• Avatar Under (Social) Construction

    February 16, 2009 • Uncategorised • Comments Off on Avatar Under (Social) Construction

    With reference to and inspired by Dustan Writer’s article ‘I AM NOT REALLY ME, AND I PROBABLY NEVER WILL BE: AVATARS AND ACTUAL IDENTITY’

    Social Construction

    Anyone who has studied Social Psychology will be familiar with the extensive work of Kenneth Gergen about the constructed identity and its variants in different social groups and situations. Also group work done by Zimbardo and others underpins these significant findings.

    This is a phenomena that has been well researched and well proven for many years now. Its findings and conclusions are well established, even in situations that are fabricated and not considered ‘normal’ interaction.

    Constructed Identity

    Our identity consists of parts. All are part of the whole, yet the sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves.

    Identity varies in differing situations and each person who knows us sees us with a different identity according to their own filter of experience and understanding. Just as we all have our ‘telephone voice’, we have a personality for every individual we come into contact with, depending on our previous stereotyping of people we judge as being ‘like them’ – in real life this judgement is often made by the colour of someone’s skin, their gender, hair colour, age and dress. These categorisations are strikingly arrived at within 7 seconds, before a person even has a chance to open his or her mouth.

    Pinker (2002, p. 202) writes that “some categories really are social constructions: they exist only because people tacitly agree to act as if they exist”.

    Avatar Identity

    Avatars are a convenient way to decide on what stereotype you wish to be given, outside of those organically embedded into you. You already have an idea of what makes up that category. In Second Life, we are also defining new categories, such as Steam Punk and Furries. What we have is created a socially agreed norm for what constitutes that category.

    Avatar names are also constructed like real names. Akin to nicknames, they are ones we chose for ourselves rather than having names like ‘four eyes’ thrust upon us. We construct our own chosen identities within the pressures of our real environment, it is much the same within virtual worlds.

    Identities Linked

    I personally agree that real names and photographs should identify us and link us to the real world, however there too, we are in a continual process of constructing and deconstructing our identities, dependent on our own and others’ expectations. No one has a consistent identity that they carry around with them intact, we vary al the time. When you row with your significant other or scream at your kids, are you the same person who greets the boss? I hope not because you’ll soon be out of a job.

    The same applies to virtual worlds, we fit in with societal expectations of us. Linden Labs has the intelligence to treat each cultural entity as distinct. They don’t expect conformity as Twinity does (which is not surprising given its Germanic home – were we to stereotype this would be neat, tidy, organised and controlled). We are all bound by our own cultural expectations.

    What is Transparency?

    When Dustan talks about trust, again the word transparency rises its ugly head. Authenticity, integrity, validity and other such words enter the arena too. He mentions ‘RECOURSE’, this is simply a culturally bound principle in the US and other western nations. Nations who do not have a blame/sue culture are not even aware of this. I have a lot of contact with Portuguese people, in both realms and people from this culture are eager to exchange personal information in Second Life. There is no ‘blame culture’ in that country. Perhaps the Western ‘sue’ culture is the reason for fear, not transparency itself.

    I myself was at the sharp end of that phenomenon in hiring a builder who we shall call ‘Dolly’ here. Dolly was from the US, California to be precise. Dolly wasn’t interested in the pittance I paid her to build in Second Life, she had a sick relative who needed money for medical care. Dolly had limited building skills and I took pity on her believing I could train her. Needless to say Dolly’s work was never any good and was never completed. However, after she disappeared I was contacted by her lawyer who informed me that I had to pay $12,000 US because she had incurred stress during her work in Second Life. All this was set up well before I took Dolly on and needless to say, she had already tried the same stunt several times before this. If this is your culture, then indeed it is wise to hide your true identity.

    Where there is money, the lawyers, accountants and tax men will always be there to take their cut.

    However this is nothing to do with ‘who you are’ and everything to do with preventing exploitation. As Dustan says, relationships are another construction, built over time and dependent on past performance. This is why social networks have become paramount during these information rich times.

    Body of Evidence

    I have to disagree with Prokofy Neva, not because I personally disagree, but because there is a huge body of empirical research that reinforces these facts about the human psyche. I see the power of Prokofy’s argument and know that might can sometimes be right, but not in this case – where masses of leading research over the past 100 years points in the opposite direction. Alberik did not write tripe, he wrote something that has been well substantiated. I am sure that those interested in this subject would find much of the work done by ‘Social Constructionists’ useful.

    The Value of Anonymity

    As Infocyde points out, Oscar Wilde was a wise man. Seldom are we given the opportunity for anonymity in life. However, the opposite is also possible, as people are shown to construct lies more liberally when given anonymity in courts. As even language is a fundamental construct, we can make ourselves and others believe anything we want to through language and image.

