SLentrepreneur Profile: John Zelnik: Virtual Ambassador for Virtual Turkey

December 17th, 2009  |  Published in SL Entrepreneur Profiles

By Sigmund Leominster
John Zelnik began his Second Life® existence in April 2007. Just over two years later, he is the owner of Zelnik Virtual Solutions and has just opened an in-world museum that follows the life of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. SLentrepreneur talked to Zelnik about his…

“After reading various articles about Second Life,” he began, “I was curious about the world that those articles portrayed, where people could be anything they wanted; where they could build, create and explore. Like everyone else, this fascinated me. I wasn’t a person who played computer games as I never really had the time, so I guess I automatically saw Second Life as more than just a simple computer game. I saw it as a world of opportunities that contained real people. A global social platform.”
The notion of Second Life as a social platform rather than a straight game continues to be debated. A recent report by researchers at the University of Toronto went so far as to suggest that the Second Life environment can be used to educate people about illness; train physicians, nurses and medical students with virtual simulation; enable disease-specific support and discussion groups; fundraise real-life dollars for medical research; and to conduct research. The Principal Investigator, Jennifer Keelan, said “There is also a great potential for patients to practice being patients by virtually experiencing a mammogram or navigating a hospital’s virtual ward-they can gain insight into medical procedures and processes to become more informed.”[1]

Zelnik’s group is also concerned with the use of virtual environment as a platform for people who have disabilities.
“We are proud and honored to say we are the official virtual representatives of the real life organization called Engelleri Kaldir – Turkish for the “Removing Barriers Movement.” RBM was created by Rodin Alper Bingöl, a senior student in visual communications design at Bilgi University, Turkey, in January 2009. This project started as a thesis and has grown with the support of many organizations and the community. The movement aims to end all obstacles that violate human rights by creating projects and/or strategies that bring awareness and concrete solutions. The mission is to produce social change by helping marginalized communities to claim their rights. There are 8.5 million registered people with disabilities who live in Turkey and it is considered a population at risk. Therefore, RBM has started an awareness Project to bring this to everyone’s attention.”
RBM has a broader remit than just those people who would be referred to as “disabled” and aims to promote the rights of women and children who are in some way restricted from taking a full part in Turkish society:

RBM aims to create a social consciousness and awareness that will help to remove all kinds of physical and intellectual barriers in Turkey, fight for the violation of human rights and integrate people to social and production processes who are being viewed as “disabled” and therefore outcasted by the society.

In that manner, RBM’s target audience does not only consist of, blind, paralyzed or deaf people. RBM also targets the “disabled” women whose freedom of working is restricted, children whose right of being a child is prevented and generally all people whose freedom of expression is restricted. Beside these targeted groups, the “unhindered” people that has the power to remove barriers but not aware about what he/she can do in that manner is the other major target group. [2]

Zelnik continued by saying, “Our role within the project was to raise awareness in Second life and also provide a safe haven for people with disabilities from Turkey. We created a place of learning, motivating and most importantly removing barriers that these people face in their everyday lives.”

I asked whether he planned on starting a business when he first entered the virtual world.

“Initially, no. I was more interested in learning about Second Life and its purpose. Once I gained some basic knowledge, I started to help others who were new to Second Life to make their transition into this wonderful new world a much easier one. I released that this gave me a lot of joy and satisfaction. I felt I was making a difference to someone’s journey. So, after talking about Second Life with my real life girlfriend, we decided we wanted to give more to the people in Second Life and at the same time promote our culture and country the best way we possibly could.”

So that was when you took on the role of an unofficial ambassador for Turkey?

“Yes. We have had two business ventures in Second Life both extremely successful and we were running them simultaneously. The first was Virtual Bosphorus; a sim created to promote Turkey and the Turkish Culture [3]. We created replicas of real landmarks in Turkey so that people from all over the world to be able to see them. Our sim was not only directed to Turkish residents in Second Life but for people from all walks of life. To this day, Bosphorus is still a sim that prides itself on giving something back to the community.

“Virtual Bosphorus is also now a Linden Lab® Community Gateway sim [4]. It is the start of the journey for new Turkish residents who join Second Life. New residents are able to learn about it from the moment they arrive in-world via our Turkish Orientation section. The fast-growing success of Virtual Bosphorus has been a credit to my entire team. Princess Dikes, our operations manager and co-owner, puts in 15 hour days to ensure the success of our projects. Our builder extraordinaire, Achilles Phobos, has brought to life our visions and dreams. And Cem Jayaram is our amazing scripter who has worked day and night on all our projects since the beginning of Virtual Bosphorus. Aykut Uriza and Seyda Hoyes are our orientation staff whose jobs are to ensure newbies get a smooth start to Second Life.”

A Community Gateway (CG) is a starting point for new residents of SL, which is not maintained by Linden Lab, but by an established community. These gateways offer their own orientation path to give Residents an easy start. Linden Lab lists the various language/country-based gateways on the Second Life wiki [5].
“Our other venture,” he continued, “was more common: real estate. This was also successful. However it required a lot of time and dedication. So we have since ceased this venture, due to our workload with Virtual Bosphorus and the many other projects we have, which require 100% of our time.”

I then asked whether he makes money in Second Life or end up pumping money into the virtual world.

“I guess our purpose for doing what we do is purely out of passion for people. We support the sim financially with the amazing vendors we have in our mall section who believe in our project. What we put into the game financially is justified by the smiles on people’s faces. People in real life are always giving to charities without wanting something in return. Our purpose is people, and what we get in return are many thanks and lot of smiles. Personally speaking, no amount of money in this world can be as satisfying as this.”

And now?
“We are proud to bring to Second Life the first virtual Ataturk Museum. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was modern Turkey’s founder and first president. People can journey through his life via photos that can be seen in this new museum. It is a first of its kind in a virtual environment. We also have on display a miniature replica of Anitkabir, the burial place of Ataturk. We have also constructed a replica of the Bosphorus Bridge, which is located in the real life city of Istanbul, Turkey. Our bridge is fully functional and contains our Turkish orientation on one side of it. To get a taste of Turkey, Bosphorus is a good start, with its iconic landmarks and museum – not to mention art galleries that feature real Turkish artists.”

Finally, I asked Zelnik what three pieces of advice he would give to new SL residents wanting to make the most of their in-world experience.

“Firstly – and honestly – I have found that Second Life is no different to our first lives. There are good and bad in all lives. But if people are serious about what they are doing, open and honest, and don’t play silly games, their venture will in turn represent that and therefore built on a much stronger foundation.

“Secondly, always do your research. Just like anything else in our lives, do not jump into things blindfolded. Weigh the pros and cons.
“And finally, build a strong team of people around you who share the same vision.”

[1] Beard, L., Wilson, K., Morra, D., & Keelan, J. (2009). A Survey of Health-Related Activities on Second Life.  Journal of Medical Internet Research, May, 11(2):e17. Available online at
[2] Removing Barriers Movement:
[3] Virtual Bosphorus: SLURL:
[4] Linden Lab Community Gateway Program:
[5] Linden Lab Community Gateway Wiki:

Comments are closed.