Cool. Sunlight Now in Second Life (Thanks to an API…)


Here is a cool development. Steve Nelson is displaying information on members of Congress inside Second Life (SLurl location) using the Sunlight Labs's still-in-beta API (Application Programming Interface).

Steve is entering his "U.S. House of Representatives Info Center" in Sunlight's first Web 2.0 Mash-Up contest (deadline April 15). I'm blogging it because it so wonderfully illustrates the phrase Sun Microsystems, Inc.'s CEO Jonathan Schwartz used to explain why Sun, a publically traded Fortune 500 company, decided to embraced open source: "Openness is an accelerant." Openness is an accelerant. None of us in the Labs know the first thing about programming Second Life. Yet, because we have an open web service API for certain data on Congressional Representatives at, someone else could. As the screen shot shows, Second Life members approach Steve's Info Center and then type their zip code into chat. Steve programmed his Info Center to go over the web to SunlightLabs's API and fetch back a photo of the appropriate representative and links to related pages on different accountability web sites.

Our openness accelerated Steve's bringing data we compiled to new users in a new context with new tools. Regardless of your opinion of 3D worlds, how cool is that? To get a bit more geeky, two types of openness enable Steve's Info Center Mash-Up: 1) the openness of web service APIs and 2) the openness Second Life provides to its "citizens" to create virtual objects.

Sunlight Labs rockstar Dr. Carl Anderson created a web service API to a database that cross references zip codes with congressional districts with the IDs different web sites use to use publish dynamic content on members of Congress from their particular databases. Having an API means other developers — like Steve Nelson — can access the cross-referencing we've already done directly from their computer programs thereby accelerating their ability to make new applications with this data. Our API open goodness is then paired with the openness of Second Life's platform that allows members to create and populate its virtual world with structures and objects much the same way AOL's members created and populated AOL with community bulletin boards and chat rooms.

Steve created his interactive congressional display within SL's Capitol Hill, a place for political information he co-created with others. SL's openness accelerates its development by its members. (To experience a different but equally cool Web 2.0 mash-up of congressional data in your standard browser, see If you are citizen of Second Life, visit Steve's Info Center. If you are a developer — Second Life or Web 2.0 — use openness as an accelerant to your own ideas for mashing-up congressional information and enter our Mash Up Contest before the April 15, 2007 deadline for chance to win $2,000. We are eager to see what's next!

Update 04.03.2007 Steve Nelson posted more details on his blog.