Thursday, April 20, 2006

Metaverse Roadmap site launches

From Jerry Paffendorf's crew at the Acceleration Studies Foundation, founder of Future Salons:
What happens when video games meet Web 2.0? When virtual worlds meet maps of the planet? When simulations get real and life and business go virtual? When your avatar becomes your blog, your desktop, and your email address?

What happens is the metaverse. Taking its name from the immersive virtual world imagined by Neal Stephenson in his visionary novel, Snow Crash, the MVR is a comprehensive two-, five-, and ten-year technology forecast and visioning survey of 3D Web technologies, applications, markets, and impacts organized by the Acceleration Studies Foundation. Areas of exploration include the convergence of Web applications with networked computer games and virtual worlds, the use of 3D creation and animation tools in virtual environments, digital mapping, artificial life, and the underlying trends in hardware, software, connectivity, business innovation and social adoption that will drive the transformation of the World Wide Web in the coming decade.
If you're in Northern California at the start of may, you can check out their first summit.
Creation of the Roadmap begins with an invitational Metaverse Roadmap Summit May 5-6 2006 at SRI International where a diverse group of industry leaders, technologists, analysts, and creatives will outline key visions, scenarios, forecasts, plans, opportunities, uncertainties, and challenges ahead.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Forthcoming Event: Online Communities and Virtual Worlds for Patient and Caregiver Self-Help Groups

Got this invite via the Second Life Educators listserv. It's a webconference with John Lester (aka Pathfinder Linden in Second Life), the man behind such successful therapeutic communities as Brigadoon and Live2Give, and now education and communities coordinator at SL creators Linden Lab:
Online communities offer a unique opportunity for patients and caregivers to share experiences and emotional support with people across the world. John Lester will discuss his experiences with Braintalk Communities (, which offers hundreds of forums and chatrooms for self-help support groups focused on a wide range of neurological disorders. Started in 1993, Braintalk continues to explore new models of online communities and support. John will describe the growth and evolution of Braintalk as well as his work using the 3-d virtual world of Second Life ( to create new online communities supporting people dealing with Asperger's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Stroke Survivors. He will also summarize how different groups of patients and caregivers can use vastly different communication modalities to help them deal with unique conditions.
Dates for the diary: APRIL 20, NOON-1:00 PM MDT (Mountain Daylight Time)(7-8pm GMT). Session link here.

How will we collect network data in the future? Implications for quantitative and qualitative measurement

As David Lazer argues in a February post for the Harvard-based Complexity and Social Networks blog, the primary way of collecting social network relational data is through self-report. There's a whole can of worms associated with this approach, not least of which is the extensive literature on the social scientific analysis of capturing everyday activity/interaction. Self-report challenges validity because people remember things differently at different times based upon a whole slew of confounding factors. Retrospective accounts have large holes in them. So how to capture interaction data for valid social networks?

Lazer proposed two articles which have used email and other e-data to follow interaction. Yes, digitalia could be the harbinger of something great to come (particularly in reference to research questions which deal specifically with computer-mediated interaction), but a couple of points: e-mail is not an indication of all interaction, and until we have the right to capture data from all meat/digital interaction (don't envision that happening, and don't want to - which is why I refuse to watch Reality TV), we won't be able to "accurately" report true human interaction. There are too many communication strands for us to connect with others to.

However, I hope to ensure the validity of the networks I'm generating by relying upon the explicit all-or-nothing presence of a connection tie in my research, using participants' Second Life Calling Card lists. Sure, some debate whether the presence of a person on a CC list actually reflects a friendship (it could, for example, be a result of a free-for-all popularity contest, it could be the result of a business transaction), but as I maintained on Terra Nova in response to these critiques,
I want to make clear that the survey bases it collection of friend and acquaintance names on calling cards, but the pertinent social network is pulled from this bounty of both strong and (occasionally very) weak/acquaintance ties using questions which delve more deeply into the respondent’s relationship with each person listed. In fact, that some people have so many calling cards is a great permanent record of their interaction patterns in SL.

In the pilot research and pre-survey interviews with SL Residents, the overwhelming finding was that social ties are directly related to the avatars listed on CC lists, and that collecting these would be an indication of some form of association. Placing someone on a CC list represents an explicit formation of a tie.

Using this method also helps in the name generation, without relying upon priming questions. More names are added in a secondary question which asks for avatars the respondent anticipates will be added to his or her calling card list in the near future. This metric is less-"random", and indicates a different strength of tie.

There's an interesting thread happening right now on the socnet listserv, about the possibilities of using qualitative methods to measure networks rather than relying upon a more quantitative approach with traditional sociometrics. Certainly some researchers like Fisher (1982) and Kirke (1996) have argued that at the interpersonal level of definition, qualitative work (like interviews) is essential to properly classify the experiences of the participants. Perhaps a combination of both approaches - an idea championed by McCarty (2003) and others - holds the key to capturing accurate networks, even moreso than following the digital traces we leave behind us.

The rise of the avatar

Indeed, the virtual humans are on the rise. ZDNet has an overview of research labs which aim to replace those pesky machines with computer-controlled virtual humans. The plusses are that virtual humans a) look like us, b) are conversant in social interaction c) gesture. The minus is that virtual humans are still run by machines and are therefore only as intelligent as we make them. From the article:
The requirements placed on virtual humans are enormous: they need to interact socially, communicate verbally and non-verbally – in other words via speech, gestures and facial expressions, have a human, pleasant appearance and be credible in dialogue with the user. […] To achieve this, researchers are developing various modules to generate dialog, understand speech and for graphics output, interfacing these through a web-based approach.

via SmartMobs

Cast Iron concepts

Here's a link to Digital Crab, the blog my mate Toby Robson is running in prep for our week-long trip into the bowels of Wiltshire for the Cast Iron Workshop. I'll be rendering some social networks in metal, based upon the results of the Second Life study.

