LOS ANGELES — A group of people have gathered beside a gazebo in an outdoor park to discuss the presidential election. But the park isn't real, it's in the online virtual world of Second Life, where pixelated avatars fly around and interact with each other.
The folks in the park are hanging out at the Straight Talk Cafe, an online enclave that supports John McCain. "I think we need to know a little bit more about Obama," a character named Sophia Yates tells the group.
She's interrupted by another character, Auryn Karu, demanding to hear the group's thoughts about Sarah Palin.
"Auryn, just go to Obama's world," says another avatar, MarsS Juran.
Volunteers for the presidential candidates unofficially created campaign headquarters, held grass roots rallies, handed out virtual buttons and T-shirts, and signed up actual voters in the vast virtual world developed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab. Many people decided to spend election day as their avatars — and they weren't alone.
Across the Internet, election watchers were discussing, celebrating and bemoaning the political process inside such virtual worlds and on social networking sites and blogs. They were also using techno-savvy Web sites such as Twitter, Google Maps and Flickr to share individual voting experiences, as well as monitor polling places across the country on Tuesday.
At the nonpartisan TwitterVoteReport.com, specially tagged Twitter.com micro-blogs about voting were being aggregated and pinpointed on an ever-changing online map. The 140-characters-or-less posts, called tweets, may even be broadcast during election coverage on the cable network Current. The site also used tweets to estimate voting wait times. Some were simply informal.
"Looking for a good place to watch the returns come in on the Upper West Side in NYC," tweeted Colleen Newvine on Monday.
Not all the online pursuits were serious. In Electronic Arts' species simulator "Spore," the game's developer created downloadable spaceships in the candidates' likeness.
In the Sporepedia, which lists such creations, the John McCain and Sarah Palin ships were classified as an "endangered species," while the Barack Obama and Joe Biden vessels were deemed a "flourishing species" based on votes.
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