Big pink hairy deal. If I had a world, would anyone come? If you had a world, would I visit? I know, 100 million Habbos disagree. But they’re tweenagers … and everyone knows tweenagers are strange.
There has been some comparison between Web 2.0 and virtual worlds, including Tachevert’s excellent article today.
For social networking sites, there are three major divisions of activity. If virtual worlds are to become the social networking sites of the future, they must, I believe, improve the quality of each of these activities.
#1 The basis of the whole social networking ecosystem is in the act of Self-Revelation through content creation. You post the movies and music you like, your friends list, and personal pictures. All of this content reveals something about you.
#2 Which leads us directly to the second major activitiy: People Watching. Social networking sites are really a kind of big mutual peep show. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine. The very purpose of your personal revelation through content generation is so that others can drop in and learn something about you.
#3 And having learned something about you, we might move on to Intercourse. No, not that kind …
in·ter·course /ˈɪntərˌkɔrs, -ˌkoʊrs/ –noun
1. dealings or communication between individuals, groups, countries, etc.
Facebook, for example, is loaded with activities. Facebook isn’t meant (generally speaking) to be a games platform – it’s a medium for social exchange. And the games aren’t meant (generally speaking) as gray matter challenges … their purpose is to promote intercourse! Interactions between people. A simple hello or poke. A gifting. A mutual exchange. A challenge for superiority. All the typical social stuff.
As much as it pains me to say, I don’t think virtual worlds enhance the social networking experience. In theory, at least, a virtual world brings with it a sense of space and object. Traditionally, the use of graphics is much greater.
But I fail to see how this improves the social experience. Now, rather than expressing myself in words, I have to employ graphics or objects to indicate that I’m happy or sad or deeply in love with random person #32. The traditional virtual world is a barrier to my revelation of self.
Think about it. You must describe yourself to the world. In traditional social networking sites, you set-up a friends list, throw up a half-nude photo taken in the bathroom mirror and fill in a profile. Over time the clarity of this image of you will improve as more photos and posts appear on the pages of you and your friends.
So now try to describe yourself in a virtual world. You can’t use words. Well, I guess there could be a notebook in the virtual world that you click on and you get to read some words. You can’t post photos. Well, I guess there could be virtual picture frames in the virtual world that you click on and you get to see a photo. You could paint everything in your virtual world maroon, if that’s your favourite color. Or you could litter your virtual space with ponies (or whatever cuddly farm animal you happen to be into). That is, of course, assuming you can find a virtual pony to add to your space. Maybe you’ll have to settle for a donkey or a cow, if that’s all that’s available.
Clearly, a virtual world does not help me to reveal myself. Quite the opposite, I think it complicates the process of expressing oneself .. it needlessly complicates content creation. Words and photographs are accessible to everyone. 3D (or isometric) object creation is not.
And if words and photos are a natural method of expression, why constrain them to an artificial frame. And why must I be proximal to an object to get a good look at it. It only makes them less accessible to those that want to see them. A virtual world not only complicates content creation, but content consumption.
Intercourse? Virtual worlds certainly can add to the experience of social exchange. They can permit a kind of immediate self-expression that feels very personal. Since we each have virtual property, that property can be exchanged. Since you and I have virtual form, you and I can do things to each others virtual form. Unfortunately, that only works well when you and I are online at the same time.
This isn’t to say I don’t believe virtual worlds have a place. I think they excel in other ways, particularly in how people interact. But that’s a topic for later.
For now, at least, I’ve answered my own question … if I had a virtual world, would anyone care? No, I don’t think so. No virtual world is going to reveal anything about me that isn’t otherwise expressed in a more easily consumed fashion elsewhere. And if you had a virtual world, would I visit? Probably not for long. We’ll connect much better in a different medium.
But please, prove me wrong!