    The true value of anonymity is freedom of choice, the choice to tell the truth or to lie without the threat of punishment.

    Why hide behind an Avatar?

    So why separate part of our personalities and split them off – as you would do if you kept your true identity hidden behind an avatar?

    – To separate an aspect of your personality and contain it in an environment that is not threatening. People threatened in this way would find help in the study of PTSD, fragmented personalities and warfare to understand this more deeply.

    As Kwame AKA (Julius Sowu) says, fleeing from ourselves has caused more grief that integrating and understanding our various identities, or ‘faces’. Personally I would encourage anyone resisting this move forward to look at themselves and identify what they are frightened of instead of resisting change.

    Times are Changing

    Change is inevitable, even change of the ‘self’. We grow older, we change jobs, we cannot resist it. Change can be positive, once we are across the barrier that is fear. We are more than one identity, we are many – changing, evolving and growing. I thank everyone who has given me the material and inspiration to join this discussion to help me change and grow.

    To show the world all that you are and share it with others is the most powerful expression of ‘self’ possible. To deny this to yourself and others is tragic.

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  • Moore’s Law as applied to Second Life

    February 16, 2009 • Uncategorised • Comments Off on Moore’s Law as applied to Second Life

    The Moore’s Law of Second Life

    Moore’s Law is an interesting phenomenon faced by all new technologies and was highlighted by Geoffrey Moore as early as 1991. One well understood method for spanning the chasm is through the application of information. Thus education is key to mass adoption.

    As Moore says in ‘Crossing The Chasm’ “the notion that part of what defines a high-tech market is the tendency of its members to reference each other when making buying decisions– is absolutely key to successful high-tech marketing.”

    This being the case, the only way to achieve this is by educating the market and ensuring the word is spread – although I have to add here, this is only once you have established ‘who’ your market is. I am not sure that Linden Labs has a clear definition or appreciation of who their market actually is yet?

    Establishing the Market

    Linden Labs appear keen to adopt anyone who comes across to them. This does not strengthen or focus their initiative. Going off at many tangents dilutes power and lacks direction. To run a race you have to have a specific goal. Intangible end points at various locations simply reduces effectiveness.

    One thing I don’t see is a consistent strategy or to put it into popular current business speak ‘a Roadmap’.

    Game Play and War Strategies – Follow history

    My advice to them would be to watch what happened with the closest business model to theirs, the Internet. It evolved from military and educational use. Banks and Government followed rapidly with their need to connect between nations. Companies and corporations came last. Many who failed to adopt the Internet early enough, found their market being stolen from underneath their noses by online equivalents such as Amazon.

    I predict that this pattern will repeat in Second Life and other virtual interconnectivity solutions. New businesses will evolve from within the media, which will replace existing ones – this is good news for some of Linden Labs existing users as skill sets are already being honed even though the market is immature. Early adopters in the current gold rush will benefit, but will need to innovate, not just repeat ‘online versions’ of existing methods to market.

    Increase productivity value

    Other metrics include making products easier, cheaper and faster than existing adopted methods. When huge established corporations such as Microsoft, launch a new technology, they already have an established market to throw the new products into, leaving companies such as Linden Labs as the ‘poor man’ in a highly competitive environment. 
    You can tell when a technology is mature by the behaviour of Microsoft, who will copy the best parts of existing products and launch their own product with those features in it. To date, the virtual world market is still immature and most platform creators are still yet to understand their market. We in the field can tell them who their market is, should they wish to listen to us rather than follow the latest whim. 
    As information is part of the key to mass adoption, it would seem sensible for the solution provider to ask its existing market of early adopters. This seldom happens in young and small companies as they lack the resources to use strategies such as gaming and using information methods to understand their niche and outsmart their competitors in the form of huge corporations ready to pounce and swallow their market.

    History will repeat itself

    I found this to be true from examining Netscape’s marketing policy in 1996. Remember them? – they were the market leaders at the time. They made an executive decision to let Microsoft spend it’s money on marketing its new browser and they would tag onto its tail and get their (hat they expected to be – larger) share of the market from that. Anyone why has studied game theory would have been aware of the consequences from the example of the Americas Cup Race. In yachting wisdom it is commonly accepted that if you are in the lead, watch the guy behind and do everything he is doing because that way he cannot overtake you.
    Advice for Linden Labs
    For Linden Labs the direction seems clear: stay focussed, watch your imitators and exploit the existing user base to spread the message ‘virally’. Information, ease of use and lower costs lead to mass adoption. 
    A Footnote:

    As a gateway owner and a firm aficionado of Second Life and virtual worlds, one thing I come across a lot is ‘what is there to do here’. 
    I just want to add here that the answer to ‘anything you want’ will soon be supplied with many opportunities and products to fill that ‘chasm’.

