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Feb 07, 2008



I've been thinking about this ever since my mother joined Facebook. Thankfully I'm old enough now that I don't have anything too scandalous on there, but I know my younger sister has had to remove a few things from her profile because she hadn't quite thought through what it meant for her mother/the public to have access to all of the formerly private aspects of her life. Although I found the idea of my mother being there offputting at first, it has grown into something quite cool--we have a private group for all of my relatives on my mother's side, which we use to share old pictures, plan reunions, and share old family recipes. Even my 70 year old great-uncle is in on it now. (Interestingly, all of the previous generations of my family adore the Catbook and Dogbook applications...hmm.)

So while I don't mind the generational mixing in that setting, I'm not sure how I feel about it in WoW. As I'm in my mid-20s, and thus "middle of the pack," I'm used to presenting/performing myself a certain way to both younger and older age groups. In game, however, it's difficult to make those distinctions, and I think it's our default to assume that the other avatars are similar to ourselves. I'd be leery of playing with someone substantially older than I because my language can become rather choice in the heat of the moment, and leery of playing with someone younger than me for the same reasons--I wouldn't normally present myself like that. When I don't know, my presentation of self assumes that I'm presenting to myself.


I recently starteed playing Sims Online again to see how they were going to overhaul the game, and a link to a Facebook app was one of the things they have added. It seems like such an obvious thing to put into a social game, but I have yet to come up with a practical use for the dang thing! The overlap between my in-game social network and my real-world one is so small that it's not worth the trouble. If I want to include one of my gaming pals in my real social life, simply telling them who I am has always worked just fine.


Bob, your post covers in depth a lot of the reasons why I think Yahoo! would be particularly well-suited to acquiring the virtual world Habbo. Yahoo!'s been playing with quite a few forms of social networking services, and I think that most of them have strong potential for virtual world tie-ins. They've also long given users the ability to abstract their online self through their true self, with avatars and chat presences. I've gone into more detail about the business sense in Yahoo! acquiring Habbo on my own blog, but I'd love to get your thoughts on specifically how an integration of Yahoo!'s social networks with Habbo would work.


Active worlds probably predates both of those websites. At 13years old (when it was Alpha world) its a grand-daddy , if not THE grand daddy, of the social MMO scene. I'm pretty sure myspace/facebook where not around in '94

Its interesting they are playing around with the whole facebook app thing, but dot-com gimickry aint going to save it. Like its offspring second life, the public just aint interested, and non-gaming VR remains an academic interest, rather than a popular past-time.

IF they pull it off, it'll be interesting , and possibly quite fun , but I'm guessing the facebook app market has kind of strangled itself a little bit by going overboard. People are getting really irritated by the constant stream of "YOU ARE INVITED TO [absurd app of the day]"

Also BOB, upsize that font , its really hard to read on this little lappy :(



I feel as if you are somehow looking at virtual worlds through the wrong end of the telescope -- the telescope of social media and games. I find it odd that you mention Kaneva or Vside as adding media and "almost getting there" but miss the fact that Second Life already *is* there in a very much more robust way than you're envisioning, with media in fact used inworld.

Re: "Third, the social networking features of virtual worlds are designed for the relationships you form with other players in that virtual world, not in the real world or other virtual worlds."

This is only one take on Second Life (or There, or other worlds, for that matter), seeing them as "play spaces for people". But they are work spaces as well, and companies like IBM or universities like Harvard have them as work spaces, not for just socializing and play. If someone has their real-life name and company name on Second Life and uses the space for meetings, interviews, prototyping, advertising, etc. -- then they're in the real world -- that is, as real as anything is on the Internet or on media in general.

As for the idea that you can only IM your friends list, that's only one feature. If you buy or rent land, you essentially have a 3-D web page. You can put all kinds of content on it, including buildings, furniture, videos, screenshots, art work, notecards with text, etc. It's not as robust as the Internet itself, but it's certainly good enough. So people can come and view the content asynchronously, and that's of course how it works, and that's how it adds value.

In the Sims Online, your friends list was a set of balloons that showed greener for those you socialized more, and it was great sport for everyone to study each others' balloons to see who they had been socializing with and what they said about them -- this was one of the neatest things Will Wright put into this game world.

In Second Life, unlike Facebook, you can move notecards and objects within the group itself. So I can send a 3-d sculpture, a picture, a notecard, a chair, anything through the group inventory distribution that someone can receive while online, or when they log on, and they can put it out on their own lot.

Where the real capacity for interactivity and serendipity comes is in a group build or interactive build, where people can come and edit or manipulate each other's objects in a group, or in a couple, or just interact with them in other ways, as they are scripted, have physics, animations, etc.

