Estonia, a small member state of the European Union with 1.3 million inhabitants living by the Baltic Sea, has since the 1990s been labelled as one of the leading “Information Age” countries, having a surprisingly high penetration rate of computer use and Internet. They’re very strong supporters of e-voting and e-government and known for their leading projects in those areas, as an example throughout Europe. It is thus not surprising to see that they’ve fully embraced Second Life and launched the official site of the Estonian Embassy in our virtual world. Estonia’s limited budget only allows it to maintain diplomatic relationships with about 40 countries, so the building in SL is planned to allow Estonia’s government to further these relationships at a very low cost.
Appropriately named “Virtual Estonia”, it does feature a huge and geometrically complex ultramodern building made by the architect Scope Cleaver, famous for his unique style that has given him the fame of being the “Calatrava or Leary of Second Life”. According to Scope himself, quoted by Distant Signals (who was one of the managers responsible for Estonia’s official presence in SL), “he thinks it is possible to create this building in real life ‘by some very angry architects'”. It features shiny, modern rooms with complex intersections of glass and concrete, dividing the space in interesting ways. An art/photography exhibition commemorates Estonia’s 90th anniversary as a Republic. The very interesting “Technology Room” appeals to Estonians’ high-tech know-how by proposing some creative devices that give SL residents a glimpse of the near future. There are also a few meeting rooms (featuring Scope’s amazingly detailed and realistic furniture), an amphitheatre, and some chilling out areas, which were being used by several members of the organisation to do informal meetings here and there.
Perhaps unlike other “embassies” in Second Life, Estonia’s is interesting because of its focus: they’re not here to show off the natural beauty of their lovely country and attract tourists. Instead they have settled to invite the visitors to experience a very high-tech country which is at the forefront of the computer and Internet revolution. It’s very likely that they’re planning to attract similarly-minded individuals, organisations, and governments from other countries to learn with Estonia how to expand and develop the roots of e-government and an information society inside a democratic country — Estonia having been ranked by “Reporters Without Borders” as having the fourth highest index of press freedom (the US ranks at #44) and by the State of World Liberty Index as the country with the highest level of individual and economic freedom and limited government (the US ranks at #8).