Welcome to a blog on Virtual Worlds and social media

Deborah Butler's blog is about organisations and business and how they can benefit from virtual worlds. She also uses her favourite project, Virtual London inside the Second Life platform as a case study.
Deborah Butler works for Virtually Linked Limited, creators of London in Second Life and media streaming / 3d content and event organisers.
In Second Life, her well known Avatar is called 'Debs Regent'.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Do Virtual Worlds Cause Psychological Disorders Like Depression And Addiction?

A post at http://metaversetribune.com/2010/09/13/is-it-fair-to-blame-virtual-worlds/ prompts me to comment...

People with addictive personalities often find something to become addicted to, if not the Internet, a football team, if not a football team, a square of cloth. Addictive personalities are not the problem and nor are virtual worlds, society is the root cause of this addiction. Addictive brains have been scanned and it has been found that part of the brain are differently wired to that of a 'normal' person (if there is such a thing).

Lack of variety of tasks on offer in life, education imbalance that fails to engage the many parts of a person that are needed for a healthy psyche. In fact, I would go as far as to say that virtual worlds are a safety net up to a point. The addictive behaviour that separates part of oneself from everything else could be an alternative to medication. In fact, it could prevent medication totally when a support system is found inside the refuge of virtual worlds.

Also, people are there who can offer comfort, friendship and advice, some even who have gone through the same trials and tribulations. Virtual worlds can also provide an escape from socially restrictive circumstances, a 'hide way' from the harsh realities of life.

I am not saying we all should escape life, but depressives often sleep a lot and live in their dreams, awakening only to find the reality they cannot deal with in the first place. They are then treated with medication and either 'get better' or stay that way. What a better option to have an alternative 'fantasy world' with 'real people' that can help.

I agree with Catriona M. Morrison, DPhil, Institute of Psychological sciences from the University of Leeds Great Britain that “over-engaging in Web sites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction.”

However a link does not mean one causes the other. As Skylar Smythe points out, an 'association' does not suggest cause and effect. Many things are associated, yet one does not necessarily cause the one another and the cause / effect may even be reversed. No connection can be assumed until proven.

As a compulsion disorder, Internet Addiction is treated very much as other compulsion disorders, by replacing the addicts' source of 'addiction' with something else. It is not certain that the person may not form a similar addiction to the replacement, as that too may offer the succor that the 'Internet Addiction' provided in the first place.

What I would like to see is the people who treat these issues use virtual worlds to treat their patients with. After all, virtual worlds and virtual reality have been used to help patients with many other psychiatric disorders and phobias. http://vrlab.epfl.ch/~bhbn/psy/index-VR-Psychology.html

Monday, September 6, 2010

Are Super-brands using Social Media?

From recent research, it appears that globally recognized brands hardly use social media. For example, in fashion, you seldom see the appearance of a big brand such as Prada or Gucci in social media campaigns. They are more likely to stick with Vogue magazine in spite of their huge aspirational following on social sites like Facebook.

Gucci and Mercedes Benz stand out as isolated cases. Gucci did try a lukewarm campaign, EyeWeb, where it invited people to upload photos that were shown on a pair of Gucci sunglasses as a reflection. To borrow a term 'less is less' may still be applicable to this industry.


However, 'less being less' is not isolated to the fashion industry and lack of social media use is repeated throughout industries. Super-brands appear to be turning a blind eye to social media, or are waiting until they are forced into it as it becomes increasingly mainstream.

Meanwhile, agile organizations are implementing social media strategies and making the most of this lead on their competitors in the hope that they will be further along in the race when the giants decide to enter.


Good luck to these people and brands that are early adopters, those who are making the most of this opportunity while the more ponderous giants lag behind. You will need it, because they will throw billions at their campaigns. The law of increasing returns applies here. As with all information based industries, the more you invest and sell... the more you sell.


http://mashable.com/2010/09/06/brand-spending-google/

 
To cast an eye over Google ads for a moment, a recently leaked Google document shows that AT&T Mobility, Expedia, Amazon, eBay, Hotels.com, JP Penny, Living Social, and ADT Security were the top spenders on search ads in June 2010, spending a total of $41.04 million. This is inflated by the BP spend of $3.59 on adverts after the gulf oil spill - presumably as damage limitation? 



This may seem like a lot of money, but to these organizations it is a fraction of their marketing budget. 
The truth of the matter is, although the giants are not yet taking social media seriously - they will do. And when they do, they will throw billions of dollars at it and make a huge impact, dwarfing efforts of existing aspiring brands. 