On Facebook, people can send you little pictures of a drink, or a little flower to put on a 2-3 garden. But in Second Life, you could send someone a drink that their avatar can take, and in animations, go through the motion of drinking, or put a flower into the ground in 3-D and arrange it with other people in a garden. I think that's just way, way more compelling than Facebook.

In virtual worlds you *may* play someone else but you don't have to, you can also be yourself (The Sims Online was actually the first to popularize that in a slogan, "Be yourself...or somebody else." Not everyone finds it compelling to be forced into an avatar class in a war game, and the open-ended worlds have a lot more complexity then as a result.

I think Second Life also mixes generations, but eventually, there is often friction, as the identities tend to come out, without that bracketed narrow purpose that you describe in WoW.

I'm finding lately that Facebook encourages a lot of superficial nothingness. I'm really tired of having people send me movie quizzes, or bite me, or send me a drink. It all seems silly. The interactions in Second Life feel as if they have more reality and depth.


I completely agree with Prokovy (above) about the depth and reality that virtual worlds such as Second Life offer AS a social (and professional) network. The entire concept of an emerging 'relationship economy' does indeed make it a dynamic space for professional networks to interact and collaborate as well.

Thank you, Bob, for highlighting the exchange between known networks such as FaceBook, My Space and virtual worlds. I personally think it depends on which end/point you enter the network: For our organisation here in South Africa, Uthango Social Investments, we leap frogged from a simple web presence directly into Second Life to build a 3D presence and then only added the more traditional social networking site in the form of a FaceBook group.

There is the added critical dimension of ACCESS in Africa that is the key for us in terms of digital equity: FaceBook (as example) is currently much more used and accessible for Africans via mobile technology. It is therefor an absolute must to have a synergy and integration between Second Life (or other) and FaceBook (or other) and, most importantly, actual social networks in African communities - in the form of clubs, street committees, village roundtables, committees, religious groups, etc. This integration is an essential part of our virtual worlds' strategy.

In my opinion, the REAL value of the convergence you speak of, is in the connection with existing social networks - being enhanced by access to technology! We live in exciting times...


I guess you could... But I think you'd have to fill two criteria to really make it happen:

1.) The site/world has to be free. Facebook or MySpace would never be the giants they are if they charged users per month.

2.) The client has to be browser integrated, e.g. Runescape. Most people who visit social networking sites are far less computer-familiarised or simply willing to install additional software then their MMORPG-playing counterparts. Simply going to www.my-virtual-world.com might get you the community you need to run an effective social networking site.

I think it'd be a nice addition to have a little VW attached to Facebook. I doubt that most of my friends would use it though, if the above requirements are not fulfilled.


I was at a conference in November attended by business people looking to see how they could make money from virtual worlds. A large proportion of the delegates seemed to think that Facebook WAS a virtual world. They saw no distinction between it and Second Life whatsoever.

Every day, a little bit more is chipped away from what it is that makes virtual worlds special...



Richard, just because delegates who want to make money off Facebook think it's a virtual world, doesn't make it a virtual world. Facebook is a goofy gossip session where you chat, answer trivia quizzes, and put pictures on your profile. It's a 7th grade girl's locker. Sure, it has political parties, causes, fund-raising, but people only do a little bit of that to assuage their guilt at the time-suck that goes into playing Oregon Trail or sending vampire bites. Interactivity doesn't make a world. Your MUDs were far, far deeper worlds than this! And actual virtual worlds that have a conception of space, geographical contiguity, an economy, etc. are worlds.

In Facebook, you feel the hierarchical nature of the platform far keener than you do in a proprietary virtual worlds, whether The Sims Online or Second Life. There is a top-down created structure -- you can't change it -- it's what the kids who run it decided. You can't change the fonts, layout or anything on your page. The applications are also all one-way if you aren't a coder. You may *hate* the idea of having to send all your friends some dumb thing like the American Citizenship Quiz, but if you want to fill it out, it will demand you send the api to your friends to get your answers. It has an enormous amount of control.

I also think that people aren't reading the handwriting on the wall about the lack of real monetarizing capacity for these socializing pages for either the start-ups around them or the consumers:



I agree with Prok (except that MySpace is a 7th grade girl's locker and Facebook is the door of a college dorm room).

For many of my students, Facebook is taking the place of email for many of their friends. One of them recently told me that if I emailed her, she wouldn't see it for 1-2 weeks, as, "Everybody I care about uses Facebook." I remember back in the mid 90's when a friend of mine proposed a closed, "opt in" email system to thwart spammers. You join, your friends join, you all agree to the list of people you want to hear from... spam over. I pointed out to him recently that this is what Facebook/MySpace, etc. have become, essentially. He mugged, "I know... I know..."

