I had the opportunity for a short interview with Howard Rheingold. Howard is the author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs, and a well respected thinker and writer within the framework of social media, culture and digital journalism. Howard has worked on the Cooperation Commons, a joint project with Institute for the Future so I asked him some questions about his perspective on cooperation theories and how they apply to a Second Life setting and on corporate utilization of the medium. The interview ends with Howard posting a question for the TN readers to discussion and elaborate on.
insights on cooperation have you acquired in Second Life so far?
Howard: I am still very much a newbie in Second Life. I am reminded, however, of the complexities of the Unix-based Picospan environment on the Well when I first arrived there in the mid 1980s. Not being technical, most of us new arrivals needed help. So the complexity of the tools required to socialize there required people who knew how they worked to teach newcomers. So in a way, the difficulty of learning how to navigate in a 3D environment forces newcomers to find friends, and forces those already there who want to grow a rich social environment to spend time orienting newcomers.
Interesting. And, does some of the cooperation theories apply to a 3D space
like Second Life?
Howard: I don't want to make anything like a strong claim in regard to that question, but some of the basics of cooperation theory apply: people are more likely to cooperate with people in an identifiable group, knowing someone's real name increases the possibility of cooperation, reciprocity builds trust, etc. So if you want to increase cooperation among a collection of people in SL, for example, give them all an identifiable badge or hat or shoe or other easily visible apparel to identify each other.
Peder: So Second Life must be a struggle from a perspective of cooperation’s theory since avatars apparel is so diverse and individuality are emphasized?
Howard: Just like the real world. If you walk down the street and see someone else in the same apparel -- a business suit or a mohawk -- you are more likely to be available to cooperate with that person. In some ways, despite the prevalence of conflict and competition, humans are hardwired for cooperation. Some recent theories hold that the prefrontal cortex that gives us all those "higher" functions evolved because it enables social memory that other primates don't have, and thus enables collective action -- collective defense, collective food-gathering, etc.
Q: And, how do those ”higher” functions of social memory apply to interactions mediated through a masquerade (avatar)?
Howard: Axelrod -- cooperation is dependent on the "shadow of the future." You are more likely to cooperate today with someone who can reciprocate tomorrow; you are less likely to cooperate today with someone who failed to cooperate yesterday. So if people change their avatars all the time, they are less likely to build up networks of potential reciprocators. Having a persistent identity, even if it is pseudonymous, enables individuals to build social capital.
Q: And from a corporate perspective, building trust is thus about displaying a persistent identity . But, how does world culture apply to this variable of trust and cooperation via pseudonymous identities?
Howard: Certainly a persistent identity that exhibits trustworthiness is essential to brand -- a brand is a promise that a produce or service with this identity meets certain criteria. Coke tastes the same. Nokia phones are of a certain level of quality. Etc. Pseudonymous identities build trust by acting in a trustworthy manner over time. It is more important to identify a past cheater or co-operator than to know his or her real name. So behavior over time is the most important factor, not whether you know exactly who is behind the mask.
Howard: Yes. Reputation is the record, *in the minds of others* of your past behavior. You can influence your reputation through your behavior, but it is an attribute of a social network, not an attribute that you own or control.
Q: Now, about a Second Life setting for brainstorm sessions for development of new ideas. Would the mediated communication through avatars yield a greater potential for generating better ideas than in real life?
Howard: You always have more bandwidth in a face to face setting, and that isn't going to change soon. Humans have evolved highly sensitive perception mechanisms for evaluating micro gestures, tone of voice, etc. The point about virtual worlds is not that they are better for human communication, but that they enable communication that wasn't possible before -- connecting with people you never met and don't know but who share an interest, interacting in real time or asynchronously with people all over the world, socializing in a simulated environment and using simulations in communications. However, in brainstorming, I'd say that there might be an advantage in NOT seeing the look of skepticism (or tone of voice that denotes skepticism) on the faces of others. The only way to tell is to experiment.
Q: To finish off, is there a future for enhanced cooperation in 3D spaces? And, what does a Second Life type application need to evolve into before it can seriously interlink with cooperative processes that adds value in a real world business setting?
Howard: I would recommend experimenting with exercises and games to see what works. The great advantage of SL in experiments like this is that you can record them from multiple angles and replay them for analysis later.
Q: One last thing. Do you have something you'd want to share and discuss with the TN community?
Howard: Here is something I came across during our interview, for example. Would this work in a 3D environment? Link
The link in question contain details of a workshop methodology for eLearning, Web 2.0, and Games as MUD maps, that I would recommend reading. (Intro from the blog post)
This is the story of how I began to discover the way Web 2.0 may change learning for college students, the three journeys involved in building online systems, and why a workshop game may be a mud map. Oh, and how the Open Innovation Exchange model may be the way to tie a lot of these things together.
I don't have insight knowledge about learning in 3D spaces or Second Life for that matter but think that the methodology sounds like an interesting experiment to carry out but TN community members with more expertise might have insights to share on the subject?