks involved!

7 responses to “The Score with the CDC — Lose One, Win One

  1. It is unfortunate what happened with the CDC presence in SL. Thanks for giving some insight into the closure and some perspective into what it means in a broader context.



    • I agree completely, Kevin. The CDC had the power and potential to accomplish a great deal, do something significant, reach out, change lives, partner and empower and collaborate, but … it didn’t happen. And they gave up without ever really trying. And that is very sad.


  2. In a way they will be missed because just pointing out that the CDC was “in Second Life” seemed to offer credibility to skeptics but on the other hand, it wasn’t a model of success you wanted to show off to your Administrators either. What a failed opportunity! Do you think they realize this? or do you think they determined that virtual worlds aren’t the medium for their message, yet not realizing on any level it was their own fault it wasn’t?

    Thanks for the Trust or Trash info. I wasn’t aware of it. Good blog.


    • I don’t have any insider information to indicate what the CDC is thinking about this. I have many hypotheses, but no evidence, so am refraining. I agree completely that the balance between “credibility” and less than sterling “model of success” made them a tricky example to mention to real life administrators and decision makers. In a way, it is almost easier that they AREN’T there, because we can focus attention on the successful and credible implementations of Second Life.


  3. One person I met who was tangentially involved with CDC in SL was disappointed quite awhile ago (years?) with the lack of follow through.

    That said, it was great that the gave it at try and hope they learned something for next time.

    While I’d rather see an ongoing presence, maybe they could come into SL during times of crisis, do their good work, then bug out (saving their resources until next time.)


  4. John Norris AKA Knoh Oh


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