In the last post, I introduced the book The kids are alright that talks about ethics, interests, and motivations of the gamer generation as it is starting to enter the workplace. The post was getting long so I left out this bit.
To me the idea of SecondLife was only a dream back in 1992, when text-based MMOGs were available. Even then, there were many MUDs, MOOs, etc. where players eventually got bored of playing the hack-n-slash life and switched more to socializing and creating. The lands I created in lpmud using a derivative of the C programming language inside the game is a similar notion to Lindenscript in SL now. Of course, with a text-basis, you did not have the sheer coolness of a 3D world. But that came back to bite me when I tried SL programming. While I can do the programming, I'm pretty lousy & slow with 3D graphics. That and my lack of time just made me give up (too easily I'm afraid).
My own scripting woes aside, it's the change from game-playing to game-making that made those programmable MUDs really fun. I don't want to say it's a bit of growing up but for me it was a switch from entertainment to using my skills. Not everyone wants to do that and even those who didn't want to play but still returned to the game to socialize points to the need for a different kind of environment: the same that SecondLife is suited for.
What's more, by taking the game aspect out of SL, it allows those of the non-gamer generation (per that book) to relate even better. My guess on what sold companies on getting involved in SL is not just the 3D factor, the programmability, the multi-user environment, etc., but because it is a transition environment between the two generations. Gamer-gen folks can work on this and still explain to their non-gamer gen bosses and seniors that it's okay because "It's not a game." That may sound silly, but the reality is that the non-gamer gens generally still consider games a waste of time, so anything that suggests that it is a game is most likely not worth the attention, and that the gamer employees are probably slacking off.
I bring this up because it is not limited to SL and the like, but even to other community & web 2.0 services. This same parallel exists in situation when a developer becomes an active member of a discussion forum, a chat, a wiki or are blogging . One common first assumption is that they are slacking off, rather than the reality that they may be building better relations than what you pay loads of money to communications, marketing and PR departments for, or even make the right connections to help them in their work.
Very often they are asked to justify themselves spending their time in such activities, in terms of some sort of results: solutions, work products, clientelle, etc. The difficulty lies in the fact that the benefits that they get from communities is building social capital, which itself is an intangible and variable product. You'll find dozens of books that all talk about the value of social capital in business, but it is still hard to measure and compare. But then again some folks have figured out (somewhat) complex ways of determining other intangibles like productivity, loyalty, coolness, etc., so I think there is hope yet for some form of measure.
After all, if we are fixated on results-driven and measured processes for everything, we would definitely need a way to describe that. Enough for now, I'll gab about some ways of measuring this in other posts.
a guide to understanding communities for the non-gamer generation