Form and function, especially in virtual spaces of any sort, are incredibly intertwined. Prok points out, rightly, that text-based MUDs/MOOs can have a much more "worldy" feel than something like Facebook. Exactly. Facebook is a set of connected Web aps. Nothing wrong with that... but it's less a world than a highly structured chat room.

Now (of course) people have said that SL is just a 3D chat room. That may be... but the form, and the props, are very important. There is an immediacy to SL that there isn't to Facebook. There is a sense that you are participating in something with actual people on the other end, doing stuff, and that those people and that stuff is represented directly by what you see and interact with.

Facebook can be useful and fun. But it isn't, I don't think, a virtual world. It's a virtual bulletin board in the real world.

[Andy gives you a huggy bear. PASS IT ON!]


As someone who is currently a part of the age group that social networking sites and virtual worlds are primarily targeting, I can say with great confidence that Bob has definitely made some excellent points here. I game online and I socialize through an SNS regularly, however I have yet to see a virtual world that combines the two in a way that is both interesting and easy to access.

It seems as though the virtual worlds of today are currently designed for the user with extra time, money, and patience (did I mention a shiny, higher end computer?). As many college students as SL and other VWs may have, I believe they are missing a massive audience of busy college students who can't afford a computer upgrade, or a spare hour to do something virtual-worldly productive. Meanwhile, SNS's such as Myspace and Facebook appeal to anyone with an internet connection, but cannot offer the same immersive experience.

It's great to see someone else acknowledge and analyze this disconnect. I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for these two (currently) separate entitities.


I've sort of seen the key value in these experiences in the ability to play with social identity. Clearly in virtual worlds (or other online social spaces), where the user's identity begins as anonymous, the virtue of experimentation is clear: people get to play out new roles, new possibilities, learn new social skills etc. And while in a "real" identity based networking site the potential impact of some of the experiments influences the presentation (the story above about removing some parts of an online profile when your mother joins Facebook is wonderfully illustrative), I'd have a hard time believing that this would change the core dynamic. I think that much of the real, long-term, personally meaningful, and ideally even transformative value of these social sites, and why people are motivated to participate in them, will remain the same: the chance to explore social identity in a new medium, the chance to experiment in circumstances that afford play. I would say that the two "extremes" are fundamentally very similar, and even more... that I think it likely that the hybridization of the two, as it were, will ultimately encourage general acceptance of a greater degree of overt online identity play. That we're learning, experimenting in these ways, how to see ourselves and each other in terms of changeable social identity.


I have seen the future of social networks, virtual worlds, casual gaming, group collaboration and web 2.0 ...

They all converge perfectly in SmallWorlds. They still have a ways to go, but I can see where they are heading and think it is precisely the type of "hybrid" you are all discussing.

Why I think this convergence point is so powerful is that it has such broad "pulling power". E.g. It may attract:

- Social Networkers looking for a real-time, social and entertainment experience.

- Casual Gamers looking for social connection and a sense of permanence and meaning around their gaming experience (i.e. some of the fundamental drivers within MMOGs).

- Game Guilds, Interest Groups, families/friends looking for a "place" to meet up, chat, organize and play together.

- Virtual Worlders looking for a lighter, more accessible (and potentially more entertaining) experience. And of course those wanting to get their VW "fix" at work. :-)

You can have multiple identities (avatars) - I have my real name, plus several other alter egos. I think this maps nicely on to the multiple social identities we have online, from our real selves in Social Networks, to our idealized selves in online games and virtual worlds.

The group collaboration aspects I think are really powerful, and not really addressed in earnest by mainstream social networks or virtual worlds. This organized social affiliation is an important dynamic in the social web, and its inclusion is certainly a great way of making virtual worlds useful to online groups (business, interest groups, clubs etc).

I got in to the private beta through a friend of one of the developers. From the info on their website, they say they are adding a "Desktop IM/Voice Chat" and "large outdoor spaces". The latter leaves me wondering if they plan to build more game-world-like worlds as well. IMHO this would be a good move, as it would help pull in the more game oriented players (E.g. RuneScapers).

They seem to be working under the radar presently. The only meaningful article I have found is this:


Anyway, one to watch (and add to your list on the sidebar)...


Prokofy Neva>just because delegates who want to make money off Facebook think it's a virtual world, doesn't make it a virtual world.

Yes, I know that, but it nevertheless waters down what a virtual world is.

10 years ago, an avatar was a graphical representation of a character in a virtual world. Textual worlds didn't have a need for the concept, but graphical worlds did, so it arrived. However, the term was so often misused by people new to virtual worlds that nowadays the default meaning of "avatar" is "character". This leaves a hole for what we had before as "avatar", which seems to being filled by "toon". The result is, though, that there's a weaker connection between player and character.