Linkology: how the top 50 blogs are related to one another

New York Metro has posted up a Technorati-fuelled analysis of the interconnections between the top 50 blogs, plus a description of each blog, split into categories "technology", "politics", "gossip" and "other". It's a good visual snapshot of the linking patterns over the past 90 days.

What surprises me most about the analysis is three things:
  1. the top five blogs are two tech, an "other" and two political blogs (in that order) - all Amero-centric.
  2. the blogs are at the top-end of the list are all heavily-interlinked, from which has emerged - I would argue - a self-referential culture. This has future (and current) implications for the perception of credibility and truth from these sources, as these blogs become/have developed into established brands. Underneath their reportage, however, are still agendas which hide under the moniker "citizen journalism" and may lack a critical reading of the issues at hand.
  3. that the author says "Some top-50 sites don’t have any links from the others shown here, usually because they are big in Japan, China, or Europe—regions still new to the phenomenon" - which is a) a fallacy and b) ignores the fact that most bloggers only speak one language (English) and therefore may not be able to read the non-English blog to link to them. I refer to point 2 above.
Worth a look to see the makeup of the top ranking, however.

AvaDating (Guardian Gamesblog sneak-peek)

Here's one I've written for The Guardian's gamesblog a couple of weeks from now, but I feel it has particular relevance to two key issues in this blog: the "rise" of the avatar/virtual worlds as a viable interaction format which transcends traditional internet communication limitations (i.e., lack of non-verbal communication) and social network-based interaction. It's not replicated in full as that would breach my contract with them for originally published material, but here's the thrust:
...The Hook Up: AvaFlirting represents the logical convergence of a number of interests: the rise of avatar-representation, portable social and gaming technologies and social network-based interaction. According to Red Herring, the game will have Tamagotchi-like elements, which should act as non-verbal cues of the users' intentions and commitment to the concept, providing a heuristic for likely potential partners.

In the same way as MySpace promotes friendship brokering via thumbs ups from strangers for similarities and kudos for techno-know-how, the avatar-based system of The Hook Up: AvaFlirting will rely upon both avatar looks/innovation and user personality, and should open up a market for personalisation on a device platform which has already witnessed the rise and rise of irritating ringtones. While avatar personalisation isn't anything new on the vast Interweb (see StorTroopers and Habbo Hotel and other social virtual worlds for examples), it's on the cusp in the mobile market...
I'll link to the published post when it goes up on 24 April.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Event at the Social Simulation Research Lab

I'm hosting an event this evening (8pm GMT, 12pm PST) at the in-world Social Simulation Research Lab, my Second Life hub of operations. You can find out more here, but if you don't have an SL account, you can see what'll be going on below:

Discussion: Social Setworks in SL

Date: Thursday, April 6, 2006
Time: 12:00PM - 1:00PM (60 minutes)
Location: Games1 (177,111)
Host: Mynci Gorky
Category: Discussion
Cover Charge? No

Event description: Who controls information in Second Life? Is it the Lindens or the Land Barons? The Feted Inner Core or the Furries?
How do fads and trends spread around the Grid?

What relevance does who you know in the virtual world have with what you know, and where you go? How do your in-world friends make you who you are? Come to the Social Simulation Research Lab (Games1 205, 244 - next door to the _blacklibrary) for a discussion on the role of friendship and knowledge in Second Life, and to discuss the implications of such research for the First one.

I’m working on research at the University of Surrey to answer these questions by describing the communication patterns of Second Life. This event is not a presentation, but I will answer any questions you have about the research. Please come with your theories and insights!

IM Mynci Gorky for a TP!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Calling all Second Lifers!

Hey folks, as some of you may know I'm doing my PhD in virtual world Second Life and am launching a survey to capture information about the experiences of SL Residents.

Who controls the information in virtual worlds? How do fads and trends spread around them? And how important are chance encounters at game parlours, rest areas or marketplaces?

My research aims to answer these questions by describing the social networks of Second Life. The goals are to understand who talks with whom, to follow information as it spreads around the virtual world, and to uncover which groups and cliques are most integral to the social workings of this online space.

I need to poll as many Residents as possible. Who are your friends and acquaintances?

Anyone with an account in Second Life can participate by filling out an online survey which you can access from the in-world Social Simulation Research Lab (curious non-SL residents can find out where I'm talking about by clicking here). [Edit:] Depending upon the number of avatars you have on your Calling Card List, it could take between 30 minutes (for fewer, i.e., between 10 and 20) and 1 1/2 hours (for 100+). I encourage all potential respondents who have more than 50 avs to contact me directly (, and to complete the form with fewer avs as indicated on the survey [End Edit]. All responses will be kept confidential and you have the right to terminate your participation at any point.

If you would like to find out more about this research, visit the research website or the Social Simulation Research Lab. You can also come along to a meeting at the SSR Lab on Thursday 6th April 2006 at 2pm Linden Time (8pm GMT) to discuss the research, ask questions and collect a survey. While you're there, you can take in the knowledge of the library, which features a bounty of books on cyber-research, including papers, homepages of notable researchers, web resources and online journals.

This research has the support of Second Life developers Linden Lab, and is conducted in accordance with the Second Life Research Agreement.