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  • How Virtual Worlds affect Real Lives

    January 22, 2009 • Uncategorised • Comments Off on How Virtual Worlds affect Real Lives

    Virtual worlds will affect every aspect of everyone’s life and in the future will be central to community, particularly as live events are broadcast and spread around the world mixing and meshing with virtual events.

    People often confuse virtual worlds with role play games. They are not the same. Role play games have several embedded features to them which can be copied in virtual worlds but are not necessarily part of the virtual world.

    Virtual worlds are the domain of real people, who use this medium to connect with and communicate across distance. The share ideas and ideals. Meeting up and creating their own selective communities, rather than those that are physically imposed upon them by location.

    Virtual World domination

    At present there is only one dominant player in Virtual Worlds for adults. This player is Second Life. Recent distribution of its core software has weakened it’s position as the only platform, however it remains the dominant brand.

    This distribution of Linden Labs source code was a strategic move that rebounded on them. They did not account for people’s greed and meglomania. Instead of their naive belief that developers would help to make the basic platform better. Programmers built competitors from the source code.

    This meant that offspring were springing up from its flesh everywhere. Unlike other ‘open source’ offerings, the lack of competitors or a pricey market leader such a s Microsoft meant that Linden labs were perceived to be ‘the enemy’ to be vanquished by the programmers and coders.

    For inden Labs, this has meant the necessity of subsequent diversification for Second Life and entry into other market spaces. This has been achieved with partnering some of it’s own ‘child’ businesses and buying out others. They have recently also entered the ‘content’ arena with the acquisition of Xstreet.

    Scalability in Second Life

    Other issues for Second Life are questionable scalability. Forever pushing at that 100 people maximum in a 16 acre area, it now has another apparent boundary of 75,000 concurrent users, after which logging on is a problem. Bandwidth also causes users to have a poor experience at present too and users expect a quality of service for any product they purchase or use. In Second Life this is seeming to be compromised at present.

    That said, it is still the dominant platform, with more diversity than other platforms are capable of delivering and more people there too. Education is prominent with courses such as ‘Beyond Google’ by the Open University now being offered. It has become the de facto platform of choice, to challenge it, a competitor has to adopt and adapt many of its basic principles.

    User experience

    The main thing that Virtual Worlds offer is a user experience. Linden Labs provide an excellent and evocative user experience, good or bad, it provides stimulus for those brave enough to go through the preliminary challenge of getting to know how to use the software. People are naïve to expect to be able to use it in one hour, like driving a car or learning Windows, it takes time. Oddly enough, the excitement people feel about this experience often leads them to neglect their basic training with the software.

    With experience, having gone through the learning cycle, people realise the potential of this platform to transform their lives.

    People initially make a friendship, often with another newcomer and explore the ‘world’. If they continue, they find commonalities and shared interests. For some it is simply finding a cool gadget or a nice pair of shoes, for others it is finding a peer group or social connection. This usually draws them in to other people and wanting to take ownership of their own ‘part’ of this world.

    The things that are important in our lives are family, friends, home and personal expression. These are all fulfilled inside the communities of virtual worlds.

    Benefits of virtual worlds

    Some people in these worlds are currently active because they have special reasons to exist inside their heads. Some are housebound for physical and psychological reasons, others are cut off from their peers due to their physical location. These platforms benefit these people greatly, enabling us to continue long distance relationships and not discriminate because of physical affliction or imperfection. Indeed emotionally vulnerable people can also benefit from these methods of interaction too, provided they find the right environment.

    Stereotypes are dismissed or exaggerated, even played with by crossing race, gender and age. By being what you want, you can escape from what you are perceived to be by those who apparently ‘know’ you and judge you out of hand.

    You can find friends with similar yet unusual interests, so having hem local is unlikely, but connecting with someone across the world is easy. Virtual worlds therefore benefit people wishing to share knowledge and create friendships with kindred spirits.

    Up river from friendships are personal relationships such as witnessed in ‘Brie and Seany’, romance and sex are and always have been high in the game of technological innovation. This will never cease.

    As well as virtual events. meet ups happen in the real world such as in The Greyhound in Kensington. Real and virtual friends meet up at the same time, and mix reality with the virtual experience in an unexpectedly rewarding mix for everyone. This make the difference between a separate virtual and real existence and draws both together uniting personalities and forging even deeper friendships than occur either in reality or virtually.

    Communities are the mainstay of society and their extension into virtual platforms is simply as important as the railway, telephone, radio, TV or Internet. We are all interested in ‘connecting’ with one another. Humankind is forever looking to have bonds forged with each other. Virtual worlds affect real lives not because they are different, isolated, imagined lives, but because they are simply an extension of real lives, one where w can experiment in physical safety before venturing out and taking risks with our lives and expend time and commitment.

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