OK, so a bunch of marketing people know that "virtual worlds" are a big deal and want to get in on them, and stretch the definition to cover things that aren't virtual worlds. Why should we care? Won't another phrase come along to act as an umbrella term that covers products like SL, WoW, EVE, LambdaMOO, UO, BatMUD, EQ2, RuneScape et al, but rules out social web sites?

Well, we should care because while people lump everything together, they draw false conclusions. This can give us a bad name we don't deserve. There is still an older generation today who are wary of the Internet because of those 1990s "My husband is addicted to the Internet" stories (whereas actually he was addicted to chat rooms, or porn, or poker, or whatever). If people think that Facebook is anodyne, and Facebook is a "virtual world", then they'll think SL and LotRO are anodyne because they're also "virtual worlds".

>Interactivity doesn't make a world. Your MUDs were far, far deeper worlds than this!

The better textual worlds are far, far deeper than today's graphical worlds, too. The thing is, this is irrelevant to people who can't see the difference between a social networking site and the one social virtual world they spent 15 minutes looking at.

>I also think that people aren't reading the handwriting on the wall about the lack of real monetarizing capacity for these socializing pages for either the start-ups around them or the consumers

Yes, I agree with you there. It's like the dot com boom: acquire the customers for free and then figure out how to get money from them. Except, that rather presupposes that you CAN get money out of them...


PS: Did you get unbanned from TN, then?


Great topic! For me, this raises the issue of the relative poverty of the typical communication channels offered in an MMOG (I won't speak to places like SL or There here). In LOTRO or FFXI, for example, I can chat synchronously with my guild, with players in my zone, or in private tells with almost anyone. I have a guild where I will probably have to go off-site to find the forums that Bob mentioned, and ..... that's about it! How might I find cool people, other than through the happy accident of the 'right' guild, or through grouping with others, which can be *really* hit or miss?

Where are the silly or more important groups I could join, expressing my fondness for GM Dave, my interest in becoming a better black mage, or my views on the new housing system in LOTRO? How about mini-games that extend my interest in the larger MMOG? Or updates about what my friends *in game* have accomplished over the past few days or weeks? These are all things MMOGs could do to make them more valuable and interesting to me, and make them a little more like SNSs, without changing their character completely.


Mia>These are all things MMOGs could do to make them more valuable and interesting to me, and make them a little more like SNSs, without changing their character completely.

They do change their character, though. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing would depend on the virtual world (if any of them were doing this at the moment).



Richard Bartle>Yes, I know that, but it nevertheless waters down what a virtual world is.

I agree. I'm a stickler for precise (i.e. meaningful) categories/concepts. I have a hard time calling MySpace or Facebook an online social "hangout." Can you really "hang out" without presence or synchronous communication? I don't think so. When I'm surfing or monitoring MySpace, I feel like I'm "hanging out" by myself, but receiving periodic messages in bottles.


something that i have seen with second life is the use of facebook-style web sites as an extension of the in-world profile tools. bob, you mentioned that the social networking sites have more sophisticated tools for profiles. so vw users, with their less robust message boards and lack of favorite song/book/movie/pet/school fields, can attach a facebook or slprofiles.com page to their sl account. there's even a page in your sl profile for this, where you can even display a web page of your choice.

what people do with these varies quite a bit, as far as their real world self vs. fantasy/anonymous self. but it is possible to use these sites almost fully inline with the virtual world.


Another approach is we bring social networking to Google Maps and Google Earth, so you can shop for a house or look for a resort in the Caribbean with your (social network) friends, you can check it out at http://unype.com.


This is what I mean by "creep factor"...

Think Before You Post


One dimension that doesn't map directly is conflict/ combat. While VWs like Second Life don't rely on combat to populate their content, big daddy WoW does. Does the idle, casual, or hobby social networker want to deal with the "grind" or nerdy world-lore inherent to many traditional games? Does the "crunch" oriented gamist type want to spend time talking about hobbies when he could be using that time achieving his next level?

I'm sure there's an overlap between the two free-time activities, but what's the sweet spot?


Justin, good question. Given the number of people who try Second Life once and never come back, I think it would only benefit from the addition of some addictive game play (not necessarily combat though).


Very interesting....I seriously hesitated before inputting my email address in or to make this comment. My world of offline people seem not to be as computer savvy as everyone here.

As a person who teaches singers from all around the world via virtual and non-virtual computer medium , I'm always interested in the latest development of computer communication avenues. I'm sure in the not-too-distant future, someone will come up with the perfect convergence of a Virtual World and Social Networking Site.

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