As with Caxton’s printing press, mass adoption is slow initially with the gain of momentum for the first few sales taking the most effort and resources. After that, the old ‘80/20’ rule applies.

Superbrands are leaving 80% effort to the early adopter to establish the market space. Then will only need 20% effort to achieve the same results in an already rolling market. they will be able to gain traction because of existing brand awareness and mop up 80% potential sales in the market as well as other benefits., while the early adopter who created the market has to satisfy himself with 20% of market share for 80% effort to get it.


Also notable in this leaked Google document is that many Internet savvy companies are on this list. They have been birthed inside this environment so understand it well. Social media is a natural extension of their playpen. The Internet being their home base and their movement in is as fluid as dolphins in the sea.


Social media at present is more hype than fact, although organisations are positioning themselves for the social media battles of the future, by acquiring internal and external social media teams. Take a look at social media hires – this job was not in existence a few years ago, now someone who is purported to be a great social mediaist can command a salary on 6 figures.


Let’s see some movement from the super-brands and see if they ‘can’ compete and beat the smaller organisations already out there doing social media. Will this be a turnaround where the playing field is level, or does money buy everything in social media as it does anywhere else?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why Choose To Stay Using Second Life?

People arrive at Second Life for a variety of reasons. However there is usually a single prime reason for sticking to it - for many this is engaging in social activities.

While people finding Second Life do so mainly through friends, they stay because of more friends. They can connect with people from around the world, make new friends, have new relationships and discover new things about themselves. For many what matters is simply chatting.


Contact
Meeting people was the top reason for being in Second Life. People love to chat. Second Life is a 3D chat room, with added extras of being able to create your own content and express your creativity in many many ways. It also offers an opportunity to enjoy others' creativity too.

Findings from our recent survey show that people love to socialise, no matter what the virtual environment around them is. 35% people do prefer real 'mirrored' locations that they have either visited or want to visit. After that 15% enjoy the tranquility of a beach or nature environment. 

It is all in the perception. When you are sitting at your keyboard, the beach can have a calming effect. When you feel isolated this platform offers you a means for communication. To feel secure, you choose somewhere you know or have heard of.

Communication
Over a third of people who use Second Life, use it mainly as a communication tool with other people. An eighth use it to have adventures and discover new places as well as new personalities inside themselves (including gender change). They use it as a way to learn about what is possible in their own lives.

It truly is augmented reality if it can help enhance lives of those who use it. There is also a warning that people are people and sometimes people get hurt. All tales have their morality story.
 
Creativity
It was encouraging to see that ten percent of those surveyed wanted to create and to share their creativity. Second Life is a virtual world that supports and encourages this.

In Albert Einstein's words:

"Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom." 'Out of My Later Years', 1950. 
 
As children who either have or are at high risk for bipolar disorder score higher on the creativity index, this would indicate that these people are offered an outlet for their creative expression. People with bipolar are amongst the best content creators in second life.

Entertainment

As people enjoy taking the limelight and entertaining, we also love to be entertained. 11% wanted to visit clubs, pubs and bars (I notice this is significantly lower than in real life) and 9% like to engage in entertainment activities.

Shopping
Of course shopping was on the list! 8% love to shop and visit shopping locations. For many this is a way to express the lifestyle they aspire to in their real life, but that they can attain within Second Life for a fraction of the cost.
Role Play
Finally I will touch on Role Play. I thought Role Play would be one of the 'biggies' here. It wasn't. Although people enjoy role-play, I was told that there are better platforms out there. World Of Warcraft was cited as the best one and Second Life was seen as a totally different beast.

10% liked to go to role-play locations while 7% liked to engage in role-play and fantasy activities, I assume 3% simply watch? I was shocked at these figures because I believed that Vampire and Gorean roleplay was huge in Second Life.

They may be there, but role-play is not as big as the desire to engage with others at a social level and interact with them. 

Second Life is more than a game, it is social engagement and augmented reality.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Friend-Power

How important are your friends in influencing what decisions you make, what you like, don't like, who you like and where you go? Do your 'friends' influence everything you do in life? And why?

Should we listen to our friends or make our own decisions for ourselves? One example of 'friend-power' is shown here with regard to the use of Second Life.


Workzmarter TGIF
Workzmarter
 
London in Second Life recently held our weekly TGIF with Workzmarter. In this meeting, we had a few relatively new, yet established, users. So we posed some relevant questions to them. One was, “How did you learn about Second Life?”

An interesting question, which made people stop and consider for a while. This question was also important because how people learn about things affects how they think about them and whether they value them or not.

People at TGIF mainly learned about Second Life through the press, mostly television programs, and they wanted to know more, so created an account and logged on. Others already used virtual worlds and wanted to compare the world they used with Second Life. I was curious and wanted to see if this was the case with most people.



