The virtual world of Second Life is home to entrepreneurs, visionaries, crackpots, nerds, CPAs (!), Fortune 500 businesses - basically anyone with a computer and a willingness to explore a 3-D world - and it also includes the IRS among its denizens.
The IRS uses Second Life as a recruiting tool, and claims that, depending on how one looks at it, the taxing agency is actually saving millions of taxpayer dollars by devoting some time and money to this virtual world instead of using its resources in more expensive venues, like, say, NASCAR?
Yes it's true. We're sure it's true because we read it in a blog. According to Steven Rothberg at CollegeRecruiter.com, Frank Stipe, who holds the title of Virtual Worlds & Social Networking Project Manager at the IRS, responded with this statement when asked about the IRS presence in Second Life:
In 2008, the IRS project team established a presence in the Second Life virtual world with the goal of exploring the potential use of this environment for recruitment and training purposes. The team has created the IRS Careers Island and constructed a sky platform with an IRS Careers Center and an IRS Education Center. A number of building design configurations have been tested. A number of education and entertainment features have also been built to attract residents to the simulation (sim). All basic construction has been completed and the sim has been opened to the general population in Second Life since February 2009.
Nearly identical to brand marketing in the physical world marketplace, brand marketing in the SL virtual world involves placing brand messaging in high traffic venues. Unlike the physical world, the IRS has actually built its own venue that provides excellent marketing opportunities.
In the physical world, we could spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on sponsoring a race car that displays our brand in a field of thirty or more other cars. In the SL virtual world, we have spent a few thousand dollars to build complete entertainment and communications venue that includes a race course. IRS branding throughout the venue not only displays our messaging, but it also instantly dispenses marketing collateral and links to our Careers web site.
We are now entering the relationship building phase where we are reaching out to universities that operate virtual campuses in Second Life to market directly to their students by sponsoring student projects in Second Life.
Inside Second Life, you can contact either our recruiter Robin Laviscu or our sim engineer RobinRasberry Sorbet.
So now you know where some of your tax dollars are being spent, and you are no doubt pleased that there is a race track involved as well. I took a spin around the race track at IRS Careers Island and found it to be pretty boring (granted, I was the only person on the track), but there were some billboard-type announcements along the way, encouraging me to click so that I could learn more about IRS careers and "fab benefits." At IRS Careers Island you can find out information about temporary and seasonal jobs around the country, and there are plenty of links to the IRS Web site. There's a "room" with a penguin mural where you are invited to have your avatar (you have to have an avatar if you're in Second Life) sit down on chairs and couches and "get comfy." There is an education center where you can see more penguins and where virtual conferences might be held, and there are some strange posters scattered around the site, instructing the observer to "Obey." Not sure what that's all about. There are also little virtual shops where you can purchase provocative women's apparel for your avatar. You can play in the IRS sandbox and dance at the IRS dance club. There's probably not much resemblance here to actual IRS offices, but in a virtual world, the possibilities are endless.