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.
Community and social computing
with Tags: social_capital X
"I have recently entered SecondLife, out of curiosity of this new medium. Many people consider it nothing more than a 3D chatting/dating environment. IBM is not even taking communities on dW seriously, such as the discussion forum community. Why should IBM then be interested in this 3D virtual world of chatting/dating? Graphics are far less then the (2D) websites, information is much harder to publish or to find. Everybody is already hating spam mails and ads on websites. What does make SL so special for IBM??? Or are we going to sit (our avatar) in virtual classrooms or meeting rooms? Why not simply use IM (instant messaging, like Sametime), netmeeting, webcams, Skype, phones and other real-life interaction/communication mediums."
This is only my dime-store psychology at work: I think one big advantage over SL is that it takes into account that most humans are visual animals. If you can see something moving around and doing things, then it is probably "real". However, when it's a post left by someone that doesn't give an indication of who that person is, what else they are doing, etc., it is much more easy to ignore them.
When just read the information on a community site and ignore the actual person who writes it (happens very often), it becomes only a piece of data, and you evaluate it in terms of the value of the data, rather than the value of the person. Unless you are a frequent reader of that site, you may not pick up on names; people tend to ignore or forget names unless something really sticks out about the person, and online with aliases, nicknames, etc. it is easier to ignore them. The first impression is that you may not know who this person is; if you have an opinion about them, you still don't really know what others think about them. Unless you really spend the time (very rare) to get to know a specific person, you essentially take the interaction for the face worth of the data they provide.
What I'm talking about here is the underlying social capital of trust. It is more difficult to trust an unknown source especially with little background, little peripheral knowledge around that person, limited ways of finding out what else they know or have contributed, little understanding of their relationships with others, limited or disjointed contact with the person, etc. This overall potential but disjointed relationship is hampered by the fact that most online community services are not live. This also sort of explains why some live services are even more successful: instant messaging, online chatrooms, MMOGs, videoconferencing, and secondlife.
Of course, when I say "live" in the online world, I mean it only in thecontext of direct communication within a given session rather thannecessarily an actual face-to-face. With a live service, you can (or at least attempt to) directly communicate with the other person, rather than build up a relationship through separate deferred messages back and forth via email, postings, comments, etc. The more live you get the better your chances for building a connection with the other person and probably faster too.
On the other hand, most people do not have the time to build many relationships and a live meeting takes up direct individual time, and will probably require a number of sessions before such communication becomes any form of a relationship. This is the classic battle between the need to develop relationships and the need to preserve our own time. It's also why deferred communications through postings, etc., counts as the next best thing. And hence we start with basic communication services like discussion forums (focused purely on deferred messages to a group).
What is needed however, is to try to flesh out the deferred interactions, or bring in more aspects of "live-ness". A step up is a blog, which is still deferred but may give you agreater understading about the person (blogger) based on their thoughtsand writings. To get more information about the person, they should have a profile that describes their background. Another direction is a wiki: while deferred, it allows people to change the content in a pseudo-live way, rewriting each others material as they care to. Another really helpful tool is a peer-to-peer rating system, so you can understand what people think of the person's contribution in their various engagements around the community. Finally, having actual live online services that they can attend on occassion or on demand, fills it out.
All these combine to give a once anonymous other person, a greater depth and personality, and a basis to consider whether this person, not just their knowledge, is worth making a connection with.
I'm not sure I answered Franks question, but this "live-ness" is part of it. Add on top of it, the ability to create, and enrich the environment with more tools and "feathering" to make it an appealing environment to communicate, gives Secondlife a much greater depth in terms of community building.
But, what Frank points out, and what I indicated about time-restrictions of live activities, remains true. Most information is and probably will always be in text. So, no matter how fancy a visual environment you have, without text content, it may lack sufficient information to learn from others. In other words, secondlife may never truly replace the web, since deferred communications ("do it on my time, not yours") and text ("easy to create info") is still the primary choice.
Sorry to say to all those who dream of living in the Matrix, but when it comes to gathering information, you'll still need the realm of text (until we evolve enough to dispose of text entirely). You can talk to people, and interact as much as you want, but the most common way may still be in reading the information.