Survey Results

So, Virtually Linked did a survey on this interesting topic to find out if this was typical across the board. It was not.



From our preliminary research we found that 60% of people learned about Second Life through their friends or word of mouth, that is – from another person they knew and trusted in the real world, not through the media and certainly not online. 

Traditional media accounted for just 23% of people who joined Second Life, while the greatly praised and lauded New Media (which includes Social Media and also includes all Web searches and web page links) came in at just 20% of all respondents, still lagging behind traditional media such as television, radio, newspapers, books etc.
 
From this research it would appear that friends are the greatest influencers in our lives. However this comes with a warning notice on the package. Friends want us to be just like them, they don't want us to stray or make too many new friends, in case we leave them behind. There is a study in psychology called In-group and out-group and some of the most shocking research has been done by Philip Zimbardo on this topic. Many prejudices and fears are born of friendship.

This said, friends were indeed the most common reason for people to join Second Life.


So what is this telling us?

One interpretation could be that people listen and take note of what their friends say over and above all other forms of communication. That people trust their friends. But it seems – not online friends. People appear to be sceptical about communications through new media and the Internet, and favour influences and recommendations from people they know and have learned to trust in their real lives.

Word of mouth here includes parents, friends, and other acquaintances too, not related to Internet based communication.

What does this say about how the way that something is learned influences what someone does and feels about it?

Our attitude changes towards something if it comes from what we feel to be a credible source. That new media avenues, including web sites, search engines and online communities are given less credibility than traditional media and people we know. Familiarity does not breed contempt, it makes us feel safe.

If our friends have a positive experience with something they will tell us about it and excite us too. If we like it (in this case, Second Life) we can influence our other friends to like it too. We as individuals are still more powerful influencers than all the media out there (Traditional and New Media combined still only accounted for 43% of people who started an account with Second Life, compared to 57% getting recommendation from people and organisations they knew already). 


What If This Is Wrong? 

What I do wonder though, is that if Second Life did more marketing through traditional means, would it gain more users?

I see very little, if any advertising by Second Life through traditional mechanisms such as newspapers, or new media. Therefore, another interpretation of this data may be that Linden Lab relies on word of mouth to spread its message about Second Life. If more media coverage took place in the form of advertising – would these figures show a different result?

This data is taken from the preliminary analysis of a survey done by Virtually Linked Limited.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Second Life and Virtual World Viewers

There is a lot of noise around about Second Life and virtual world viewers these days. The apparent 'outing' of a rogue programmer has affected the fortunes of the Emerald Viewer resulting from its expulsion from Second Life as a credible entry point.


As virtual world viewers are now under scrutiny, other viewers have come under suspicion and this dissent has raised murmurings about viewer satisfaction too. 

Second Life Viewer
Importance Of The Interface
Above all things, the interface (or 'viewer') is the most important tool used in virtual worlds such as Second Life.
But they must be easy to use.

Traditionally WYSIWIG technology and intuitive tools have succeeded. Windows superseded DOS, Cloud appears to be superseding Windows all down the ease-of-use path. So what about virtual worlds – where do they and their ‘viewers’ lead to?

Virtual worlds should note that in the past, usability has been the single factor for mass adoption and technology spread. After all, no one wants to spend many hours trying to figure out ‘how it works’ – they simply want to use the thing, as fast, cheap and easily as possible.
(‘fast, cheap and easy’ - borrowed from Martin Butler’s axioms in 2000).
 

Statistically Proven
An example is with the popular browsers. In July 2010 Firefox has 47% usage, while Explorer has 31%, Chrome 17%, Safari 3% and Opera 2%.





From these figures it can be seen that Firefox is the most popular – but why?

All these browsers are free, connectivity is at the same internet speed and some alternatives, such as Explorer,  even come inbuilt within the system. So why do more people choose Firefox?

I am a Firefox user, I find it easy, intuitive, I can handle plug-ins easily and control how it works for me. That is why I choose Firefox.

Intuitively is important, makes it easy to use – the same goes for search engines: Google has 71% of market share, Yahoo has 14%, Bing has 9% and others share the rest. Why do people choose Google? - arguably it is the easiest to use.


 

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Far Are We From The Matrix?

Last night, I watched 'The Matrix' yet again.What a film, and surely one of those landmarks that sends shivers down the back of your spine.

The Matrix was where I personally got my taste for virtual worlds. From watching how those who understood it could change the fabric of reality and mold the world they inhabited around them. For myself, I came into virtual worlds with the desire to create my own perfect environment. As did many others.

AE Or Reality
Spot the difference?
Then I realised that it was not this Artificial Environment I wanted changed, but my own reality. I wanted a better reality, an increased reality - after all, even in The Matrix, things were not fundamentally different. They were just added to and manipulated by the participants who understood the reality of the environment. To improve their circumstances - and yes, break free of the constraints of a false society.

Many comments can be made about societies as we have them here, but I will leave that alone. Instead I will comment on the utopia of virtual worlds - or rather, the perception of a utopia.

The Truth
The Matrix showed us a bleak future, one where we are all battery cells for machines (in fact that could be true of society - itself an endless controlling machine all around us). However there was an escape, but it came at a price - a high price. That of understanding the truth.

The truth for all virtual worlds, online games and social media is that you cannot escape from yourself. Wherever you are, whatever tool you use, you take yourself with you. These social media allow us to reflect ourselves through many more people that we would normally have in our lifetime. Yet all are embedded into the very societies that we already belong.

Respect
If you interact with people online, respect them. Realise that - beyond pixels on the screen, there are humans too.

What We Do Affects Others
Behind the avatars and their 'handles' (CBers from long ago will recognise this term - it refers to a chosen name to represent yourself, as you would have other think of you), you will have correct etiquette in cyberspace if you treat others with the respect you want to receive yourself -  offer integrity and transparency.

We are a long way from The Matrix, and in some way I am glad, because if we treated others with that level of inhumanity, then we are lost - but in other ways, we are just starting the ride.

 Technically Speaking
 Technically, Second Life and its sister platforms are the MS-DOS of virtual worlds. The prototypes and beginners. Infants ready to walk.

Just as MS-DOS was overtaken by Windows, virtual worlds as we know them in their pixelated forms, will be replaced by a superior technology, easier, faster and cheaper (in terms of processing power and financial cost) to use.


It is my belief that in this world, as in 'The Matrix', we will primarily use virtual replicas of our real life space and want that as our base. From this safety we will venture out to the rest of the world, both real and imaginary.

We are all waiting for The Matrix facsimile of virtual worlds. Somewhere someone will be building them, perhaps even now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Does Second Life need to be saved?

I wonder if anyone has considered the notion of restructuring? That Linden Lab is ensuring the company has a sustainable business model for the future.

This post is prompted by Grace McDunnough's blog post (and was unfortunately too big to post there )

I also posted around the issue of sustainability a few days ago.

Today I speak about comments on Grace's blog.
 
Uncertainty and Insecurity Spreads Rumours 

Will this plug fit the vacuum?
I agree with Jamys notion that there is confusion in the market place over the future of Second Life. However, when a CEO leaves any company suddenly, this is often the case.

Jamys also suggests that the vacuum is being filled with rumours and fearful whispers. Jamys must have been reading about Claude Shannon and one of the axioms of Uncertainty Reduction Theory - that high levels of uncertainty cause increases in information seeking behavior.

- This vacuum needs a plug because when uncertainty levels decline information seeking behaviour also decreases so rumours will lessen.

People are naturally insecure, like putting money into a bank, many have invested a lot into Second Life, myself included. When there is uncertainty, people look for anything to plug that gap - rumours will do. People plug these gaps with whispers rather than deal with unknowing and uncertainty.

Resistance to Change

Tateru is quite right (as always) in Grace McDunnough's blog post 'Save Our Ship? USS Second Life' and her own blog.

Change is natural and inevitable, as are death and taxes. Do we all need rescuing from change?

What am I supposed to do with this?
From comments in Grace's blog, it would appear that there is a perception that some do not want to see Second Life grow or change. In fact, the perception is that it was all one big happy family and some would sooner see it die than change.

Many of the people have a vested interest in the death of Second Life as they have now gone for the cheaper seats in other platforms and open sims, some to recreate the Second Life 'of old'.

What is left to Linden Lab is something that may indeed be sustainable.

From my own recent research (soon to be published), it appears that new users expect expansion and growth.

What is the Future Perception?

Back to the comment of DrFran. Perception is everything indeed and good marketing helps improve perception. There is a well-documented phenomenon about technology adoption. As soon as the naysayers are out and on the street corners hewing and crying and the product is no longer newsworthy - that is when the company and product has come of age and is mature enough for corporations to consider climbing aboard.

It is my belief that Linden Lab are regrouping and about to attack the market with a more powerful and sustainable marketing message - one that will be attractive and competitive internationally. Before you ask me 'Do I have insider sources?' - I don't, but I ask you, would I really reveal that if I did?
Gaze into the future

- Of course, this is all just my own opinion.